Every landmark Jewish demographic study seems to reignite an inreach-outreach debate and the recent Boston study is no exception. Showing that 60% of intermarried households are raising Jewish children, the Boston study has caused a predictable backlash questioning policy rather than facts, with a spate of articles including a recent editorial by the executive editor of the Jewish Exponent, Jonathan Tobin, entitled View From America: What Price Outreach? Tobin writes:
I don’t doubt that more funding for outreach is a worthy idea that may well pay dividends. But if we create a culture that denigrates those who encourage in-marriage and values outreach over day schools and camps, we may well be making a mistake that will effectively decide the future in ways we may come to regret.
No one in Boston is calling for less money to go to core communal institutions or to support Jewish education. (In fact, Boston just received the largest philanthropic gift to day schools in history, and we applaud that.) What Boston has shown the rest of the country is how important a plethora of Jewish offerings can be for an entire community. Advocates like JOI are only saying that if we want to secure the Jewish future of the largest and fasting growing segment of the Jewish community—the intermarried and their children—and the Jewish community itself, then we should open doors and our hearts to the intermarried in our midst. We may all agree about this, but it is the tactics about which we disagree. Boston’s federation is engaging their intermarried population using less than 1.5% of their total budget. That hardly “values outreach over day schools and camps.” Is there really a fear that such a day will come? Philadelphia’s local federation just decimated its fledgling outreach initiatives, which did not come close to 1% of their overall budget. Yet where will the kids for day schools and camps come from, if such institutions only support the shrinking number of in-married households?
To suggest that our call for inclusion of intermarried households “denigrates those who encourage in-marriage” is misguided. In fact, it is the historic denigration of intermarried households that have pushed so many Jews away from our community, which we are now working to counteract through outreach. That’s because the “encouragement of in-marriage” has rarely been handled with sensitivity and understanding by the organized Jewish community; all too often it comes in the form of fire-and-brimstone sermons about finishing Hitler’s job. We believe the organized Jewish community should model Jewish life by accepting and including Jews as they are rather than dictating who they should marry (or what gender or skin color their partners should be). Admonitions don’t work and only push people away. What does work is what we’ve seen in Boston: a community that welcomes all to the table, while strengthening Jewish institutions like day schools at the same time.