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.

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