Passover on “The O.C.”

In the last decade there has been no lack of Jewish characters on television. Representations of Jewish practice, on the other hand, have been few and far between. A recent exception to this rule was seen on the popular Fox show “The O.C.”, a program that features an intermarried family that practices Judaism, in this case a Passover Seder. An excellent article in the Chicago Tribune — Finally, TV Jews who act Jewish — points out, “by embracing an intermarried couple, [series creator Josh] Schwartz is broadcasting what is a fact of life in the Jewish community…” and that the marriage on the show is “…very realistic: According to the latest National Jewish Population Survey, 47 percent of Jews who married between 1996 and 2001 married a non-Jewish partner.” Now that TV has embraced an intermarried couple who is Jewishly engaged we can only hope that the mainstream Jewish community will do the same.


  1. It’s funny that when the family on The O.C. combined their Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations into “Chrismukkah,” the Jewish media flew into a tizzy, but now that the family engages in a full-fledged Jewish experience, we hear no praise but only silence from the Jewish punditry. Life imitating art, eh? It’s like the way some in the community are so quick to disqualify an interfaith family from being Jewish because they have a Christmas tree, without first determining what the tree actually means to that family.

    Comment by Paul Golin, Assistant Executive Director, JOI — May 2, 2005 @ 4:11 pm

  2. Maybe it would have been even nicer had this Jewish man married a Jewish woman, had a traditional Passover seder where all could participate and learn, eaten a nice kosher meal, and had a son who didn’t have to try to combine Jewish and Christian traditions or, later on, choose between them. Now that would truly be a testament to multiculturalism in America! We would have instilled Jewish pride in our youngsters based more upon the richness of their heritage than upon the physical attractiveness of the actors on the television screen.

    Comment by marc — May 4, 2005 @ 11:55 am

  3. Yeah, and maybe it would be even nicer if Jews were more than 3% of the American population, but we’re not, which is why intermarriage is an issue that’s here to stay. More than a third of all married households containing a Jew are intermarried, so it’s not unreasonable to see such a family portrayed on TV, and this particular fictional family is tiling toward Jewish practice. For non-fictional intermarried families, we should help that “tilting” by being welcoming and inclusive, not telling people who they should or shouldn’t have married after the fact. As for physical attractiveness on TV…nothing we can do about that!

    Comment by Paul Golin, Assistant Executive Director, JOI — May 4, 2005 @ 12:38 pm

  4. I’m not sure what the % of Jews in America has to do with who we marry. Certainly there are other minorities here who care enough about passing on their heritage intact to only marry their own. We wouldn’t have anything bad to say about a Native American who wanted to do so. To the contrary, we’d probably encourage it. So why not encourage Jews to do the same? Jewish history attests to our ability to not intermarry despite living amongst non-Jews. Our 800 year existence in Poland is but one example. Saying that intermarriage is a fact of life is much different from saying we should glorify it on television and in our synagogues. Certainly reaching out to a Jew who didn’t know any better but to intermarry, and trying to bring them back to Judaism is something we can agree upon as a positive. The intermarriage trend itself, though, is something we should all deplore as a tragedy.

    Comment by marc — May 4, 2005 @ 1:12 pm

  5. You’re wrong: there is not a single minority that has been in America for more than three generations that doesn’t have an intermarriage rate of 50% or higher. Sorry to break that news to you, but in this regard (as in many others), Jews are no different than anybody else. Whether you want to lament it or not, the vast majority of Americans (Jews among them) don’t choose their spouse based on a desire to pass on their heritage.

    Now, I wouldn’t be working at what I do 60 hours a week if I didn’t believe it was important that we pass on the Jewish heritage; I think it’s one of the most important thing we can do. And yes, in general, in-married households have an advantage in doing that; so what we’re saying is, let’s help the more than 1,000,000 intermarried households—and their children—also be able to pass along the Jewish heritage.

    FYI, the percentage of Jews in America has EVERYTHING to do with who we marry. If I’m the only Jew in town, and I want to get married, odds are I’m going to fall in love with someone who’s not Jewish. If I’m among the quarter-million Jews who live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan—one of the few places on the planet where Jews are the majority—the odds that I meet and fall in love with someone Jewish increases exponentially.

    The intermarriage trend is only going to be a “tragedy” if we as a community can’t find some way to welcome in many more newcomers, reach out to the children of intermarriage, and help them find meaning in Judaism. It doesn’t HAVE to be a tragedy. Judaism has always found a way to turn adversity into a new beginning. The destruction of the Temple was a tragedy; if this was 70 C.E. you’d say it’s all over for the Jews unless we go backwards, unless we rebuild the Temple (or, in today’s case, unless we all move back to the shtetls of Poland or Brooklyn). I’m saying, think forward, not back.

    PS- Our 800-year existence in Poland had as much if not more to do with the fact that Jews were persecuted and no Pole would WANT to marry a Jew than the sheer joy of being Jewish! Are you longing for the “good old days” of pogroms and anti-Semitism to keep us together as a people?

    Comment by Paul Golin, Assistant Executive Director, JOI — May 4, 2005 @ 2:32 pm

  6. I sense a lot of anger coming from you, Paul, and I’m not sure why that is. I think you’ve mischaracterized my points. I’ll assume you did so by error and try to clarify myself while addressing your good points. I prefer to keep things civil as well so if anything I write sounds condescending I apoligize. That is certainly not my intent.

    I never said there was some other group in the U.S. that had successfully prevented all intermarriage or even most, after a certain amount of time. What I said was that Jews should not be encouraging the intermarriage of other Jews by celebrating it, and should actively TRY to prevent it. Just as the intermarriage of Italians and Irish leads to a dilution of their traditions, so does the intermarriage of Jews. Since the preservation of Jewish heritage is important to us both, it seems that we should be able to agree that the less intermarriage the better, and thus focus our aims at minimizing our intermarriage rate while, at the same time, reaching out to those already intermarried. Not so illogical, is it?

