Edgar Bronfman, Sr., president of the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, is a person you can always count on to speak his mind, particularly on the subject of intermarriage and the Jewish community. As a community leader and as a major philanthropist, he is able to say and do things that others may not be willing – or able – to do. It’s a refreshing approach, and one that was on full display during a recent speech at McGill University in Montreal. Intermarriage, he said, is not necessarily a “bad thing,” but it is a reality of today’s Jewish community. “Let’s make it work for us, rather than against us.”
Bronfman was at McGill to launch his book Hope, Not Fear: a Path to Jewish Renaissance (written with Beth Zasloff), which we blogged about upon its initial release. He told the crowd that while he doesn’t advocate for intermarriage, “he believes it can and is having a positive effect on modern Jewish life.” Intermarriage means people are marrying into the Jewish community, and in turn we have to “help them create Jewish homes, even if the non-Jewish partner does not formally convert.”
On a deeper level, he believes the “problem” isn’t that Jews are falling in love with non-Jews, “it’s that Jews are not falling in love with Judaism.” What can we do to encourage a reversal of this trend? Bronfman writes in his book that people “who seek a home in Judaism should find a community and a tradition that ushers in its guests with warmth and pride and that celebrates diversity of background and opinion.” Once we let people know we welcome them without condition or judgment, we can begin to provide meaningful Jewish experiences and share the value of being a part of the Jewish community.
Bronfman’s vision for the future of the Jewish community is filled with optimism. He sees, as we do, tremendous opportunities to strengthen Jewish identity among intermarried families, children of intermarriage, and all others on the periphery of the community. How we achieve these goals begins today, and it begins with a simple word: “Welcome.”