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J-Dating

In today’s internet culture, we are long past waiting for Yente, the village matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof, to come to our house and tell us who our perfect mate will be. The part of Yente is now played by either JDate, an online dating service for Jews, or Jewish speed dating. Two recent articles highlight how the Jewish community is utilizing both of these methods to try and get Jews to meet and marry other Jews.

While helping Jews find other Jews is certainly an important goal, some of the stated motivations behind the goal gives us pause, and make us wonder if such statements also do damage as well as good. The first article, by Ed Stoddard in Reuters, titled “Rabbis Play Online Cupid to Help Jews Marry Jews,” explains how Rabbis are offering their congregants free subscriptions to JDate. Stoddard says this is happening because of the concern over rising intermarriage rates in the U.S.:

(Rabbi Donald Webster) said he felt it was important to deal with the issue as some parents “disowned” their children if they married outside the faith – “acting literally has if they had died” – while other people simply ignored it.

We don’t feel intermarriage is necessarily the end of a person’s Jewish life, and communal policy that presumes such an outcome may be hurtful to the many intermarried families working hard to raise Jewish children. JOI’s Paul Golin was interviewed for the article, and he explained the importance of reaching out to intermarried couples as a way of strengthening the Jewish community.

“The assumption is that the children won’t be Jewish. And we know that many intermarried families do raise their children Jewish and we are trying to encourage more to do so,” he said.

In an article titled “Taking a Leap of Faith in Dating” for the GW Hatchet, a newspaper published by George Washington University, Amanda Panitch told the story of Jewish students who recently attended a speed dating event sponsored by the campus Hillel. At the event, guys and girls sat across from each other and had just a few minutes to meet each other before a bell rang and the participants are shuffled.

For most students, she wrote, it was pressure from the outside that brought them to the event, mostly from parents. But it was the concern expressed by sophomore Will Gotkin that gave me pause:

“If I don’t marry Jewish, I know my kids won’t be raised Jewish.”

Why not? I’m sure there are children of intermarriage actively participating in that very Hillel. What do they make of that quote from their classmate? We need to reach out to people like Will Gotkin and let them know intermarriage is a more nuanced phenomenon than a simple either-or. With effective outreach and education, we can provide support for interfaith couples, increase their participation in Jewish life, and enrich the entire Jewish community.



19 Comments

  1. Will Gotkin was right! He was either expressing a halachic view(perhaps he is Conservative or adopts the matrilineal descent position, as do many non-Orthodox Jews). Or, perhaps he was stating a reality in his life, that his own upbringing in Judaism was not strong enough to forge intergenerational bonds of Judaism without a Jewish spouse. I think either of these would be very honest positions.

    Furthermore, Will is deciding for himself, not for anybody else, so please leave him alone to find the Jewish spouse he desires. He doesn’t need you normalizing intermarriage for him, at such a critical time in his life.

    I think your desire to “reach out” to Will exposes that the JOI is really unsupportive on in-marriage between Jews, despite statements in this article to the contrary.

    Comment by marc — January 30, 2008 @ 11:29 am

  2. I think Marc may be reading a lot into Will’s quote.

    Would JOI/Levi have “given pause” had Will said, “If I don’t marry Jewish, I know the odds are lower that my kids will be raised Jewish”? I think this gets to the crux of difference in emphasis/approach between outreach and in-reach.

    Comment by Jeff — January 31, 2008 @ 12:27 am

  3. Jeff, you are right that I may have read too much into Will’s quote. Since Will is an “in-reach” situation, though, given that he wants to marry a Jew, I think the JOI should leave him alone.

    After all, if all Jews wanted to and did marry Jews, the JOI would be out of business and that would be an ideal world. JOI should only be dealing with those already intermarried and those institutions that interact with them, to help foster a more welcoming environment.

    Comment by marc — January 31, 2008 @ 10:56 am

  4. Wouldn’t a member of that Hillel know better than me or you if there was a child of intermarriage participating in that Hillel?

