The Jewish community doesn’t have a monopoly on combining concern with future numbers with ambivalent attitudes towards intermarried families. A New York Times article entitled “Zoroastrians Keep the Faith and Keep Dwindling” discusses how the 3,000 year old religion of Zoroastrianism is facing extinction because of a communal unwillingness to accept converts and embrace interfaith families. Echoing the controversy in the Jewish community about how we embrace newcomers, Zoroastrians who were more open to outsiders were accused of “diluting traditions.”
When we look at our own community we see many who worry that embracing the intermarried will result in Jewish traditions being “diluted.” They back up this claim with demographic numbers, but simple statistics do not paint a full picture, and do not take into account all possible causes for population decline (such as low Jewish birthrates). We know from our own experience that it is not uncommon for the Jewish partner in an intermarriage to be re-inspired about Judaism through his or her partner’s curiosity and desire to learn.
The article says “Zoroastrians….are divided over whether to accept intermarried families and converts and what defines a Zoroastrian.” The Jewish community cannot afford to be divided over these issues. Luckily, Jewish survival looks hopeful due to an increasing awareness of how important it is to welcome interfaith families. Communities like San Francisco have demonstrated that sustained outreach encourages more intermarried households to raise Jewish children. By providing such outreach to intermarried families and welcoming all those who wish to join us, our community can not only survive but thrive.