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Will Bob Marley’s Grandchildren Be Jewish?

For decades now, panicked voices in the Jewish community have responded to the high rates of intermarriage by asking the provocative question, “Will your grandchildren be Jewish?” While in recent years we at JOI are gratified to see the community move away from fear-based program decisions to a focus on positive Jewish engagement –- and feel that we’ve helped change the discourse –- we are disappointed that there are still communal professionals who maintain as part of their reports or presenting repertoire the highly-deceiving statistics “demonstrating” that almost no grandchildren of an intermarried Jewish grandparent will be raised Jewish.

We think anyone still asking that question should instead imagine themselves asking, in the 1970s, “Will Bob Marley’s grandchildren be Jewish?” Of course, nobody had the foresight to ask that question while reggae great and global icon Bob Marley was still alive. He was Rastafarian, not Jewish, and did not marry a Jewish woman. Yet according to a recent article and video on YNetNews.com, his grandkids are being raised Jewish! His son Ziggy, also a reggae singer, married an Israeli women and together they are raising their children Jewish. Ziggy Marley speaks admiringly of the way Jewish holiday celebrations help maintain Jewish tradition and identity.

Here’s the problem with the interfaith grandparenting statistics: even if they are taken from the latest National Jewish Population Study in 2000 (the most recent national survey conducted), it means that in order to measure the results on grandkids, the grandparents’ intermarriages had to have taken place at least twenty years earlier for there to even be any grandchildren, and in most cases it would have been many more decades earlier. In 1980, there was an almost-universal rejection of intermarriage in the Jewish community, and the Reform movement had yet to accept patrilineal descent. Now imagine 1970, or even 1960, when the majority of those marriages took place. The likelihood of such intermarried “future-grandparents” raising Jewish children was much lower in those days than the rates of intermarried parents raising Jewish children today.

That this context is never included as a disclaimer to that fear-tactic demography, or that no explanation is provided that the numbers will inevitably rise with the increase in Jewish communal programming that includes intermarried families, is at best irresponsible sociology. Ziggy Marley’s wife is just one of countless hundreds of thousands of intermarried Jews raising Jewish children, which is exponentially larger than that cohort size was in 1980 or earlier. And in a community that welcomes all who seek meaning and connection, there is no reason to believe her grandkids won’t also be Jewish. Anecdotally we have already begun to encounter large numbers of Jewish grandchildren of intermarriage being raised Jewish, and fully expect that percentage to increase in the coming decade. While we don’t necessarily advocate for Ziggy Marley’s other avocation, we do recommend that those in the community who continue to stir fear around intermarriage find a way to instead share our positive vibrations.



2 Comments

  1. The Steinhardt Social Research Institute’s survey “It’s Not Just Who Stands Under the Chuppah: Intermarriage and Engagement” (F. Chertok, B. Phillips and L. Saxe, It’s not just who stands under the Chuppah: Intermarriage and Engagement (Waltham, MA: The Steinhardt Social Research Institute, Brandeis University, May 2008), throws a wrench into the entire American Jewish surveying industry. It challenges the generally-accepted assumption that the future of American Jewry hinges on stemming the tide of intermarriage: “The goal of this report was to reframe discourse about intermarriage – to move away from a simplistic focus on the couple at the moment of marriage to a more textured and life-course understanding of the full array of factors that impact Jewish engagement.” The Chuppah Survey points-out that an obsession with the singular survey variable of intermarriage excludes all other planning determinants, in particular “Jewish socialization in the form of Jewish education, home ritual, and social networks”
    The Chupah Survey’s data indicates that: “It is childhood upbringing and socialization that primarily account for the difference seen in adult attitudes and identity, not whether both parents were Jewish.” In other words, the future of American Jewry doesn’t hinge on who you marry, but how you raise your children.
    Finally, the assumption that the so-called Jewish Future is dependent on a myopic perception of what constitute authentic Jewish identity is not only outdated…it is historically completely inconsistent! I agree with you: enough fear-mongering! Enough historically and theologically inaccurate assumptions about Jewish identity and hence continuity. Kudos to your organization.

    Comment by Tom Samuels — July 16, 2011 @ 10:06 am

  2. Hi Tom,

    Thanks so much for your excellent comment. Yes, that report you mention is extremely important and did not receive the widespread discussion it deserved — maybe because it’s nuanced, and it’s much easier to see the world in black-and-white. ;) Thank you for sharing your perspective.

    Paul

    Comment by Paul Golin — July 16, 2011 @ 3:09 pm

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