    Comment by Dave — February 3, 2008 @ 1:19 pm

  5. While I hesitate to continue to engage your often sarcastic comments, I want to go on record and tell you that JOI supports outreach to those on the periphery and works with those on the inside of the community. Sometimes that means marriages and relationships between Jews and sometimes that means relationships between Jews and those of other backgrounds. That is what it means to create an inclusive Jewish community.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — February 4, 2008 @ 10:20 pm

  6. JDate and Speed Dating often have some negative connotations attached to them, usually based on individual participants’ experiences that somehow wind up in the media and result in people being afraid to utilize these services for fear of appearing like some of the “desperate” types they hear about. though obviously not everyone who has a JDate profile or attends a Speed Dating event fits this image.

    this article showed that the students were willing to give speed dating a try even if they didn’t meet anyone. though it was clear that they were doing it moreso for their parents than for themselves. and judging from the uneven ratio of men to women at this event, the boys’ parents were lighting the fire underneath them to find nice Jewish girls to ensure them Jewish grandchildren. the Torah teaches us to honor our parents, but there comes a point in everyone’s life where they have to decide what’s important to them individually. there are probably tons of not-so religious kids out there who want to date and marry other Jews. what they don’t want is the constant headaches from their parents, and they especially don’t want the threats and warnings of what could happen if they don’t in-marry.

    i am glad you mentioned the issue of Rabbi Webster dealing with parents who had disowned their kids. while this does not happen as often as it did in the early parts of the 20th Century, it is still a concern and parents who contemplate this approach should strongly re-consider the damage they could possibly do to their family should they choose to cut off their intermarried kids. no, it’s not ideal if our kids intermarry. and yes, we might be upset if they marry non-Jews. but what’s worse: having non-Jewish sons or daughters-in law (who may someday convert or at least be amenable to raising Jewish kids) or never speaking to our kids again? would Will Gotkin’s parents have the audacity to disown him if he married a non-Jewish girl? i certainly hope not, for his sake and theirs. they may not approve of it, but cutting him off certainly isn’t the solution. in fact, it only tends to make things worse. and we don’t need to make things worse for the Jewish community, we neeed to make things better.

    Comment by h. — February 5, 2008 @ 1:17 pm

  7. Even if Will wanted to marry only a Jewish girl for what the JOI sees as a “misguided” reason, why would the JOI want to “re-educate” Will? Let him marry a nice Jewish girl, and if one of his kids intermarries, step in to help maintain bridges in that family. Before that happens, we all agree that Will marrying a Jeish girl is a good thing so why mess with his desire to do just that?

    Better he do the right thing for the wrong reason than do the wrong thing.

    Comment by marc — February 6, 2008 @ 4:03 pm

  8. You presume things incorrectly in your comments. JOI happily supports the marriage between Jews and Jews. We also reach out and welcome in those who are intermarried so please desist from the sarcasm. While our methods may differ, I would hope that your interest in Jewish continuity is the same as ours.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — February 6, 2008 @ 9:13 pm

  9. Who is being sarcastic?

    The author wrote above, “We need to reach out to people like Will Gotkin and let them know intermarriage is a more nuanced phenomenon than a simple either-or.”

    I’m saying leave Will alone, if you truly believe him marrying a Jewish girl is a good thing. No sarcasm at all. Just responding directly to your author who, I presume, can defend his own writing without help, or choose to modify his post by deleting the quoted line.

    Comment by marc — February 7, 2008 @ 1:37 pm

  10. Marc, a piece of our work is advocacy. The reason we would try to reach out and dispell Will Gotkin of his factual inaccuracies about intermarriage is not because we want to influence who he marries—we wish him the best of luck in finding a Jewish spouse—but because he is engaging in an organized Jewish community and potentially sharing his misconceptions with other people. If those other people happen to be children of intermarriage, for example, they may be offended and never return to that Hillel house again. Changing the way the “inside” of the Jewish community understands intermarriage, and offering a more nuanced understanding of the challenges and the opportunities, is an important way that the community-at-large is going to help more intermarried families feel comfortable engaging in Judaism.

