Fear of Disappearing

The Philadelphia Jewish Exponent ran a piece on the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s 2009 “Jewish Population Study of Greater Philadelphia.” Apparently Philadelphia’s Jewish community has a high rate of interfaith marriage and a low rate of people in those marriages deciding to raise Jewish children. In the greater Philadelphia area, 45 percent for Jews under 40 marry non-Jews with only 29 percent of intermarried couples of all ages raising their children solely as Jews. In the Philadelphia area, 60 per cent of same-faith Jewish couples affiliate with synagogues, but only 9 per cent of interfaith couples do.

The community then asks two familiar questions: Can we stop Jews from marrying non-Jews, and can we simultaneously welcome interfaith families to stay in the community? The reporter talked with different leaders in the Jewish community, some who advocate doing one, and some the other.

It’s really difficult for people outside of our community to understand this fear, but articles like these make it clear–it’s a fear of disappearing. It’s also clear what direction we should take. The article quotes:

Mindy Fortin, a mother of three, who’s married to a Catholic man and is a former board member of the synagogue, has overseen those efforts, which have included weekly classes with the rabbi for both Jewish and non-Jewish partners in interfaith marriages.

“I understand the panic” over the numbers, she said. But she explained that all the difference in her own spiritual life has resulted from folks in her synagogue not writing her off, but encouraging her to become more involved.

“The biggest mistake is to equate intermarriage with apathy toward Judaism and write off immediately a Jew who has intermarried,” she said.

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One thought on “Fear of Disappearing

  1. The synagogues can accept interfaith families, but they will not win our hearts if they consider only the “exclusively Jewish” kids to be “real” Jews. Message: every mixed marriage is a contest, and Jews “win” only if the non-Jewish religious heritage is erased.

    If you care about Jewishness being part of kids’ lives, you should be encouraged by the fact that a strong majority — 59% — of the intermarried families are explicitly raising their kids as Jewish, with another 14% still undecided.

    It makes no sense to try to make intermarried parents look less committed to Jewish survival by showing that their kids are less frequently raised Jewish than those of all-Jewish partnerships. I bet kids from Catholic-Catholic marriages hardly ever turn out Protestant! It would be more reasonable to compare with kids from other interfaith couples.

    It would be even more reasonable to simply welcome our kids into Jewish culture and practice. Let people work out their own theology. A person who is “not exclusively Jewish” is no more heretical than a lot of perfectly good Jews and Christians who reject problematic tenets of the faith.

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