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Intermarriage in the Deaf Community

Intermarriage is a demographic issue, more than an ideological one. That is why it is not surprising to learn that the Jewish deaf community is one of the overrepresented subgroups among the intermarried in the American Jewish community. Take my cousin, for example. He met his non-Jewish wife at a deaf theater group. Neither could hear, yet their mutual affection for the stage and love for each other led to marriage and a child. Like many deaf Jews, my cousin’s priority was marrying someone he could communicate with rather than someone he shared a religious and ethnic background with.

Our Way, a subset of the Orthodox Union and established in 1969, sponsors the Jewish Deaf Singles Registry, which accounts for the fact that deaf Jews are a very small slice of the already small Jewish singles demographic. This summer, the Registry organized a trip to Israel for sixteen deaf American Jews between the ages of 25 and 67, as reported in the Jewish Week. The tour’s organizer Batya Jacob explained, “The primary goal was to offer an interpreted trip, so that they could explore Israel like anyone else.”

As with many trips to Israel for single Jews (like Birthright Israel), the not-so-covert goal of the organizers is to encourage in-marriage. “It’s a small deaf Jewish world, so it’s not easy to find the right person,” Jacob said. While that is fine for this particular group, it doesn’t help the already-intermarried among the deaf Jewish community. We should also be asking ourselves as a community: how can we serve the deaf intermarried population? How can we encourage them to raise Jewish children?



4 Comments

  1. Intermarriage, it is up to the family to allow Jewishness to continue. In my marriage their is a Unity of family. My daughter was at Birthright Israel, 2000. I choose to be Jewish. So many families don’t know what that means. I believe that as a jew we need help to start. It is up to us to fit into a world that makes sence for us. Most people feel you need to be rich to be Jewish. You need to be a member. Sad, money can make anyone a Jew. Without money learning can’t be a priority nor can fitting into a Congregation. A Jewish Temple can make someone feel very poor. It’s about all of us and how we feel. What works for us. Were do we fit it. Do we want to keep Kosher. Do we want to light Shabbat candles. Do we want to learn and grow and pray. Is their a community were Intermarried people fit in? I think we are loosing the way it was to the way it will be. Beth Gloss

    Comment by Beth Gloss — September 14, 2006 @ 11:13 am

  2. I agree wholeheartedly that the important element to support people in choosing and sustaining a vibrant Jewish life & household–whether that’s brought about by meeting & marrying a Jew who shares this aim from the start, someone non-Jewish who comes to share it (regardless if whether or not s/he formally becomes a Jew by choice, or on one’s own with friends and family who may be of varying religions.

    But I would like to offer the caveat that, although I’m certain that the great majority of individuals who go on Birthright Israel trips may be single (as are, no doubt, the majority of those who are eligible, as 18-26-year-old Jews of whatever description who have not been on an organized trip to Israel before), I’ve never seen anything stating that only singles are eligible.

    I was in my mid-20s and married before Birthright even appeared on my horizon; if I’d gone, it would have been with my husband (who became Jewish before our wedding in 1997). Maybe if I’d been planning more seriously to go I would have learned something else that would have made me think that it wasn’t for us, as a couple, but up to this point I’ve never been given the impression that you have to be a singleton to go…and I’ll bet that plenty of the people who go on Birthright are in, have been in , or will be in relationships with non-Jews, and/or are children of intermarriage like myself.

    It seems to me that these trips, their alumni groups, and the connections to Judaism & the Jewish community that are forged through them have the potential to be a constructive force for all who seek a meaningful Jewish life. But they’ll squander that opportunity if they define success in Jewish continuity to mean simply marrying someone who’s Jewish (regardless of the content, or lack thereof, in their Jewishness)and stigmatize all interdating and intermarriage as failures by definition. If I’d gone on that trip as an 18-to-22-year-old engaged to a non-Jew, and raised as a Conservative Jew by my intermarried parents, and heard organizers preach against dating/marrying non-Jews, my goodwill toward it would no doubt have been substantially soured; if I’d gone on it as a 22-to-26-year old married to a Jew by Choice, I would have felt much the same–that my religious life has been changed deeply by my partner’s choice to become Jewish, but that it wasn’t his conversion that enabled us to have a Jewish household together–it just changed what each of us did, and was able to do, in our Jewish household and Jewish community.

    I’d be very interested to hear from those who have been on Birthright trips, particularly from any who have been in interfaith relationships at the time, to know more about their experience.

    Comment by Becca — September 14, 2006 @ 1:13 pm

  3. the Birthright trips should be about exploring Israel and all of its wonders, not about listening to sermons on how in-marriage=success and intermarriage=failure. if young Jews have already decided that it’s important to marry within their faith, then they don’t need anyone to remind them except themselves. the Birthright organizers should be a little more sensitive to those participants who are active in Jewish life yet are in interfaith relationships or come from interfaith families. there is no rule that says a Jew cannot be active in Jewish life if they are dating or married to a non-Jew.

    Comment by heather — September 15, 2006 @ 3:06 pm

  4. i wanted to comment on one subject is conversion in the deaf community i have found out that deaf are having a hard time to convert to become jewish by thier own decisions and somehow the rabbi in temples dont seem to understand the deaf culture or anything they are hearing and i am in hawaii basically and here we have many jews here are deaf but now they are not coming no more because no sign language interpreters for them thats why so i also am converting to become jewish and i am having trouble witht his rabbi who is from new york and he is giving me hard time so now i was adviced to seek another way to conversion so i would be needed alot of help i can get with and yet i took the judaism class for one full year i have few friends in israel who are pretty upset with the rabbi here giving me hard time told me to see if someone else can do it and i told them okay i would look and send emails to some places and see who is able or available i think many deaf find to be very common in jewish communities right now even in 2008 its so sad to see this happening i feel its unfair totally unfair to anyone like me

    Comment by bobby harris — July 10, 2008 @ 9:47 pm

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