American society has moved from a melting pot of “sameness” into a salad bowl of diversity, where people are proud to be different and show it. Supporting interfaith families who choose to raise Jewish children is only part of the conversation.
Paul Golin, Associate Executive Director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, believes that the word “assimilation” doesn’t really describe what happened to most American Jews, and that intermarriage is not synonymous with assimilation-out-of-existence for the Jewish community. In a recent article in “Chai Lights” (PDF) the newsletter of the Pacific Community of Cultural Jews, he discusses his views on assimilation and intermarriage:
“A growing percentage of the organized Jewish community now recognizes intermarriage as an opportunity for growth,” Golin says, “and not the exit that was once presumed.” Many intermarried couples raise their children Jewish. Golin says, “When our organization, the Jewish Outreach Institute, began in 1987, we had to spend over a decade advocating that intermarriage does not automatically mean the end of Judaism in that household, and that the community needs to welcome interfaith families.” Our movement is helping to stem the tide of assimilation by welcoming intermarried couples, thus providing a comfortable Jewish experience for the children. “I would actually suggest that liberal and secular Jews stop seeking motivation from demographic fears,” Golin says, “and instead focus on Jewish meaning and values as the most important step for continuing to grow our community.”
The major question nowadays, as Golin states, “is about strength-of-connection to Judaism.” People who walk away from Judaism do so not because of the pull of assimilation, but because Judaism is no longer speaking to them. So, we have to ask ourselves how to re-create connections to Judaism for less-engaged and intermarried families, and how to encourage them to celebrate their diversity not only as Jewish families or families raising Jewish children, but within the Jewish community from each other, to show how we all contribute to a thriving American Jewish community.