Esther Kustanowitz, the prolific blogger, columnist and editor of PresenTense, has written a column about her experience speaking about intermarriage–or more accurately, serving as “session artist” for a workshop on intermarriage at a conference for young Jewish leaders.
At the session, Kustanowitz read an essay from her book-in-progress about her own thoughts on intermarriage:
(To ruin the ending, I decided intermarriage wasn’t for me, and to this day I restrict my dating pool to Jews who are interested in living a traditionally Jewish life.)
In all modesty, I thought the piece was a sensitive, personal consideration of all of the issues involved and hoped it also brought some humor to the table. OK, maybe that wasn’t all that modest. Still, I was pretty sure it was balanced. But even with all the writing and reading I’ve done on the subject, I underestimated just how personally everyone in the room would react. While people were polite, challenging me respectfully and non-confrontationally, afterward I became aware that some offense had been taken. Some people — themselves intermarried or children of intermarriages — had heard my personal exploration as a condemnation of their (or their parents’) choices.
There are a number of interesting things going on here. Kustanowitz does not make a demographic appeal for inmarriage; her argument is personal (“intermarriage wasn’t for me“), based on her own desire to spend her life with somebody who shares her dedication to Judaism. Just as interesting is the fact that there were multiple young Jewish leaders at this conference who were intermarried or children of intermarriage. This is part of an emerging, little-noted trend: children of intermarriage are slowly ascending into positions of leadership at Jewish organizations. At a similar conference for young Jewish leaders I attended last month, I was struck by the number of people who came up to me to tell me that they were children of intermarriage.
You wouldn’t know from meeting any of them that they are the children of intermarriage. They are passionate about their work and committed to Judaism, in some way, in their personal lives. But it’s not something they broadcast, unless the forum–like my presence, or Kustanowitz’s session–calls for it.
The phenomenon makes me optimistic for the future. Currently, the leadership of the Jewish community lags behind the people in terms of acceptance and embrace of the intermarried. But soon enough, the leadership will more than catch up–they will be products of interfaith families themselves.
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