    It’s a tragedy that Jews aren’t connected enough to their heritage to make it a point to only date other Jews. If they did so, they would, of necessity, only marry other Jews. We are a pretty smart bunch so I think we can figure out which universities and cities and suburbs have larger Jewish populations and make it a point to put those places high on our list of places to attend and settle, and to send our kids (going by your logic on populations). I’m sure you’ll agree that the statistics bear out that intermarriage is less likely to occur in familes that are more connected to their Judaism. For example, a Jewish Day school education (in any stream of Judaism) has been shown to decrease the odds of intermarriage. Certainly we can put our heads together and come up with others as well. I’m not fatalistic, Paul. The Temple destruction was tragic, just as is intermarriage. If I could have prevented the first I would have. I couldn’t, but it doesn’t mean I should ignore current tragedies that are unfolding. I am looking forward, not merely assuming that intermarriage is a given so let’s not fight it. It seems you are accepting the status quo as inevitable.

    I agree with you that our collective experience of Pogroms, crusades, and dhimmi status was no walk in the park, and certainly I don’t wish to return to that time. My point was only that before WWII, when most of Europe had emancipated the Jews, intermarriage rates soared in Germany, where Jews were less connected to their heritage, but did not rise significantly in Poland and Lithuania, where Jews were still very connectd to their heritage. Even had Poles wanted to marry them, why would they leave such deep, meaningful traditions? Let’s not forget, of course, that the most liberal and advanced society of the early 1900s was the one that turned on us more viciously any we had known before. It also happened to be the one where Jews had intermarried at higher rates than our history had ever known, to that point. Intermarriage is certainly no cure for anti-Semitism.

    Comment by marc — May 4, 2005 @ 3:23 pm

  7. I didn’t mean to sound angry, just passionate about the issue, and I’m glad we can have a civilized converstation about it, though in the end I feel we’re going to have to “agree to disagree.” Mainly, the passion in my last post was in reaction to what I perceived (hopefully incorrectly) was a slight by your statement about “a Jew who didn’t know any better but to intermarry.”

    You may believe that the only Jews who intermarry are those who haven’t had the benefit of a Jewish education or a vibrant Jewish life, i.e., “don’t know better”; and in fact, you’re opinion is shared by many in the organized Jewish community. But through our work here, we’ve seen how that assumption can be (a) very hurtful to those who have already intermarried, and (b) simply incorrect. “Good” Jews intermarry too. I know former Orthodox Jews who are intermarried. I know executive directors of Jewish institutions who are intermarried. Yes, I even know day school graduates who have intermarried. Sure, their rates of intermarriage are lower, but what does that matter when there are still 100,000 of them? They are here, and we need to find ways to welcome them. And like I said, we may learn that in adapting to this new situation, Judaism will actually be strengthened in the end.

    I agree with you: Jewish education — along with Jewish summer camps, teen trips to Israel, going to a college with a large Jewish population, living in a city with a lot of Jews — all contribute to the chances of Jews marrying other Jews. But it is unrealistic to suggest that any of that is going to change a 35-year trend, a trend that is due primarly to social factors in America-at-large that are much bigger than those we can actually affect. Think of it this way: if the intermarriage rate was to miraculously drop to the rate it was 20 years ago, it would still be one-in-three Jews intermarrying, and that means (through demographics I don’t want to type out here, but trust me) as many intermarried households will be created as in-married households. As is, today, the rate of intermarried households created is TWICE the rate of in-married households created.

    I understand your suggestions as to what to do about it, because it’s what many in the community suggest: just focus on stopping intermarriage. But what I’m saying is: that strategy hasn’t worked in 30 years. In fact, it’s been a miserable failure and what’s worse, whatever tactic we use to try to achieve it ends up turning away many intermarried Jews and turning off many single Jews who have non-Jewish friends.

    So what we at JOI are suggesting is a new tactic. Forget marriage altogether. Let’s just focus on raising Jewish kids. We want to help give vibrant Jewish experiences to all children, whether they have one Jewish parent or two. Let’s get all those kids into Jewish day schools (and worry about who’s “halachicly Jewish” later). Once we get them inside, let’s give them the vibrant Jewish community that — we both agree — is the key to the Jewish future. But at that point, we can’t harp on intermarriage anymore, because we’ll be harping on their parents.

    Think of it this way: I don’t know of any rabbi that regularly exhort his or her congregation to eat Kosher. Why not? Why not a sermon every high holiday on how eating Kosher has kept us as “a people apart” and everyone in the room should eat Kosher! And if you DON’T eat Kosher, it’s a tragedy, spelling the death of Jewish continuity! They don’t because they’ve given up that battle, and because there are more persuasive ways (like actually taking someone to a good Kosher deli!).

    In an ideal world, all Jews eat Kosher, all Jews marry other Jews, and we all live happily ever after. In the current world, we need to stop harping on what Jews are doing wrong and offer them the opportunity to find out just what’s so GOOD about being Jewish. We can’t do that if all of our programs are geared around getting them to marry other Jews. If that is our ultimate measure of success, we are doomed to fail. If, however, our ultimate measure of success is to get all Jewish households involved, regardless of whether they happen to have some who are not Jewish in their household, then we have a chance at success. But in order to do that, we need to move past using intermarriage as the ultimate litmus test.

    I accept your disagreeing with that suggestion; like I said, we can just agree to disagree! ;) But here’s a question to think about: If “we” as a organized community stopped talking about intermarriage altogether, simply shut up about it completely and focused on what I mentioned above, do you really think the intermarriage rate would INCREASE? Do you think that the current exhortions against intermarriage are what causes those 53% to in-marry, and if we let that issue go, there’ll be 100% intermarriage? Personally, I don’t think so. I don’t think Jewish communal pressures have any affect whatsoever on the vast majority of non-Orthodox Jews. And considering that most Jews marry after they’re 30 years old, I’m not even sure how much affect parental pressures have either. Taking all that into consideration, can’t I convince you that we need a new strategy?

