Intermarriage and Jewish Professionals

I recently returned from this year’s CAJE (Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education) conference held at Duke University, where I generally present each year. During one of my sessions this year, I asked the question I often ask: “How many of you are touched by interfaith marriage in your immediate family?” Of the people in attendance at this standing-room only session, focused on “the children of intermarriage in the classroom,” nearly every hand shot up.

This is a self-selecting group, and perhaps their personal interest motivated their choice of which session to attend. But the session was focused more on their role as professional Jewish educators. These are people who are committed to Jewish education, actively practicing it, and representing a wide range of the Jewish community—demographically, ideologically and geographically.

Intermarriage is not reserved for people on the periphery of the Jewish community. Nor should it be a reason for pushing people out—especially Jewish communal professionals who are committed to the Jewish present and the Jewish future. I have long been concerned with the reaction of the Jewish community to Jewish communal professionals and volunteer leaders who are intermarried or whose children are intermarried. I want to make sure that none of these individuals are limited in their opportunity to grow as communal leaders.


  1. …and don’t forget those of us who are Jewish communal professionals & volunteer leaders who are children of intermarriage ourselves! There may not be many of us in the ranks of older professionals, but I predict that you’ll see more & more of us in the younger cohorts.

    At the Hillel Summit, one of the best-attended breakout-group conversations was on “Improving Hillel’s Engagement Efforts for Students from Interfaith Families”–and in that group there were several of us who are ourselves children of intermarriage or are in an interfaith relationship. The Jewish world too often assumes that members of intermarried families are to be found only among the unaffiliated or less-affiliated groups that they need to reach out to–but there are a good number of us inside doing the reaching as well!

    But I’m still waiting for the day when my “non-Jewish” last name will cease to cause raised eyebrows–as, no doubt, are many Jews by choice who similarly buck communal name expectations. Today I heard someone looking at the record of a synagogue committee meeting say “Colleen–now that’s a nice Jewish name”–and though I responded with my usual “Any name a Jew has is a Jewish name,” I thought of how hurtful and counterproductive such remarks are. I thought of two friends of mine, both Jews by choice married to Jewish men:

    one is tired of fighting the system and is planning, after years of marriage and motherhood, to change the Irish last name she inherited for her husband’s Yiddish-derived identifiably Jewish one;

    another has kept (and intends to keep) her very Irish first and last name, and by her continued active involvement in the synagogue & Jewish community wants to teach others that her name can be a good Jewish one too.

    Comment by Becca — August 15, 2006 @ 11:16 pm

  2. P.S. Even I’m not immune from nomenclature problems: when I wrote of my (female) friends who are “Jews by choice married to Jewish men,” the phrasing could have been construed to suggest a contrast between “Jews by choice” on the one hand and those who are “Jewish” on the other. What I intended was to contrast Jews by choice with those who were born Jewish (and if there were an edit function I would amend it!).

    Comment by Becca — August 15, 2006 @ 11:28 pm

  3. I certainly didnt mean to exclude anyone. We would be the last ones at JOI to be exclusive. We are indeed conscious of the children of intermarriage working as Jewish communal professionals and volunteering as leaders in Jewish communal organizations. While it is true that names sometimes are social visibility factors, children of intermarriage do not seem to be discriminated against in the same way as their parents might be in terms of community leadership. It is definitely something we intend to study more thoroughly.

    Comment by Kerry Olitzky — August 16, 2006 @ 4:48 am

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