    And that’s why we bother continuing the back-and-forth with YOU on our blog! I can only imagine how many people you’ve pushed away with your attitudes, which sometimes get so ridiculous and offensive we have to delete them, as I’m sure you’re aware. Wouldn’t it be better to welcome people in with our words?

    Comment by Paul Golin — February 7, 2008 @ 5:12 pm

  11. Paul,

    As you know I belong to an open-door Orthodox shul, where many members are not yet Sabbath observant, and where many are not Orthodox. Indeed, a number of people are intermarried and their non-Jewish spouses are on the path to conversion, which we facilitate if they want that.

    Far from turning people off, as you say, I actually teach quite successful outreach classes in St. Louis and have helped play my tiny part in turning many people onto Judaism. I am always respectful regadless of their backgrounds b/c I value each person as b’tselem elokim, in the image of G-d.

    However, the truth is also important, not just making people feel good. The JOI is being disingenuous and is insulting the intelligence of its readers if it claims, on one hand, that it is pro in-marriage amongst Jews and, on the other hand, that it wants to teach the not-yet-married demographic that intermarriage need not be the end to Jewish continuity.

    I have not come out here against your desire to change how the “inside” views the situation, except to say that the JOI should not concentrate its efforts on those who are already convinced, for whatever reason, that they personally want to marry Jews. You should respect their personal decision, beause that decision is, we all agree, ultimately good for the Jewish people.

    To do otherwise is to become an agent leading to more intermarriages, thus perpetuating the need for your work. Any good not-for-profit wishes it did not need to exist. As you said once, in an ideal world all Jews would marry Jews. If you really believe that, then when one Jew expresses that he wants to marry another, tell him to think that’s a great eprsonal choice, and move onto the next person who may actually be in need of your help.

    Comment by marc — February 8, 2008 @ 12:47 pm

  12. And for the record, on the two occassions when I arguably wrote something that was taken as harsher than it was intended, I sincerely apologized for it. Email is not the best medium for portraying tone, and I try to write with conviction, but without insulting.

    On the one occassion when one of my posts was taken off, I rewrote it in a way that was more acceptabel to the JOI. I would appreciate if you also refrained from personally insulting me, as you have done above and in the past.

    Far from having “ridiculous” or “offensive” views, many of my views are mainstream…indeed the JOI is trying to change some of them, but they are far from crazy. Others come from a deep sense of commitment to “Jewish Continuity,” but our disagreement on what that phrase means is just that, a disagreement. That someone diagrees with you does not make them ridiculous or offensive. If you think it does, then it may be a sign that you are falling back on emotion b/c your logic is not holding up as you would like.

    Comment by marc — February 8, 2008 @ 1:02 pm

  13. And as I’ve said before, if that’s the work you’re doing in person, I applaud you.

    I of course respect the personal decision of any Jew who wants to marry another Jew. What I do not respect (and am working to change) is statements and attitudes that push other Jews away. We felt that the publicly stated quote by this young man was potentially harmful because it is based on a presumption. It could also be read that he’s only talking about his own situation because he personally feels inadequately prepared to raise Jewish children. Because I can’t know and wasn’t there, I can’t declare his statement patently offensive, just potentially offensive.

    However, I find it really hard to understand how you think we are being disingenuous by teaching “the not-yet-married demographic that intermarriage need not be the end to Jewish continuity”. Marc, what is the FACT? If it’s a FACT, shouldn’t it be taught to all adults, regardless of their demographic or how we want them to behalf?