    Comment by Paul Golin, Assistant Executive Director, JOI — May 4, 2005 @ 4:26 pm

  8. Paul, I’m not suggesting we ignore the intermarried. I agree we have been born into a situation where Jews are intermarried in large numbers. Those who have Jewish children (I guess we can ignore the halachic implications for the time being, but it won’t go away I don’t think)and are intermarried need to be reached out to with a great urgency. I didn’t say Day School and Jewish practice was the magic wand that would wipe away intermarriage, just that it would reduce it, and reduce our problem of having to educate parents to raise their kids in a home with Jewish content. Why not try to reduce the problems of the next generation? We could spend more money feeding Jewish poor and less money convincing the Jewish well-to-do that they are Jewish and should care about it.

    I disagree with you that attempts to stem the tide of intermarriage have failed. In fact, our communities have whoefully failed to address the problem in a meaningful way at all. I met several months ago with one of the VP’s of our Jewish Federation to get involved with what the website called “the TAskForce on Jewish COntinuity.” He informed me it had disbanded after 3 years of existence, without ANY meaningful programs or ideas to prevent intermarriage.” I asked him if perhaps intermarriage was not a problem or had been combated in some other way. His resonse to me was that the “task force” was never really meant to do anything in the first place…that “you can’t table a proposal to fight intermarriage when 20-30% of your leadership is intermarried.”

    I was approached by the president of the American Jewish Committtee here to get involved. I went to their website and noticed there was a directive from the National to promote Jewish continuity BOTH though reaching out to intermarried families AND through rpeventing intermarriage in the first place (through education, Jewish youth groups, going to Israel, etc.). I called her back very excited and told her I’d be interested in doing this and was wondering what programs they had to prevent intermarriage. She told me “we don’t do that…maybe you should call Aish HaTorah.” There is an article from the NY Times from December 27, 1995 when the UJA tried to start a group to get young Jews together, increase observance, and stop intermarriage. I did some research and it seems that after a short time, the idealistic director of the program was removed and replaced with an entire borad of people who focused solely on reaching out to the intermarried. The point, Paul, is not that we failed, but that we never really tried to deal with the problem at all.

    I never harp on what Jews do wrong (or I try not to) when it comes to observance or connection to the Jewish people. We all come from different backgrounds so who am I to judge? That is very different, though, from at least recognizing that they made a mistake (though perhaps through no fault of their own…I understand some should have known better, but just chose poorly) and trying to keep their children and, most importantly, OTHER people’s children, from making the same mistake.

    Re: your question. You’re right that we need a new strategy, but that’s because we never really had a strategy in the first place. People would tell their kids “don’t intermarry,” and leave it at that…no real reasons, no exortations about the importance of the Jewish people, about our common destiny, about our uniquie mission to bring light into a world of darkness and moral relativism. It’s no wonder…if they had said such things they they, too, would have had to attend synagogue, study Torah, refrain from profanity, insults, and gossip, keep kosher, etc., etc., and they didn’t want that. They thought that since not being observant at all didn’t make them marry a non-Jew, that their kids would follow suit. Well, based upon such faulty logic (or lack of any logic), it’s no wonder that non-stratagy failed. Adult education, teaching Jewish parents of Jewish children (intermarried or not) about their heritage is the key to a vibrant Jewish community. Couple this with increased funding for Day School education so we hold onto those who have not yet intermarried and who have the best chance for being our future leaders, and we have a recipe for success. I never said to stop reaching out to intermarried couples…on that we agree (though the halachic issue is coming to mind head again), only that a single-faceted approach on the intermarried sends the message to the next generation that the Jewish people value the intermarried more than the in-married (indeed I wish I saw websites like this for the Jewish education of in-marrieds which, as you’ll agree, still representa bare majority). In spirit, we both want to help…and we can change the world one Jew at a time if necessary.

    If “[i]n an ideal world,” Paul, all Jews eat Kosher, all Jews marry other Jews, and we all live happily ever after,” let’s create that world together. We are a bright people, blessed with incredible fortitude, wisdom, intelligence, and creativity We can do it if we really put our minds, our hearts and all our strengths to it.

    I look forward to the continuation of our discussion.

    Comment by marc — May 4, 2005 @ 5:23 pm

  9. See, this is where we fundamentally disagree, and why there’s not much more point to this conversation. You write:

    We all come from different backgrounds so who am I to judge? That is very different, though, from at least recognizing that they made a mistake…

    Now, how is telling someone that their marriage is a mistake NOT being judgemental on your part? How can you tell someone who has found the love of their life that they’re making a mistake by marrying that person? How can you tell children of intermarriage that their parents’ marriage was a mistake?! These are people you don’t even know! What you tell your own kids is your own business…but don’t insult a million intermarried Jews and tell them you’re speaking on behalf of the Jewish community, because you’re certainly not speaking for me. This is what the Jewish professionals you tried to deal with came to understand, but that you still haven’t: that you can’t slap people with one hand and welcome them with the other.

    I don’t believe marrying the person you love is a mistake just because they are not of your religion. I think it simply represents an additional challenge to the many challenges inherent in the insitution of marriage. That statement is the prevailing attitude of the vast majority of Jews in the world today. So…the organized Jewish community has a choice: to ignore the vast majority, tow the line, and continue to shrink in size, or instead to stop obsessing over who people marry and open the gates to the many potential NEW Jews in those intermarried households that might actually join us if only we could stop insulting them all the time!

    So again, let’s just agree to disagree and move on.

