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Meeting the Needs of Children of Intermarriage

Robin Margolis, coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, has long been advocating for greater acceptance of children and grandchildren of intermarriage in the Jewish community. In a post on Jewcy.com, she attempts to answer the one question she is usually presented with: “So what do half-Jewish people really want, anyway?”

The short answer is easy, she says. “We want the same resources and help that are given to interfaith couples and Jews by Choice (converts).” The difficulty, though, is convincing the mainstream Jewish community that children and grandchildren of intermarriage are worth the outreach effort. She notes that in the eyes of many, this is a population already lost, and this attitude is remarkably detrimental.

The stigma attached to those with interfaith backgrounds – that they are not “fully” Jewish – has created in these folks feelings of abandonment, Margolis writes. What complicates matters, she says, is “we see Jews with two Jewish parents who were raised in other faiths or as ‘nothing’ being welcomed back into Jewish communities with no demands for conversion.” This can be especially hurtful for children of intermarriage who were raised Jewish but still have to navigate exclusionary Jewish communal policies, “such as our exclusion from a teen summer camp.”

What can we do? What steps can institutions and organizations take to better reach this population? Margolis writes:

We’d like pamphlets welcoming us. How about some video documentaries on our issues? It wouldn’t hurt to see more books written for us. Podcasts would be nice. We need one person, preferably the child or grandchild of intermarriage themselves, to be designated as our contact person in every Jewish institution. Jewish communal professionals need training on how to outreach us. We want discussion groups for us in synagogues, just like the interfaith couples and Jews by Choice have. Most importantly, we need to be listed as a specific demographic in every discussion of Jewish outreach.

We agree, and we are proud to say that we have devoted countless hours and resources trying to identify and better meet the needs of children of intermarriage, both young and adult. And we actively promote those who are doing more to speak out for this group – such as the “Half-Jewish” meetup group in Seattle, or the new website FiftyPercenters.com.

The stronger the voice for this community, the greater the reaction will be among the mainstream. As intermarriage rates continue to hover around 50%, we understand the conversation over how to best welcome in children and grandchildren of intermarriage will only become increasingly necessary. We will continue to do our part in advocating for their greater inclusion and participation in the Jewish community.



4 Comments

  1. I have no doubt that the offspring of intermarriages have a lot of problems especially regarding their ralationship with the general Jewish community. Of course all these problems could have been prevented if their parents had thought about the future of their children in the first place.

    Comment by Dave — November 29, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

  2. Dear Dave and JOI:

    Dave: Excuse me for living — literally! We adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage aren’t sorry to be alive — we’re angry with how poorly you and many members of the Jewish community treat us.

    There is nothing kosher or moral or Jewish about ignoring and mistreating people because of their parentage.

    JOI: thank you for the review of my essay. It was much appreciated!

    I would only offer one small correction — the FiftyPercenters.com website is primarily for interfaith couples, not children of intermarriage. Its name, FiftyPercenters, refers to the estimated 50% intermarriage rate of American Jews, not to adult children of intermarriage.

    Three of the four founding bloggers on the website are members of interfaith couples. Only one of them is an adult child of intermarriage.

    Cordially,
    Robin Margolis
    www.half-jewish.net
    www.inclusivistjudaism.wordpress.com

    Comment by Robin Margolis — December 1, 2009 @ 4:43 am

  3. Thank you to Robin and Levi for writing about these issues. I was lucky being raised in a progressive Reform synagogue where questions of my mixed-background genetics never threatened my Jewishness. I think the most productive conversations for our communities might focus in Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative congregations and issues of mixed cultures, particularly for families that choose Judaism and Jewish lives.

    I’d like to make one small correction to Robin’s reference to www.FiftyPercenters.com, where I write as an adult child of an interfaith marriage. We are NOT primarily a website for interfaith couples: we are a group committed to creating a space for Jewish, non-Jewish, and ambiguous members of non-traditional Jewish families to speak candidly about their personal experiences of Judaism. Hannah, the woman who founded the website after the process of her own interfaith wedding, reached out to friends in a variety of non-traditional Jewish backgrounds/relationships to develop the launch. We each bring a different voice to the conversation and would feel it is reductionist to limit our labels to “intermarriage contributors and adult children of intermarriage.” Hannah is a Jewish woman marrying a non-Jewish man. David came from an agnostic background and is now a participating member of his synagogue (without conversion). Rebecca is actively Christian in a marriage with an actively Jewish man. I am the Jewish daughter of a mixed marriage who falls on the “wrong” side of the matrilineal descent issue.

