A 2006 study of Jewish students by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life concluded that almost half of all self-identifying Jewish college students comes from interfaith homes. Clearly, the number of adult children of intermarriage has reached critical mass. Now the question seems to be: What happened in these people’s lives to bring them closer to (or push them away from) a Jewish identity?
A recent article on InterfaithFamily.com titled “What Leads Children of Intermarriage to Identify as Jews?” responds to this two-part question with the assistance of a JOI survey completed in 2005 titled “A Flame Still Burns” as well as several professionals, including our own associate executive director Paul Golin. Regarding the children of interfaith families, the article states that:
A family’s relationships and beliefs are probably the most important factors leading to the religious identity of adult children of interfaith marriages. More than two-thirds of the population studied in A Flame Still Burns identify with whatever religion their parents practiced at home.
The finding seems to imply that it is imperative to reach the parents in order to reach the children. And that is certainly an important goal. On the other hand, that statistic also implies that more than a quarter of those studied do not identify with the religion their parents practiced at home—which suggests that reaching the parents is not the only way to encourage and support a Jewish journey by their children. Adults in general, including young adults, have the freedom to explore their heritage and follow their own hearts. Therefore, the community has to be open to welcoming individuals from interfaith families at all points during their lifetime.
At JOI, we’re trying to help Jewish organizations build many more “on ramps” to Jewish life for that growing segment of the Jewish population who did not grow up with the stereotypical Jewish upbringing. Hopefully, the percent of adult children from interfaith families who find a comfortable space and warm welcome from the Jewish community will continue to grow.