    Comment by Paul Golin, Assistant Executive Director, JOI — May 4, 2005 @ 11:19 pm

  10. Agreeing to disagree on an issue of such fundamental importance to the Jewish people is akin to agreeing that there is no objectively right solution. If you pursue “your” solution and I pursue “my” solution, then we’ll both fail. We need to work together. There’s too much fragmentation in the Jewish community as it is w/o having those who actually agree there is value to passing on our heritage (many, unfortunately, disagree that there is value to it) not be able to figure out together how to address the problems involved. If intelligent people, acting in good faith, agree to reason together, they WILL reach a solution. So let’s examine what you’ve identified as our disagreement and see if there really is one, and if we can’t resolve it, either in your favor or mine. This isn’t a matter of winning and losing, or an ego trip, but a matter of figuring out what is best for the Jewishs people in the long run and acting on it.

    First a little on the Jewish professionals I dealt with. The VP of the JFed did NOT think it was an insult to those there to address the problem, but others were afraid it would be, and perhaps those intermarried, or you had intermarried children took it as an insult. Understand, as he did, that this was an emotional response, not a rational one. We are not turning our backs on on the intermarried, but if they care about the Jewish community they should recognize on their own that if everyone takes the path they took, it will be disasterous for the Jewish people. I’m no Talmudic scholar, but I believe there is the idea of reprimanding with the left hand (the weaker one) and drawing near with the right hand (the sronger one). Spend more time building bridges than breaking them, but don’t just allow any and all behavior, no matter how detrimental to go by w/o comment. Indeed, Judaism was the first religion to stand up and say to the other nations, “You are wrong. There is only one God. Murder is wrong. Child sacrifice is wrong.” etc, etc.
    Judaism is about doing the right thing, not about doing what you feel like doing, no matter who it hurts or whatever the consequences.

    I have intermarried friends. I don’t insult them or tell them they did the wrong thing. I live by example and try to bring them closer to their heritage. There are Jewish children from intermarried households going to Jewish day schools today precisely b/c of this form of education. I don’t have to tell a parent they did the wrong thing for them to realize on their own that they did, and to want to fix it as best they can. I don’t have to scold or reprimand, but show them the beauty of the heritage they left behind, and, on their own, they will return to it. I know many a non-Jewish spouse who have undergone a halachic conversion after their husband or wife realized the richness they were depriving their children.

    Try it. It actually works. And nobody feels insulted.

    Everything isn’t so black and white, Paul. Our choice as a community isn’t to ignore all the intermarried Jews or accept intermarriage as the norm. We can reach out to intermarried Jews AND also try to prevent future intermarriages.

    As to your point about love: Many a person, not only Jews have been told that just b/c they “fell” in love (of course, if you can fall in, you can fall out, b/c this indicates you had no control over the event), it isn’t the person for them to marry. Those who ignore good advice wind up suffering later. Indeed statistics bare out that the intermarried (not just Jews, but across the religious spectrum) are much more likely to get divorced. I want to prevent my brothers and sisters from experiencing this pain. Don’t you? If someone told me I shouldn’t marry the person I love b/c they were abusive I might say, “but I LOVE her.” Now we’d agree that’s a silly reason to marry in that situation. Similarly, if the objection was that you’re VERY likely to get divorced, that should suffice as well. If you’re bolder and think they’ll be receptive, there are wonderful books that help people realize that intermarriage is not worth it, neither for the hassle, the danger of divorce, or the identity problems their kids will face. Generally, a few months in Israel, immersed in Jewish education, is also an effective way to convince someone they really didn’t love that person so much at all, and that they CAN, depite their current passions, love again. Before you know it, they’ve “fallen” (though we hope at this point it was more directed than random) in love w/ a Jew.

    That the majority of the Jewish world disagrees does not mean that they are correct. First, I’m not sure that’s true about the majority. The conservative, the orthodox and the secular in Israel and in most non-Western countries still believe that Jews should marry only Jews, as do the reform in Israel and other non-Western countries. Second, what’s right and wrong is not a matter for the majority, it’s a matter for figuring out the truth, for allowing our tradition, which kept us intact for 2000 years of dispersion, to guide us back to Jewish unity. Telling the majority that they are wrong, and demonstrating through demographic data and philosophical truths, is admirable I would think. This is not preaching, but using the scientific method to arrive at the correct answer, rather than the whim of the majority. Those who respect science and truth will agree and join in. Those who are fundamentalists and cannot hear or see the truth b/c it is at odds with their own whims have no place in our leadership and should be replaced, shouldn’t they?

    Jews are not going to be a majority in America or anyplace else outside of Israel. Our numbers are not so important as is the purity of our message of light. That message bcomes diluted and ineffective if we let our whims govern us, rather than reason. Proselytizing to non-Jews (under whatever guise…you mentioned “NEW Jews”) is an unnecessary waste of our resources when we can’t even hold on to those already Jewish. Let’s stop the problem before it starts and reach as many of those slipping through the cracks of assimilation b/f they are unreachable.

    I am open to hearing why this double-pronged approach, focused more on the in-married than the intermarried, but not ignoring the latter, cannot work, and would be interested to hear your thoughts.

    Also if you disagree that we are still insulting the intermarried, even if THEY don’t feel insulted, or even if their feelings are NOT rational, I would be interested to hear more about this as well.

    Comment by marc — May 5, 2005 @ 8:53 am

  11. I disagree with your basic presumption that all intermarriage has to be bad for the Jewish people. I think there are intermarriages where their kids feel nothing for Judaism, and that is a loss. But I also think there are intermarriages that create Jewish households with Jewish children, and that is a gain for the Jewish people. Those intermarriages should be held up as a positive example by the Jewish community, but we can’t do that with the fear of intermarriage that people like yourself continue to express (a la “tragedy” and “mistake”). The approach you’re suggesting looks at it in black and white: tell our kids not to intermarry. Like “Say No To Drugs” - and look how well THAT campaign worked! My approach looks at the gray area: tell our kids that if Judaism is important to them, it is easier to create a Jewish household where everyone in it is Jewish, but it is still possible to create Jewish households even if not everyone in that household is Jewish. It’s a challenge, but it’s possible. And let’s talk about that challenge.

