Jonathan Tobin is a fiercely intelligent, exceptionally eloquent Jewish journalist who was recently appointed editor of Commentary, an esteemed conservative (small-c) Jewish magazine. I would be a big fan, if it weren’t for his equally fierce, equally exceptional retrograde politics on Jewish issues. Intermarriage, unsurprisingly, is one of his favorite bugbears.
In his first op-ed as editor of Commentary, Tobin makes the remarkable argument that intermarriage and assimilation are bigger villains than Bernard Madoff. Moreover, he says, the whole notion of marketing Judaism to Jews “on the fringe”–the “outreach model”–has been a failure. Therefore, in this brave new world of shrunken philanthropic resources, Jewish givers should abandon outreach and focus only on inreach, like Jewish day camps, day schools and the like.
This all sounds quite reasonable–if only his key assumption were true. “Outreach” has become a buzzword in the Jewish world over the last 20 years, but talk and treasure are two very different things. Only one-tenth of 1 percent of all Jewish charitable funding goes to outreach to the intermarried. It’s hard to see how that pittance of an investment could be considered a “failure,” as Tobin calls it. It’s like working out once a year for 10 years and then giving up exercise because you haven’t lost any weight. No payin’, no gain.
Moreover, the dichotomy between outreach and inreach is a false one. Take Taglit-Birthright Israel, the program that has sent more than 200,000 young Jewish adults on free trips to Israel. Studies have shown that young Jews come back from the trips with a greater attachment to Israel and Judaism. More than a few birthright romances have led to marriage. Is birthright inreach because it’s helped Jews marry Jews, or outreach because it’s brought “fringe Jews” into the fold? What about Jewish camping scholarships? Are those inreach or outreach? With a few small exceptions–including our website, which consumes an exceptionally small piece of the multi-billion-dollar Jewish philanthropic pie–the distinction between outreach and inreach has become meaningless.
The Madoff scandal and stockmarket collapse will necessarily force Jewish givers to prioritize their funding, and stop funding causes deemed less essential. Reaching unaffiliated and intermarried Jews should not be one of them.
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