Writing recently in the (New York) Jewish Week, Steve Bayme, national director of contemporary Jewish life for the American Jewish Committee, looked at the trends in the Jewish community in 2009. Among the scandals, success, and the work within each denomination to strengthen Jewish engagement, he noted that the “most divisive issue on the Jewish religious agenda remained mixed marriage.”
Bayme’s decision to focus on the division in the debate over intermarriage rather than focus on the work that has been done to welcome and include interfaith families only intensifies the disconnection. He’s adding fuel to the fire by implying an either/or relationship between in-reach and outreach, and draws JOI into the argument. Bayme misrepresents us by implying we are against in-marriage. That is simply untrue. We are against the exclusion and marginalization of couples who intermarry. For instance, he quotes JOI associate executive director Paul Golin’s argument that Birthright Israel should “abandon ulterior motives such as promoting in-marriage.” This isn’t because we’re against in-marriage, it’s because we don’t want to see young Jews in interfaith relationships or young adult children of intermarriage turned off to the Jewish community. The goal is to create a Jewish community that is relevant to everyone.
Framing the debate as in-reach versus outreach is an artificial dichotomy. The two are not mutually exclusive. They are two sides of the same coin. We need to move beyond the antiquated belief that intermarriage is “the single greatest threat to Jewish continuity,” as some insist, and realize that we are fully capable of engaging intermarried families, children of intermarriage, and all others who have historically felt marginalized. This will happen by removing the artificial barriers that exist between us and creating a culture built on the shared interest of seeing the Jewish community flourish.