    Instead, you insult — and it IS an insult — intermarried couples, and please don’t tell me that you know them all personally and they’re not insulted. I’m insulted. My friends and family members will be insulted. People visiting this website for help and support will be insulted by your words.

    You’re approach is exactly the same as the Conservative movement’s: step one, prevent intermarriage. Step two, if intermarriage happens, get the non-Jewish spouse to convert. And step three, if no conversion happens, welcome them in. That is their published approach to the issue.

    So there’s your “scientific method” in action! (And I wholey disagree that your OR my argument is in any way scientific, even if you try to base it on statistics. If you want to spout statistics you have to understand them, and if you understand them you’ll know that NONE of it has any proven CAUSAL effects, just implications. If you’re going to base things on implications, don’t tell me it’s rational science because we can both come to different conclusions based on the same implications.) Okay, so the Conservative movement is your case study, because they’re using your exact methodology, and hey, guess what?! IT DOESN’T WORK! They just went from the largest denomination to the third largest in ten years. Third largest? Yes, because they added a new category, “Just Jewish,” and that came in second after Reform in the 2001 National Jewish Population Study. So why would so many people choose not to indentify themselves with ANY Jewish denomination? Why would so many families flee the Conservative movement for the Reform? I grew up in the Conservative movement, so I know exaclty why first hand. It’s because of the attitude you’ve expressed over and over on this web page, being expressed from the pulpit. And it doesn’t just drive away the intermarried, it drives away their parents, their friends, and single Jews who recognize that the “caste system” doesn’t work. You can’t say “we value in-marrieds over converts, and converts over intermarrieds, but well, okay, we’ll take the intermarried too.”

    Now I believe (or would like to) that you don’t even realize how insulting you’ve been. My grandmother, whose first language was Yiddish, couldn’t help but call African-Americans “shvartzas” because she knew no better word for it. It was too deeply ingrained in who she was. But now you know: it’s a slur to tell ALL intermarried couples that they are a tragedy to the Jewish people because many of them — hundreds of thousands — are pushing through your negative attitudes to try to create Jewish households. That’s why we are trying to create positive models of Jewish intermarriage for the community, to show that they exist, and that if we can help the undecided intermarried move closer to Judaism we will all gain. That can’t happen while you continue to set up caste systems. This caste system, by the way, is the same that would say Orthodoxy is the only “real” Judaism. If you agree with that statement, we really have nothing more to discuss.

    And like my grandmother (and like much of denominational Judaism), I feel you are totally out of touch with the vast majority of American Jews. For example, you write “We are not turning our backs on on the intermarried, but if they care about the Jewish community they should recognize on their own that if everyone takes the path they took, it will be disasterous for the Jewish people.” WHO are you talking to when you say that? Are you talking to the intermarried household that will have nothing to do with the Jewish community, for a whole variety of reasons including negative attitudes towards them? Well then of course they DON’T care about the Jewish community! And really, should they, if we don’t care about them? So they’re not going to read past the part of your sentence where you say “if they care about the Jewish community.” OR…Are you talking to the intermarried family that has created a Jewish household, that sends their kids to Hebrew school, that celebrates Passover not Easter, Hanukkah not Christmas in their home? Well then you’ve just insulted them terribly, by telling them that they are still a tragedy, despite their efforts. That after all their hard work, we as a community still don’t want them.

    It’s very simple. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you want to create even a chance that the more than one-third of Jewish households who are intermarried will participate in the Jewish community, we have to lose the attitude and drop the caste system and simply say, “everybody is welcome.” If, however, you still feel the answer is to “stop intermarriage” (which I’m telling you is not going to happen in our lifetimes, or our children’s, unless something changes drastically in American society in general) then I don’t see how you can do that without continuing to cut out vast numbers of intermarried from your community with your denegration of them.

    So I guess that’s where we fundamentally disagree: I don’t think intermarriage can be stopped, so let’s turn a potential negative into a potential positive. You still think intermarriage can be stopped, so you have no problem seeing the potential negative of intermarriage as a DEFINITE negative, which I believe it doesn’t have to be.

    This arguement is already getting circular and I’d love to wrap it up because as I just identified, we have a fundamentally different view of the issue. You can reiterate that difference, if you’d like, but you’re not going to change my mind and I’m not going to change yours, and we will unfortunately continue to work at odds against each other. The only difference is, I’m not driving people away. I guarantee you that my outreach to the already-intermarried has not driven a single Jew to intermarry; we are reacting to reality, not causing it. You, however, are contributing to the reason why so many Jews leave the Jewish community. You think that’s going to help you retain people, but actually — as in the case example above — it drives people away.

    Comment by Paul Golin, Assistant Executive Director, JOI — May 5, 2005 @ 1:18 pm

  12. Well, Paul, I might have been willing to conced that we just have a difference of opinion over whether intermarriage can be stopped, until I read the end of your post. So you think that I am “contributing to the reason why so many Jews leave the Jewish community?” I would like to see your evidence for this, be it anecdotal or based on polls or studies or anything. That’s a pretty cheap shot you took at a fellow Jew for no apparant reason, and I don’t think it was very nice. I didn’t insult your tactics at all, merely indicated that I thought there was a better approach that the Jewish community never really tried, which is to confront intermarriage head on, by embracing observance and passing on a healthy Jewish heritage to kids who won’t desire to intermarry in the first place. Again, you’re getting emotional. If you are among those who is intermarried, or are the child of an intermarriage, then I’m sorry if you take offense, but this is an intellectual discussion about the future of the Jewish people, not a political debate fraught with personal attacks and emotional pleas.

