Though many only see the negative side of interfaith relationships, we often say they are missing the potential opportunities for Jewish engagement. In a personal essay in the Forward, author and poet Hila Ratzabi explains how her perspective of interfaith relationships has changed since entering into one herself.
Raised with the “implied assumption” that she was expected to marry a Jew, Hila eventually realized that she could raise Jewish children, celebrate Jewish holidays, and practice Jewish teachings on social and economic justice “with a supportive non-Jewish partner.” This is possible for her because she is more concerned with behaving “Jewishly” and incorporating “great Jewish teachings” into her life than “worrying about identity labels.”
Being Jewish, she writes, is “not about genetics, but about practicing a set of ideals that will hopefully inspire the world to become a more peaceful place.” In that sense, the background of her partner matters little, as long as he shares and supports her brand of Judaism. With the two working towards a common goal, they can lead a meaningful Jewish life.
This is the same philosophy that drives many of the programs JOI has designed over the years, including Mothers Circle and our upcoming Answering Your Jewish Children, a program for men of other religious backgrounds who are raising Jewish children. And it’s here that we see an opportunity for engagement.
Many Jews who intermarry/interpartner want to practice Judaism and want to raise children who have a strong sense of their Jewish background. We need to provide the resources to help bring Judaism into their lives. Focusing on why intermarried families or interfaith couples can’t participate will do little to endear anyone. Focusing on how to help these couples lead a Jewish life and engage with the community is far more beneficial to the future of Judaism.