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Yesterday Ha’aretz reported that MASA, which it describes as “an organization that works to strengthen ties between Israel and Diaspora Jews,” had “launched a scare-tactic campaign that urges Israelis to combat assimilation in North America by working to prevent the “loss” through intermarriage of their own Jewish acquaintances.
This has got to be the most stupid, ill-conceived effort coming out of Israel in many years.
MASA is a partnership between the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government that helps finance and market semester- and year-length Israel programs for Jews outside of Israel. (The Jewish Agency for Israel is the organization in charge of immigration and absorption of Jews from outside of Israel.)
According to Ha’aretz, the 10-day Hebrew-language campaign features a video clip with a top Israeli TV reporter stating that more than 50% of young Jews assimilate. It likens Jews who marry outside of the religion to missing persons, with fake notices and pictures that as part of the campaign will be plastered on walls around Israel. MASA hopes the campaign will spur the Israeli public to commit to the cause of preventing marriage to non-Jews, which Jewish Agency officials believe is tantamount to a “strategic national threat.”
Equating intermarriage with assimilation is the classic mistake that Israeli leaders repeatedly make, as anyone who follows the Israeli press knows. I have long thought that Israeli leaders have no conception whatsoever of the realities of intermarriage in North America. (Last year when the annual convention of the United Jewish Communities was held in Jerusalem, I proposed a session to be called “What Israelis Should Know About Intermarriage in North America,” but the idea was rejected.)
Israeli leaders simply do not understand that many intermarried couples, and the adult children of intermarried parents, are actively engaging in Jewish life.
And they most certainly do not understand that many more would do so if they were welcomed, not described as a “strategic threat” by the community they want to participate in.
Indeed, the “strategic threat” to the liberal Jewish future lies in not doing whatever can be done to attract and support Jewish choices by people in interfaith relationships.
The MASA campaign is a step in exactly the wrong direction. According to Ha’aretz, the ad asks anyone who “knows a young Jew living abroad” to call MASA and concludes, “Together, we will strengthen his or her bond to Israel, so that we don’t lose them.” Half of those “young Jews living abroad” have intermarried parents and many of the rest are put off by condemnations of intermarriage. If MASA thinks it will successfully recruit those young Jews to its programs by marketing them as an antidote to intermarriage, it is very sadly mistaken.
It wasn’t that long ago that Jewish identity building programs in North America – birthright Israel, Jewish summer camps, day schools – marketed themselves as preventing intermarriage. After some effective lobbying took place, that rarely happens today. A significant percentage of birthright Israel trip participants have one Jewish parent, and the leaders and funders of that program realized that denigrating intermarriage would deter that population from participating. The leaders and funders of camps and day schools likewise realized that they couldn’t sell their programs to intermarried parents by arguing that they would prevent their children from intermarrying.
My hope is that the North American leaders of the United Jewish Communities and the philanthropists who have funded these programs and who have influence with the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel will use that influence wisely to lobby for an end to MASA’s counter-productive campaign.
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