    I think the conservative movement, like with some other of their ideas, MAY have had it right on paper (I haven’t seen their policy), but in practice they never addressed the first step…to actively discourage intermarriage. You said yourself that nobody in the conservative movement listens to what their rabbis said. Why is that? Maybe that’s the real cause of the problem. If rabbis have no respect, then what’s to keep Jews from engaging in a whole host of legal activities that simply wrong and harmful according to Jewish tradition? Can’t force anyone to give to charity, to save a life, feed the poor, clother the hungry, speak kindly to strangers, treat another Jew like your brother/sister, etc., etc. Does that mean we should give up on these as Jewish ideas unless the non-Jews embrace them too? Of course not. Similarly, if they used their rabbis, to whom nobody listens according to you, to prevent intermarriage, and did not do much else, it was doomed to failure from the start (although I think you’ll admit Conservative Jews are less likely to intermarry than Refor, Reconstructionist, and “Other” Jews…perhaps due to higher enrollment in day schools and youth groups, but I don’t really know).

    You also tend to exagerrate above and I’m not sure whether it’s on purpose…I never said I knew all intermarrieds personally or that some of my best friends were intermarried, merely that I had intermarried friends. I opened up and shared with you how I interact with them and relayed to you that they do not consider it to be condescending at all. On the contrary, they like that I am willing to reach out to them and teach them about parts of their Jewish heritage they never knew about. If the female spouse is Jewish (due to halachic concerns of my own), I will be happy to do the same w/ their children…they know it and appreciate this as well. I didn’t mean to preach to you, only to tell you there were reasonable alternatives to your approach that work just as well, maybe better, and do NOT contribute to Jews leaving the Jewish community. I am sorry that you seem to have taken this the wrong way.

    Look if a Jewish woman intermarries, and then reconnects with her Judaism and coaxes her family to do the same, then I think that’s great…which is why I think your organization can do a great deal of good b/c many such families exist today, and in the coming years there will be more as well who need to be brought back into the fold. To that extent I applaud your efforts.

    But to the extend you seek to condemn and alienate other Jews who are equally passionate about seeing a living, thriving Jewish diaspoa community, but have a different approach to your own, then I cannot support your activities. If you do not have the Avahat Yisrael to judge others favorable and treat other Jews like family, I am not sure why you are in this line of work.

    W/ regard to science, I admit I’m no statistician, but you’ve been telling me about the so-called unstoppable rates of intermarriage since we began our discussion. I think I am just as entitled to use published academic studies and the Jewish population survey as you are, aren’t I. Certainly I think you’d agree that SOME science is objective, right? Or is it all so subjective that we should just throw our hands in the air and say we can’t make any sense of it so let’s pursue policies w/o any evidence whatsoever? C’mon now, I know that’s not what you mean, Paul. Neither of us has a monopoly on science, but it’s not fair to say all science is subjective (if so, maybe the fundamentalist Christians are the only ones who have it right ;) - as an aside, as I understand it the Jewish leadership actually accepts the data of the Jewish population survey but chooses not to act on it at the risk of losing big donors…not exactly the altruistic purity of motives I expect from them…which is why I suggested they should be replaced.

    Caste system? What are you talking about? My learning in Judaism has taught me that once we see what an ideal world looks like, we have an obligation to try to bring it into being (perhaps this is why so many Jews latched onto Communism, in their idealism). You said earlier that in an ideal world all Jews would keep kosher, marry other Jews, etc. I’m beginning to think you were being sarcastic and that this is not actually your idea world. I was being serious that we can make that happen. Please let me know whether you were being serious or not.

    I love the Jewish people, Paul, and I hope you do, too. Let’s stop the hate and the attacks and instead come up with a reasoned solution to the very real problems facing us. One that encourages Jews to marry Jews, but tries not to leave behind all those who don’t.

    Comment by marc — May 5, 2005 @ 3:10 pm

  13. I’d be most interested to hear your comments to what I said about “falling” in love, in response #10, par. 6. Sorry to have forgotten to mention this above.

    Comment by marc — May 5, 2005 @ 3:19 pm

  14. I don’t understand why you think the Conservative movement or the Jewish community in general never implimented an anti-intermarriage campaign; in fact, that’s all there was until very recently. Don’t you remember that families used to sit shiva? That wasn’t just the Orthodox. During the rise in intermarriage in the late 1960s and early 1970s ALL the community tried to do was discourage intermarriage. That was the implimented policy! There was no outreach then. Yet the intermarriage rate continued to climb. Why? Because it had nothing to do with the Jewish community; it had to do with American society. That’s why I’m saying that it is a larger trend, and we have to accept the reality.

    I also disagree with the assessment that less Conservative Jews intermarry. It’s just that after they intermarry, most don’t call themselves Conservative Jews anymore! Likewise, the way the Orthodox believe they have such amazing retention rates. But actually, it’s just that they have amazing birth rates; their retention rate is actually the worst among all denominations, according to the NJPS.

    I believe that many intermarried Jews stay away from the Jewish community because of attitudes toward them like those you’ve expressed, that’s what I was suggesting. You think the conservative movement “MAY have had it right on paper” but what I’m saying is, they didn’t. Not even on paper. If intermarried families are their third choice after in-married and conversionary families, they’re never going to attract intermarried families because who wants to be someone’s third choice? If all families who want to raise Jewish children are their one and only choice, then they have a much better chance of attracting those families. In order to do that, we need to move past the obsession over intermarriage. The organized Jewish community should not be in the business of telling anybody who to marry. It’s not a moral issue, and this is again where we’ll disagree.

    Regarding #10, love, there’s a ridiculously high divorce rate IN GENERAL in this country, does that mean NOBODY should get married, so they can avoid the pain of what might happen? That paragraph shows a real distance between yourself and mainstream America. Which is fine, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I can understand why it would then be so difficult for you to understand the mindset of most people, including many Jews, in this country, which is: don’t tell me who to marry! People don’t do things based on odds or statistics, and most don’t get married (anymore) based on who their parents or community sets them up with. Again, nothing wrong with doing it that way, it’s just that most people don’t, so let’s address reality.

