Judaism is Not a Numbers Game

Edgar Bronfman, president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, recently wrote a blog entry for the website laying out, in his trademark straightforward terms, exactly what it is he thinks is the cause for such a high number of unaffiliated Jewish families. It isn’t intermarriage, as many believe. “The real numbers problem is not that Jews are falling in love with non-Jews,” he wrote, “but that they aren’t falling in love with Judaism.”

He’s exactly right. Intermarriage itself is not what causes Jewish families to stop attending synagogue or give their children a Jewish education. In many cases, it is the reaction to intermarriage by the Jewish community, which for too long has been to marginalize intermarried families or, in extreme cases, compare intermarriage to the Holocaust. Or it is that Judaism—as presented to those families presently or when the Jewish spouse was a child—simply did not resonate. In his book Hope, Not Fear: A Path to Jewish Renaissance, Bronfman argues that we are beyond trying to prevent intermarriage. Instead our future depends on how much we invest in Jewish education. If that is our focus, “we will see an increase in the numbers and commitment of Jews, no matter whom they marry.” Through our work at JOI, we know this is true. For those who complain that evidence is still too anecdotal and instead require quantitative data, Edgar Bronfman replies:

I don’t want to see statistics about intermarried families until I see Jewish communities that welcome them with open hearts and without conditions. If these communities offer a Jewish life that is rich in substance and full of joy, both disengaged Jews and their non-Jewish family members will see the value in making Judaism part of their lives.

1 Comment

  1. Maybe it isn’t that they aren’t falling in love with Judaism but that are falling ” out ” of love with Judaism. Maybe it isn’t the inter-married ” problem” so much as it is the lack of concern for those that are already members. Maybe too much emphasise is placed on the ” new ” members - getting the ” new” people involved - while letting the older members slip away. For every new member family we bring into our schul we lose three older members…why? Is it that dues are over $2000 per year? Is it the lack of spiritual leadership ” show me where you want to go and I’ll lead you” is not leadership. This past Kol Nidre se paraded all the new members across the Bima - very impressive, but maybe we shoul dhave placed empty chairs across the bima for those families that left the schul…there would have been more chairs than people! We are losing more than we are gaining, how long can we blame the lack of affiliation on inter- marriage? ood cope out but not the primary reason for lack of affiliation in conservative Judiasm.


    Comment by Ell — March 17, 2009 @ 6:08 am

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