Intermarriage and Detroit

Over the weekend, the Detroit Free Press explored the subject of intermarriage among the area’s Jewish community. While the paper spoke with people who represent both sides of the intermarriage issue, those who see it as a threat and those who believe it is not, it chose to illustrate an outlook becoming more common in today’s Jewish community – they looked at what various synagogues and congregations are doing to reach and engage intermarried families.

Intermarriage rates in Detroit are claimed to be far below the national average, at about 16 percent (according to Detroit Jewish Population Study released in 2006). But if the Jewish population is broken up by age, 22 percent of those under 35 are in an interfaith relationship. This does worry some, but many synagogues in the area have responded not by trying to prevent intermarriage, but by including the non-Jewish spouses in synagogue life. “In Troy, Congregation Shir Tikvah allows non-Jews to sit on its board,” the paper wrote. “And at Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park, non-Jews can participate fully in all parts of traditional services.”

Even among conservative synagogues in the area there is an attitude of welcoming. “I certainly don’t want [intermarried couples] to feel shunned or to have negative feelings towards Judaism,” said Jason Miller, a Conservative rabbi.

The paper also spoke with Keren McGinity, a postdoctoral fellow at University of Michigan and member of JOI’s Board of Professional Advisors. As author of the book “Still Jewish: A History of Women and Intermarriage in America,” she explained that through her research she has found the opposite of the “intermarriage is a threat to Judaism” argument. She has found that “people intermarrying are not becoming lost at all. In fact, some become more Jewish.”

To answer the question that headlines the article, “Do interfaith marriages threaten Jewish identity?” the answer is simply “no.” How the Jewish community responds is what makes all the difference. Intermarriage isn’t a rejection of Judaism – rarely does the decision to intermarry have anything to do with Judaism. But if we want these families to live Jewish lives and raise Jewish children, we can’t act as though intermarriage is the enemy. We have to look at it as an opportunity to welcome and engage intermarried families and help them see the value in being part of the Jewish community.

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