    I’ve enjoyed this debate, but it’s time to acknowledge the impass, because there is no conclusion.

    Comment by Paul Golin, Assistant Executive Director, JOI — May 5, 2005 @ 3:54 pm

  15. I just logged into this site and saw this intense debate. I have to say that I appreciate the passion on both sides, and it’s cool that you both care so much about Judaism and passing our heritage on to our children.

    In fact, I wish we could spend more time spreading a positive message about how great Judaism is and how meaningful we find it, rather than being mean to people and telling them that decisions they make are a tragedy.

    Comment by Rebecca — May 5, 2005 @ 4:12 pm

  16. Thanks Rebecca. Perhaps there’s a job for you here at JOI!

    Comment by Paul Golin, Assistant Executive Director, JOI — May 5, 2005 @ 4:22 pm

  17. Impasse? Paul, I thought we were just warming up :)
    Okay, I get it. You think I’m out of touch with: Intermarried Jews, the Jewish community in general, and mainstream America. Wow, well that’s a lot of people for me to be out of touch with! I find it odd that, out of touch as I am, unaffiliated, and mildly affiliated Jews keep asking me to host more Shabbat dinners at my home b/c they enjoy the company, the meaningful discussions, and the genuine love for another Jew they feel there. Seems I might not be so out of touch after all.

    You may think that Judaism is out of touch with mainstream, but really its just that the mainstream has lost touch with their Jewish roots. We’ve reached a point where more Jews feel more at home with their non-Jewish classmates than with a Jew they know who attends synagogue regularly, keeps kosher, studies Torah, or even believes one should. We’ve allowed American culture to subsume Jewish culture (how tragic for those who consider Judaism just “a cultural thing”). So what are we to do about it…give up? Why? Jews in America are thirsty for Torah and to reconnect with their heritage. This explains why reform temples are doing more traditional things in terms of prayer groups, mitzvot, traditional dress, additional holidays, etc. I meet people all the time who are looking to meet a Jew to marry, but don’t know where to go; who want to learn more about a Judaism that has some content, b/c American society is becoming so far from what their parents and grandparents would have called moral and decent, but only the Christians are talking about morals so they have nowhere to turn.

    I had a discussion at my table recently about the difference b/t love and infatuation. I was surprised at how many people (in their 20s and 30s) didn’t know the difference. It’s no wonder divorce is more common today than ever before. Of course, people should still get married, but if you do it for infatuation, understand you’ll probably wind up in divorce like most Americans. By the end of our discussion I felt confident that people understood, at least a little bit, about marriage and love from a Jewish perspective, as opposed to what they see on television and in movies. They were relieved and felt empowered and proud to be Jews who would become active in finding another Jew to marry. Now what’s wrong with that…and if this lowly attorney can inspire that reaction, imagine what a Jewish professional like yourself or a rabbi can do?

    Re: how many conservative Jews actually intermarry, you may be write. I was going on self-reporting and you might be right about that. Re: the Orthodox retention rate, I guess it depends on the definition. I grew up in a sephardic home where we said we were “orthodox”, but didn’t really go to synagogue often, and I didn’t know the prayers, hebrew, etc. It’s just that in the sephardic world there is only Orthodoxy…just observant or not observant. I could easily have intermarried or left Judaism and you might have counted it as an Orthodox Jew who intermarried or left, but nobody looking at me objectively could have defined me the way I self-defined at the time…I guess “lapse traditional” was where I fit in, but I guess that’s not a category. Among those truly connected and not on the fringe like I was, the retention rate is quite strong…but I guess that’s just semantics.

    People did sit Shiva for the intermarried, but why? As I said before, they could not articulte why this Judaism that they did not follow or practice was so important that it should restrict who their children married. So let’s learn to articulate why Judaism is important enough to perpetuate. Do we have a mission in the world or don’t we? Is it a mission others are fit to carry out or isn’t it? If we have a mission of bringing light ot the world, and only the Jews can do it, let’s do it…but we can’t do it if we don’t even tell our kids the mission is important enough and meaningful enough, and enough of a privilege that they wouldn’t consider seriously the notion of marrying a non-Jew. Haven’t you ever met such people, Paul? People who have a gleam in their eye almost like they belonged to a generation long gone…that gleam that the Jewish people can change the world. People to whom not being part of the Jewish mission is the worst punishment they can think of. People who, if you ask them what their parents told them to get them to marry a Jew would respond, “if they had to tell me at all it would have been too late. I learned by watching them and by seeing how meaningful it was to live a Jewish life and be an integral part of the Jewish people.” If you haven’t met one of these people, Paul, find one as soon as you can so you can get a little bit of that gleam into your eyes, too.

    I think you’re in NYC…my old stomping grounds. I’d be glad to point you in the right direction to such people…but only if you’re open-minded enough to experience them without judging them unfavorably or unkindly.

    Comment by marc — May 5, 2005 @ 4:49 pm

  18. Rebecca,

    Thank you for your comment. If you’ll tell me what I wrote that you consider being mean to people, I’ll be happy to re-phrase. Certainly, my intent was not to insult anyone.

    Sometimes people do make poor decisions. It sometimes takes someone who cares about you to tell you that. However, I wasn’t saying we should tell anyone they made a mistake. I tried to be clear that we should only show them the beauty of Judaism. If they ever realize they made a mistake, it will be on their own, not b/c I told them so.

    Comment by marc — May 5, 2005 @ 4:54 pm

  19. I’ve just discovered this website and want to say yasher koach for what you’re doing!

    A few comments on the raging debate above:

    1) Paul writes: “Instead, you insult Ė and it IS an insult Ė intermarried couples, and please donít tell me that you know them all personally and theyíre not insulted. Iím insulted. My friends and family members will be insulted. People visiting this website for help and support will be insulted by your words.”

