More Global Intermarriage: Oh CANADA!

For years we’ve been told that Canada’s Jewish community is decades behind the U.S. in terms of high intermarriage rates. However, as recently reported in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, at least one city is experiencing a skyrocketing rate. The article discusses a newly-released population study conducted in 2001 that found:

Since 1991, the number of intermarried arrangements has doubled. Almost half (48.3 per cent) of couple households in which at least one spouse is Jewish are intermarried. In absolute terms, 2,070 of 4,285 couple households are intermarried. When both spouses are less than 30 years of age, the level of intermarriage is an astounding 82.1 per cent. Almost half of Jewish children under 15 live in intermarried households (43.6 per cent). About a third of the youngest children of intermarried couples are being brought up Jewish (32.1 per cent), approximately half have no religion (49.1 per cent) and the rest (18.8 per cent) are being raised within another religion.

At JOI, we see two challenges in those numbers. First, of the one-third of intermarried households already raising their children Jewish, how is the organized community welcoming them in and supporting their decision? Second, of the half who say they are raising their children with “no religion,” what does that really mean? After all, Judaism is not just a religion, it’s a culture and a peoplehood. What opportunities are available for engaging those households in cultural and communal Jewish activities?

Luckily, JOI will have the chance to work directly with the Ottawa Jewish community on these challenges, as mentioned in the article:

The Jewish Identity and Responsibility (JIR) committee’s recommendation to hire the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI), a national, non-denominational, independent organization, to help the community reach the unaffiliated and the intermarried has been accepted by the Federation Board of Governors. The JOI does a scan of the community and helps set up best practices for community organizations to reach the intermarried and unaffiliated….JOI believes it is imperative that Judaism be taken to where the people are. Its model, “Public Space Judaism,” calls for Jewish programming in secular public venues such as malls or parks….Mitchell Bellman, president and CEO of the Federation, feels intermarriage is a “symptom” of the declining affiliation level among Jews. It is, he says, a trend that is happening throughout North American Jewry. “The problem is not intermarriage, but Jewish identity, involvement, affiliation, and how to increase it.” He sees the JOI helping the community become more open and welcoming towards the intermarried and unaffiliated, and learning to think creatively in finding venues and programming to engage them.

We believe that this is both the most challenging yet most important work that a community can undertake, and we look forward to rolling up our sleeves with the good folks of the Ottawa Jewish community!


  1. I just question the accuracy of the Census data used in such a fashion. A lot of assumptions are made to indicate whether one spouse is Jewish or not. Obviously there is no question that the Census is valid data, however, it was not designed to be “cut” in so many small pieces. It is not mentioned that only 20% of the Canadian population actually get the long form of the questionnaire with the ethnic and religious variables. Thus, when you think about it, probably only about 100 couples under 30 actually got the questionnaire and then it is extrapolated to the entire population. Because these are such small figures, I would argue that there is some sampling error at least under the age category of 30. Even with the potential sampling error/bias, yes the intermarriage would still be high but maybe not as high as the reported 82% under 30.

    Comment by Jackie — December 26, 2005 @ 10:01 pm

  2. Thanks, Jackie. You raise an important point, that all statistics should be taken with some grain of salt, especially when they try to measure such large populations. However, sometimes the exact number is less important then the overview or trends it identifies, and I think that’s the case here (as you also point out).

    Our exec Rabbi Kerry Olitzky likes to recount a story of when he once brought his child to the pediatrician with a fever and felt it was very important to give the doctor an exact temperature. The doctor replied, “The number doesn’t matter, just tell me if it’s a high-grade fever or a low-grade fever.” Similarly, unless these demographic numbers are wildly inaccurate (which is doubtful), I think the Ottawa community is acting appropriately in recognizing that its future plans must include increased outreach to intermarried households.

    Comment by Paul Golin, Associate Executive Director — December 27, 2005 @ 2:17 am

  3. Thanks Paul for commenting. As a member of the Ottawa Jewish Community I would agree that it is extremely important we do more outreach given these alarming trends. In fact, as a new Mom and someone active in the community, I am personally trying to get more affilated new mother’s in the area to join my Na’amat Women’s Chapter as well as a Jewish Mommy Baby-group I have set up. I would be curious if there has been any success elsewhere by targetting Jewish Mothers in such a fashion. From my own experience, I am finding that as women become moms, there is more of a desire to reach out to one’s “roots” and find other women in similar situations. So far my group has been a fantastic asset and support system for new Moms.

    Comment by Jackie — January 11, 2006 @ 1:56 pm

  4. Hi Jackie,

    Your groups sound great, and I think you’re absolutely right that having children (for both parents, not just moms) amplifies the importance of having (or finding) a welcoming religious community for many, many couples.

    If you are interested in reaching out not just to the already-affiliated but to those currently on the fringes of the community, I would ask you a number of questions about the programs, particularly about the Jewish Mommy-Baby group (as it sounds like the Na’amat Chapter is much more what we would call “inreach” or “middle reach” — you identify the target audience as “affiliated”).

    Where do you market the program? What prior knowledge of Judaism or the Jewish community is required of your participants (or more imporantly, is PERCEIVED to be required BY your participants)? Where does the program take place? How much does it cost? How are newcomers greeted? Etc.

    To do good outreach, the programmer needs to consider all the “barriers to entry” for potential unaffiliated participants. The above questions represent just a small sample of how to begin that process.


    Comment by Paul Golin, JOI Associate Executive Director — January 11, 2006 @ 2:48 pm

  5. PS - those questions were rhetorical, just to get you thinking. :)

    Comment by Paul Golin, JOI Associate Executive Director — January 11, 2006 @ 2:59 pm

  6. I would really like to know what is the % of intermarriages in Canada today?
    Do you know where I can find the information?

    Comment by Gila Yefet — September 23, 2010 @ 2:45 am

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