    Fifty-percenters refers both to the oft-quoted statistic of intermarriage and the feeling of “half-ness” that many of us deal with as children of intermarriage, as partners in the process of conversion, and as partners entering into a new religious negotiation. It does not refer to intermarriage alone.

    Comment by Rebecca S — December 22, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

  4. Dear Rebecca S.:

    I was responding to the original JOPLIN essay which describes JOPLIN as:

    “actively promote those who are doing more to speak out for this group – such as the “Half-Jewish” meetup group in Seattle, or the new website FiftyPercenters.com.”

    That implies that your website, like the Half-Jewish Network website, is primarily focused on adult children of intermarriage issues, and is intended to be primarily a voice for them, just as the Half-Jewish Network website is.

    As I said in my previous post, JOPLIN’s statement is incorrect.

    Here are three examples of websites which are focused primarily on adult children of intermarriage issues.

    They were founded by adult children of intermarriage, are run by adult children of intermarriage, they reach out actively to adult children of intermarriage, and their members are adult children of intermarriage:

    1. www.half-jewish.net — The Half-Jewish Network

    2. www.half-jewish.org — Beta Gershom (not connected with the Half-Jewish Network, but we are friendly with them)

    3. http://www.doppelhalb.de/associationvision.html — Doppel:halb is a German organization for adult children of intermarriage. My group is friendly with them.

    In contrast to these active organizations — three out of the four founding members on the FiftyPercenters blog are not adult children of intermarriage.

    Your website’s stated goal, on its webpage, does not focus primarily on adult children of intermarriage: “Fifty Percenters is a blog written by and for individuals engaging with Judaism in non-traditional ways, be it from mixed, converted, interfaith, intermarried, or other perspectives.”

    There are many interfaith family blogs and organizations that are founded by, and focused primarily on, interfaith couples and/or Jews by Choice and discussions of their issues.

    These websites often have occasional posts by an adult child of intermarriage as well. They have mission statements similiar to the one on your blog.

    But they are not blogs or organizations that, in JOPLIN’s words, “speak out” as primary voices for adult children of intermarriage.

    The majority of the articles on your website, for example, do not address adult children of intermarriage issues, nor do I expect them to do so, since they are written by people who are not adult children of intermarriage, but intermarried.

    The “fifty percent” phrase is not used, in my experience, about adult children of intermarriage.

    It is invariably used as shorthand by Jewish sociologists for the intermarriage rate, which has been variously estimated between 47% to 52%.

    Finally, you note that “I was lucky being raised in a progressive Reform synagogue where questions of my mixed-background genetics never threatened my Jewishness.”

    I’m happy for you, but many of the rest of us have not experienced welcoming Jewish communities.

    Finally, if I understand you correctly, you suggest: “I think the most productive conversations for our communities might focus in Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative congregations and issues of mixed cultures, particularly for families that choose Judaism and Jewish lives.”

    That is one focus I have purused for several decades. But it cannot be the only one.

    Two-thirds of all adult children of intermarriage are raised outside of Judaism. Both myself and my buddies at Beta Gershom and Doppel: halb have many group members who would like to live as Jews and cannot find welcoming communities, and are repeatedly rejected even by Jewish groups claiming to be liberal or progressive.

    If we confine ourselves to focusing just on Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist communities and the intermarried families raising children as Jews, we will lose the majority of adult children of intermarriage.

    The one-third of all children of intermarriage who are raised as Jews have issues that all three existing organizations for adult children of intermarriage deal with — many of the children of intermarriage raised as Jews feel that the acceptance by the Jewish community that they were promised as children has never come true, and others are resentful about being pressured by their Jewish communities to play down their other “half” –

    But the problems most frequently raised to the founders of the Half-Jewish Network, Beta Gershom, and Doppel: halb involve those of us raised outside of Judaism, primarily our negative reception by Jewish communities and the failure of the Jewish community to provide the same outreach programs for us that it routinely provides for interfaith couples and Jews by Choice.

    If you decide to set up a website that focuses primarily on outreach to adult children of intermarriage, I would be delighted to hear about it and happy to publicize it.

    More such websites are desperately needed.

    Cordially,
    Robin Margolis
    www.half-jewish.net
    www.inclusivistjudaism.wordpress.com

    Comment by Robin Margolis — December 22, 2009 @ 9:35 pm

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