In a recent speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested—as many have before him—that intermarriage and assimilation are one in the same, and as such they are today’s greatest threat to Jewish identity. He called them toll-takers of Jewish numbers, and in the same breath implied intermarriage and assimilation are just as bad for the Jewish people as the Holocaust.
It’s disappointing to hear that such an influential voice in Israeli politics still holds on to the antiquated notion that intermarriage is the same thing as assimilation – and that both are somehow comparable to the Holocaust. This is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of intermarried families and children of intermarriage who are active and valued members of the Jewish community, and who disprove every day that “intermarriage” and “assimilation” are synonymous. Worse, it’s an affront to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, to compare those who were taken from us at the hands of history’s worst murderers to a demographic trend that is based on individuals making their own decisions in a free and open society.
Using negative language when speaking of intermarriage has never stopped the trend. In fact, it only serves to push people away who might otherwise join us. Why would intermarried/interpartnered families want to engage with a community that doesn’t seem to respect the choices they have made? The answer is they won’t, and that’s exactly what happens. They are more likely to affiliate and engage if they feel welcomed and included.
As we have said in the past regarding Israeli reaction to intermarriage, instances like this demonstrate just how wide the gap is between outreach in Israel and America. But it’s also as an opportunity to address issues of affiliation among Jews worldwide and create methods of engagement that work for both communities.