There was an article in the Forward newspaper recently about the future of the Conservative movement. In the piece, J.J. Goldberg notes the movement’s decline in numbers over the last twenty years, and how today’s leaders are trying to figure out the best way to reverse that trend. It’s an insightful piece, but one issue went unmentioned – intermarriage. This omission prompted JOI’s associate executive director Paul Golin to write a letter to the editor. In it, he said:
If the omission is reflective of the lack of conversation about intermarriage within the Conservative movement itself during the search for new leadership, that will not bode well for the movement’s future. As much as I agree that issues of geographic migration and transdenominationalism are relevant, they’re not the elephant in the room. It’s the inability to effectively welcome significant numbers of intermarried families that is the single most important factor in the Conservative movement’s decline, and it’s one that can be fixed.
Many Jews like me who grew up in the Conservative movement tacitly understand that if we intermarry, we shouldn’t bother coming back to the congregations where we celebrated earlier simchas. This is not about our loyalty to the movement (“transdenominationalism”), it’s about the movement’s loyalty to us. Many of the unwelcoming policies still on the books are cultural rather than religious decisions based on unfounded fear. Hundreds of thousands of intermarried families raising Jewish children over the past two decades prove that intermarriage in and of itself is not the end of Jewish continuity.
We know the Conservative movement is capable of creating a more inclusive environment – just look at the steps they have taken to ordain gay and lesbian rabbis and cantors. The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the association of Conservative congregations in North America, is currently searching for a new executive director. Paul thinks one of the most important questions that should be asked of anyone considered for the job is “How will you help our movement better welcome intermarried families?” The answer might just determine the future of the Conservative Movement.