Shedding Assumptions About Intermarriage and Assimilation

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Julie Wiener, a writer and editor for the [New York] Jewish Week, recently brought to light an experience of many intermarried families, one that gives hope to those of us who advocate for their inclusion in Jewish life. In writing about the tragic death of Michael Kellogg, a young Jewish man from Greensboro, N.C., Wiener points out that over the past few years he had been participating more in Jewish life – with the support and encouragement of his non-Jewish fiancé. This story is “yet another example of how outdated and inaccurate much of the old conventional wisdom about intermarriage” can be.

Wiener traces Kellogg’s Jewish engagement, noting that he and his fiancé regularly went to synagogue, donated to Jewish causes, and that he proudly displayed images of his heritage (an Israeli flag in their apartment, a Jewish star around his neck). Not only did this happen in the context of an interfaith relationship, Wiener writes, but Kellogg was also the child of intermarriage. Two of the most common arguments for intermarriage leading to assimilation are easily shattered by the life Kellogg led.

Kellogg’s experience “may not be the rule when it comes to interfaith relationships,” Wiener writes, but neither was it an exception. Just look around at synagogues or other Jewish institutions – many of the people you’ll meet are intermarried or the children of intermarriage. The fact they are participating speaks volumes. And look at the thousands of women who have participated in our Mothers Circle program, for women of other backgrounds who have agreed to raise Jewish children. They and their Jewish partners buck the trend every day by ensuring that their children are raised with a strong Jewish identity.

Of course, this only happens when we lay out the “communal welcome mat.” Even though we frequently hear about intermarried couples or children of intermarriage who find a welcoming home in the Jewish community, we also hear just the opposite. We need to shed these outmoded assumptions that intermarriage means a person has lost interest in Judaism. As Wiener puts it, sometimes getting engaged to someone of another background “leads to greater Jewish engagement.”

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