    It’s a fact that a percentage of interfaith families (we can debate exact numbers) raise their children Jewish (we can debate exactly what “Jewish” means). Should we hide that fact from the unmarried? Especially when there are more young people today from intermarried parents than from in-married parents? They already know what the deal is, and will respect us more if we speak openly and honestly about it. Likewise, if we’re going to have the conversation, it is also a fact that it’s generally easier to raise children Jewish when you have two Jewish parents. And that the percentages of in-married households raising exclusively-Jewish children is much higher.

    What I want the community to get past is the hyperbole about intermarriage and move into a more honest discussion about it.

    Comment by Paul Golin — February 8, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  14. It’s a disputed fact. You believe it, I do not. Halachically, it is not true. You dispute the truth of halacha. If you are correct about halacha, then it is a fact. If I am correct about it, then that statement is false.

    You know I agree with your work to bring halachic intermarried Jews and their halachically Jewish children back into the community. However, you also know that I do not agree with what seems to border on proselytizing by convincing parents of non-halachic Jews to raise them as Jews without a halachic conversion by parent and/or child.

    “Likewise, if we’re going to have the conversation, it is also a fact that it’s generally easier to raise children Jewish when you have two Jewish parents. And that the percentages of in-married households raising exclusively-Jewish children is much higher.”

    So long as the above is truly a part of the conversation, then I have much less of an objection to having the conversation. I just think the timing of the conversation is also important. When a young person is trying to decide who to date or marry, and they are inclined toward other Jews, there is no reason to go out of your way to address them, unless you know for a fact that somebody was upset by something they said, that’s all.

    I still love all Jews, even the ones I have strong disagreements with. It just shows that we both care tremendously about the community : )

    Shabbat Shalom, Paul.

    Comment by marc — February 8, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

  15. Will’s view is true. I have personal experience with this issue. I am a product of an interfaith relationship. I was raised Roman Catholic. I was raised in the South by a Jewish father and a Catholic mother where it was bad to be anything but Southern Baptist. MAny years later, I converted to Judaism. Now I’m the most religious of my family. Like all of you, Will has a right to express himself, if you can’t handle it, then move. til then go jump off a cliff and hang yourself. will’s words are not even close to offensive. In fact, it’s offensive that you don’t believe his words. you doubters should really know your own religion and pick up the Torah and read it. jerks.

    Comment by brittany bach — February 18, 2008 @ 1:19 am

  16. Brittany,

    I understand your passion, given your background and difficult journey, but please tone down your rhetoric. We observant Jews need to set an example, particularly in the area of Ahavat Yisrael. We can strongly disagree with certain things the JOI does, but the Torah mandates we hold ourselves to certain decorum in so disagreeing lest we say or write something so hurtful and regrettable.

    -marc

    Comment by marc — February 18, 2008 @ 6:01 pm

  17. I am a friend of Will Gotkin and we think that your use of his quote is utterly hilarious. Will Gotkin is a great guy, a committed Jew who wants to bring his family up Jewish. The fact that you seemingly have a problem with him dating only Jewish people is the most delusional argument I’ve ever heard regarding Jewish continuity. If Will’s wife is not Jewish, his children will not be accepted as Jewish by the Conservative and Orthodox movements. It was only in the 1980s that the Reform movement even recognized patrilineal descent. For Will Gotkin it’s not just a spiritual matter but a practical one. It’s true that there are students active in Hillel that have a Jewish father but a non-Jewish mother but that doesn’t mean they’re Jewish. Will Gotkin’s got his head on straight and is assured of bringing a new generation of Jews into the world. Your organization is not.

    Comment by michael bassin — February 21, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

  18. We can leave such predictions to the prophets and historians of the future.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — February 25, 2008 @ 2:45 pm

  19. Thanks for your comment Michael, and for shedding light upon Will’s intent in his remarks, which was a matter of some debate on this blog. Will should be commended for his commitment to Judaism and to marrying a Jewish woman. Hatzlacha rabba to you both!

    Comment by marc — February 28, 2008 @ 11:47 am

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