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The Value in Welcoming All in the Jewish Community

In an interesting blog post at Fifty Percenters, Hannah wrote, “Are we nothing more than vehicles?” She spoke of the frustration she feels when programs for couples and families with one Jewish partner, like her and her husband, promote raising Jewish children above all else.

In our own intermarriage discussion group at our shul, our facilitator outright stated that the only reason he was interested in reaching out to us was because we were of “child-bearing age” (let’s not even get into the implications of this attitude for queer or childfree couples, yikes). It was important to “save” us from assimilation for demographic reasons. Beyond the fact that I’m skeptical of demographic hysteria, what I find frustrating about this “babies! babies! babies!” refrain is that it reduces us to being vehicles for the perpetuation of Judaism.

Instead of asking “Will the children be Jewish?” Hannah thinks that we’ll gain more by creating a meaningful Jewish experience for those in our midst who are intermarried.

That is not the kind of relationship that I, personally, want to have to Judaism, and it is insulting to think that my community may see me this way. It is objectifying and worst of all, I think it defeats its own purpose—treating me as a means to an end is pretty much the least likely way to get me to engage with my community in any meaningful way. . . .

When we worry only about the next generation, but neglect to meet the needs of this one, we may, in fact, lose both. When intermarried couples feel devalued, their children may hear those messages (we are interested in your children, not you) and that undermines any attempt by the Jewish community to nurture the Jewish identity of the children they are trying to reach.

As an adult child of an interfaith family, I had to transcend such messages for they prevented my parents from feeling welcome in the Jewish community. I had to find my own place in the Jewish community. I wonder how many others heard the same messages and decided not to pursue a connection to the Jewish community? My personal journey has inspired me to advocate for a more welcoming community—and do it from the inside. That is why I decided to accept the invitation to join the staff team at JOI, so that I could advocate for a more welcoming Jewish community through the Big Tent Judaism Coalition—the project for which I am responsible. (Check it out at www.BigTentJudaism.org.)

My hope is that we, as the Jewish community, abandon our hand-wringing about intermarriage and transform that negative energy into welcoming each individual for what he or she has to offer the community. Only then can we realize the inherent potential for a stronger Jewish community, enriched by all of its members. The key to creating such a community is to engage all those who would cast their lot with the Jewish people and help them to find a meaningful connection to Judaism and the Jewish community.



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