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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.



2 Comments

  1. Of course intermarriage threatens Judaism. The facts tell the truth. A Jewish household can only exist with two Jewish parents. Most Jews who intermarry have already rejected Judaism before their marriages so “outreaching” is a lost cause. The propaganda and lies of the pro-intermarriage crowd can’t change facts. The only way to ensure Judaism survives is to encourage Jews to marry other Jews.

    Comment by anti-intermarriage — June 28, 2010 @ 3:15 pm

  2. the above poster makes it seem as though marrying Jewish is the only thing that matters within Judaism and that all other aspects of the religion are irrelevant. a Jewish household exists if there is willing participation in Jewish life, regardless of whether or not both parents are Jewish. there are plenty of in-married Jews who are removed from Jewish life and do nothing to pass on their values to the next generation. are they better people simply because they married within the faith? not if they’re not doing anything about it.

    one thing that the above poster fails to understand is that organizations such as JOI are NOT encouraging intermarriage, but rather trying to find the best solutions in terms of bringing the intermarried closer and hopefully slowing down the trend. JOI acknowledges that intermarriage is a problem, but they are doing what they feel is right and that is following the commandment of welcoming the stranger. intermarried Jews do not reject Judaism, but rather Judaism rejects intermarried Jews as evidenced by the fact that only 1/3 of intermarried parents raise Jewish children (mostly within the Reform movement, though now that the Conservative movement is branching out it might regain a lot of the members it once lost). if the communities were more tolerant of its members’ personal choices (this doesn’t mean completely disregard the notion of endogamy), then maybe that number would increase.

    Comment by h. — July 1, 2010 @ 5:16 pm

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