Is there a normal Jewish experience in North America? Or is “normal” a relative term? Writing in Lilith Magazine(PDF), Rabbi Susan Schnur thinks back to her days growing up in New Jersey and New York in the 1970’s. “In that world,” she writes, “Jews were largely Jewishly literate – they’d gone to Hebrew school, had immigrant grandparents, their families belonged to synagogues.” And in that world, Jews married other Jews. But something has changed, and Rabbi Schnur decided to sit down with three young Jewish women – all with “trenchant Jewish identities” – to talk about what she sees as a “radically shifted generational experience.” Specifically, that these three highly engaged young adults – who are all the daughters of rabbis – date non-Jews and are “consonant with the idea of someday marrying partners who are not Jewish.”
Since all three were either in college or had just graduated, Rabbi Schnur started by asking them how they thought their Jewish campus experience would feel different to her. They listed eleven ideas in total, but Rabbi Schnur points to one idea – that “a strongly identified Jew can be complete unto herself” – as the most radical. Today, someone who has a strong and well defined Jewish identity “doesn’t need a Jewish partner.” As one of the women puts it, “I assume I’ll have a partner who is willing to say kiddish with me, but that partner doesn’t have to be Jewish.”
Rabbi Schnur also had the women walk her through their dating histories. What emerges is a theme becoming more and more common among young Jews today – dating and marrying Jewish seems less important than finding someone who shares moral, ethical and spiritual values. Someone “supportive and religiously parallel,” is how one woman put it. And since part of that value system is rooted in Judaism, each is certain that no matter who they end up with, they will make Jewish choices about raising their kids.
These ideas might seem “assimilative and de-Judaizing to one generation,” Rabbi Schnur says, but they feel normal to Jewish young adults growing up today. We live in a highly integrated and diverse world so it’s to be expected that people growing up today are more likely to date, fall in love with and marry across religious, cultural and ethnic boundaries. This is normal. Choosing to marry someone who isn’t Jewish doesn’t mean that person is giving up on Judaism. It simply means they’ve met someone who shares their sensibilities. And if these three women are any indication of the strength of our Jewish future, we are in good hands.
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