Taking it seriously, making it sweet

InterfaithFamily.com has been in the press lately, and I just wanted to share some of the articles and some quotes with you.

Shabbat Candles by Jordan CharkJulie Wiener wrote a column this past week on why her interfaith family is committed to lighting Shabbat candles. She found out she’s not unusual:

Interestingly, there are quite a few of us die-hard candle-lighting interfaith families. A recent study by Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies found that (at least in the Boston area) 54 percent of interfaith families who are raising Jewish children light Shabbat candles “all of the time” or “usually,” compared to 36 percent of Conservative families and 20 percent of Reform families in which both parents are Jewish.

As Ed Case, the publisher of InterfaithFamily.com, explains it, “many intermarried families take Jewish involvement more seriously, and try harder than in-married families who may take their Judaism for granted.”

InterfaithFamily.com’s President Ed Case’s editorial on the study, here published by The Jewish Week, brings out the point that outreach to interfaith families seems to work to make them feel more connected to the Jewish community.

What can Jewish communities do to encourage intermarried couples to raise Jewish children? The reports shed important new light on the impact of two controversial interventions – rabbinic officiation, and participation in outreach programs.

Both studies find a strong correlation between Jewish officiation at the weddings of intermarried couples, and those couples raising their children as Jews.

In Boston, 54% of intermarried families who raise children Jewish report they had only Jewish clergy as officiants at their weddings; only 10% of intermarried families who do not raise Jewish children report they had only Jewish clergy.
The National Center reports a “statistically significant relationship:” 87% of couples who had only Jewish clergy were raising Jewish children, compared to 63% who had other officiants and were raising Jewish children.
The National Center study is noteworthy for its extensive, unfiltered comments from survey participants. Many related how positive their experience was when rabbis signified their acceptance by officiating at their weddings. Feeling accepted is critically important: 77% of Jewish partners and 64% of non-Jewish partners wanted to feel more accepted by the Jewish community, and 67% said their spouse feeling comfortable would lead them to join a synagogue.

Rabbi Lev Baesh, the Director of our Resource Center for Jewish Clergy, also wrote an editorial on rabbis officiating at interfaith weddings, this week.

We were proud and pleased to read an interview with Lev in India New England about being an officiant at Jewish-Hindu weddings. I have one more quote for you, from that article–just because I thought it was evocative:

[The Hindu people I’ve married] were all first generation Americans. Their parents were immigrants.

… When I did the really big Jewish wedding, everyone from the Hindu side of the family [didn’t come to the Hindu ceremony] because they knew it would be really long — but during the Jewish portion … the seats were full, and people were standing in the aisles.

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2 thoughts on “Taking it seriously, making it sweet

  1. Interesting that you state that intermarried couples in the Boston area light Shabbat candles at a higher rate than in-married couples who are Reform or Conservative.

    At the same time at another part of your website you point out that Jews proportionally intermarry more with Catholics than with Protestants.

    Those candle-lighters are merely carrying on their candlelighting Catholic traditions as best they can.

    Are they going to Shabbat services more then the Reform or Conservatives? Doesn’t seem so.

  2. Hi Dave. If you want more information about the study of Boston-area Jews and the various indicators of Jewish identification and observance that it measured, you can find a summary and a link to the full report on the Combined Jewish Philanthropies website. Boston’s organized Jewish community is working on outreach to Jewish families with a non-Jewish partner, and this study was a way of measuring whether that outreach was effective. Shabbat candle lighting was one of the practices that the people who conducted the survey thought was a good indicator.

    On the issue of synagogue attendance, the CJP study indicates that intermarried families who have joined a synagogue do attend services a little more often than inmarried Reform families (who are likewise members, comparing apples to apples) and a little less often than inmarried Conservative families. (They don’t break down interfaith Jewish families into Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or any other movement identification.) There are many caveats about this–across all groups of Jews surveyed, everyone joins synagogues at a higher rate when their children are school-aged and preparing for bar mitzvah, and the interfaith families tend to be affiliated in the highest percentages when their children are in Jewish education, and then to drop out of congregational life.

    In any case, it’s worth reading the report for yourself so you can see the mix of what the researchers found.

    The Jews marrying Catholics statistic was from another recent survey, this one by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life–if you want to read that one, you have to click the box on the main page that says U.S. Religious Landscape Survey–you can download that as a .pdf document, too.

    We’ll never be able to capture everyone’s individual experience in these studies, but it’s worth looking at what they really say and evaluating the information for yourself, instead of just relying on anecdotal information alone.

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