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.