I gasped when I read a recent article by David I. Bernstein in eJewishPhilanthropy that you should cut (or threaten to cut) your child’s inheritance in half if they intermarry– even though most of us know that our parents are living longer and there probably won’t be all that much to inherit. Bernstein goes on to suggest that you should only send your children to colleges with large Jewish populations. (Read: Only pay for college if they go where you want them to go.)
But Jews are no longer (for the most part) meeting their spouses in college. According to the National Jewish Population Study, only 10% of college-aged Jewish men and 18% of college-aged Jewish women are married. That means 90% of all Jewish men and 82% of all Jewish women marry after they get out of college. So there goes your child meeting his or her Jewish spouse in college. Maybe you could put in your will that your child must become a Jewish communal professional in the hopes of meeting another Jew in the workforce. Or we could carry the stereotype even further - they can only work in finance, medicine, or the law - that’s where the Jews are, after all, right? Or media - do we still control the media?
These responses to intermarriage are purely punitive. As parents, we know that punishment only goes so far toward achieving the behaviors we desire in our children. If we cross the line, the rebellion can create a wedge in relationships that last for generations.
As we have seen from JOI’s The Mothers Circle – a series of programs for women of other backgrounds raising Jewish children in the context of an intermarriage or interpartnership - these women are the heroes of our community. Their spouses (and in-laws, presumably) most likely asked them to raise their children Jewish and they are willing (even without conversion). Their Jewish partners and spouses may have gone to Jewish summer camp, or even a college with a large Jewish population, yet they still married someone of another faith—but most importantly, here they are with Jewish children. I would guess Bernstein isn’t too aware of the hundreds of thousands of women who have made this choice. What would he do with the will now?
The parents whose children are intermarried and so are now grandparents of interfaith grandchildren could benefit from the book Twenty Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren To Do (and Not Do) to Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Grandchildren. Living Jewishly and joyously around our grandchildren is the way to instill a Jewish identity, not threatening to cut children out of our wills. But, of course, by all means, pay for summer camp!