Our organization is attacked--or complimented--as "the most pro-outreach organization on the communal map" in a September 9 opinion article by two members of the Jewish In-Marriage Initiative, Jack Wertheimer and Steven Bayme ("Real Realism on Intermarriage").
We who are working on the ground, outside the ivory towers, would like to know: What is an "in-marriage initiative"? Is it a series of programs causing actual change in people's lives, the way outreach is? Or is it simply a "Just Say No" campaign by a small group of leaders whose people have long since passed them by?
Like a TV newscast giving "equal time" to 20 protesters even though the parade is 100,000 marchers strong, this debate gives unequal time to notions that are woefully outdated. The American Jewish Committee illustrated this gap in a survey that found only 39% of Jewish adults agreed with the statement "It would pain me if my child married a gentile," and fully half thought "It is racist to oppose Jewish-gentile marriages." More importantly, a whopping 81% said, "The Jewish community has an obligation to reach out to intermarried couples," and 80% said "Intermarriage is inevitable in an open society."
Jews are smart people, and smart Jewish leaders should listen to them. Instead, a small group of insiders looked at this data and decided that, no, the overwhelming majority of American Jews were simply wrong and needed "reeducation."
We support in-marriage, but recognize that intermarriage is inevitable in an open society. Trying to "change the Jews" in order to stop intermarriage is a strategy that ignores the most powerful factor behind the phenomenon: 97% of Americans. Triage and withdrawal are unacceptable solutions.
Outreach is about creating many more doorways into Jewish life for those who would join us. Take day schools for example. Wertheimer and Bayme say that fewer than 3% of intermarried families have children in day school, but how many have actually been invited? The day schools in their movements won't allow patrilineal children, yet they still unfairly beat them with this statistic.
Luckily, theirs is not the majority response. We have the honor of working with amazing Jewish leaders all across North America who are looking to create those additional doorways into the Jewish community. We're adding families to the community by welcoming rather than turning away, and by sharing what we love about Judaism--not what we fear about demographic trends.