    For the record: yes, I am insulted by what Marc has written.

    My mother didn’t make a mistake when she married my father (and raised my brothers and yours truly as good Conservative Jews). I didn’t make a mistake when I married my husband (who decided to convert, but with whom I would have built a Jewish household even had he decided to follow my father’s path of support but not change of religion). My friend who has found a wonderful man and is going to continue to live her observant Jewish life with him and, God willing, raise wonderful Jewish children with him, even though he’s Presbyterian, isn’t making a mistake. If my brothers stop caring about Jewish life, if they don’t bring up any children they may have with an appreciation for their heritage–then they’ve made a mistake. But that’s _not_ what intermarriage has to mean: that’s what JOI seems to be all about, debunking that myth. So let’s stop using intermarriage as a convenient stalking horse for the real problems not just of Jewish continuity but of real _content_ in that continuity. (As you, Marc, observe in several of your posts, including #17.)

    2) Marc: “a better approach that the Jewish community never really tried, which is to confront intermarriage head on, by embracing observance and passing on a healthy Jewish heritage to kids who wonít desire to intermarry in the first place.”

    I received that healthy Jewish heritage _and_ a fine sense of the wonderful possibilities of American life from my parents, whom I would not in a million years wish married to anyone else. They were not infatuated: they were, and are, and have been for over 35 years, in love.

    And I didn’t therefore “desire to intermarry” OR NOT “desire to intermarry”: I wanted to find a life partner who shared my values, hopes, and dreams, my _bashert_, with whom I would build a Jewish life. And I have. Just as my mother did.

    And if I have as much success as she and my father have had in raising children who are good human beings, real mentshn (my brothers, anyway: not to toot my own horn), good Jews–then I’ll consider myself lucky. I’ll have it easier in many ways because I am _not_ in fact intermarried, since my husband is a _ger_, but many of the family issues are the same. Any fine Jewish children I have with this wonderful man will have 3 non-Jewish grandparents. I’m a 1/4-Cuban Jew with a Scotch-Irish last name. At my parents’ wedding, one of my father’s college roommates raised a toast “to hybrid vigor”–and he was right to do so. God bless America!

    4) Marc: “Look if a Jewish woman intermarries, and then reconnects with her Judaism and coaxes her family to do the same, then I think thatís greatÖ”

    Again, I’m insulted. You’re just repeating your already-entrenched ideas about what intermarriage is and what its results are. You’re stuck with a model in which intermarriage is the result of a momentary lapse of judgment or standards–and when the person in question comes to his/her senses, s/he can be rescued, perhaps along with the rest of the tenuously connected family, and drawn back into Judaism. But what about those who go in with their eyes open and a full understanding of what’s at stake in marrying someone [not just the superficial business of “falling in love” as you lay it our in #10], and who haven’t ever left the Jewish community? Life is complicated: a Jewish woman can marry a supportive non-Jew and build a Jewish household with the halakhically-Jewish children you so readily accept. And a Jewish man can marry a non-Jewish woman and do the same, raising the children in a movement that accepts patrilineal descent or taking them to the mikvah for conversion (my preferred move for the sake of klal yisrael and because I do care about halakha). Many non-Jewish spouses are not ready to convert before marriage for any number of reasons: better to be a sincere supporter of the family, and perhaps a sincere ger or giyoret down the line (as so many I know have become), than to be pushed into a pro forma act that will be resented.

    On this point, Paul’s comment is quite relevant: “Itís just that after they intermarry, most donít call themselves Conservative Jews anymore!” Well, my mother did, and I do (and would have had my husband not converted): but that’s a relatively easy call, since I’m halakhically Jewish and Conservative synagogues _no longer_ shun and shame the intermarried. (Though it’s sooo nice to see the responsa online — — basically saying that my mother is a terrible role model and, though it’s _now_ okay to let intermarrieds like her be synagogue members and even have an aliyah, she should by no means be hired as a youth group leader or day school teacher and shouldn’t do all the things she’s done for our shul as board member, VP, etc. … not that it matters either that my non-Jewish father is in shul far more often than many a born Jew in the congregation…) But sure, if you’re a Jewish man marrying a non-Jewish woman who isn’t immediately sold on conversion to Judaism (or on doing so through the Conservative or Orthodox movements), you may well stop calling yourself a Conservative Jew or affiliating with the Conservative movement. And that’s the Conservative movement’s loss.

    The May 8 JTA article on children of intermarriage reports on JOI’s findings that “While 77 percent of respondents with Jewish mothers were encouraged to identify with the Jewish religion, that number dropped to 45 percent for respondents with Jewish fathers.” These numbers suggest that the message that’s being sent to many children of intermarriage is: if you have a Jewish mother, welcome, you’re halakhically Jewish and OK by us, and if you don’t, well, we’re not so concerned about you. Marc, you seem to be accepting these assumptions as well, rather than seeking to encourage those who have Jewish heritage but are not halakhically Jewish to take the necessary steps to become full members of the halakhic Jewish community, if that’s what you’d like to persuade them to do: why be “willing to reach out to them and teach them about parts of their Jewish heritage they never knew about” only if those children have a Jewish mother? (Moses’s sons didn’t!) Of course you don’t want to be caught in the crossfire (no pun intended) if the couple are raising their children with some religion other than Judaism–but if that were to be the case, would it your business to interfere if the Jewish parent were the mother but not the father? And if not, why assume that the person isn’t interested in practicing Judaism? In many mixed-marriage households, no other religion is being actively practiced (as Ellen Jaffe McClain observed in her excellent book _Embracing the Stranger: Intermarriage and the Future of the American Jewish Community_; she also challenges the interpretation of some of the statistics on this topic in previous population surveys, where having a Christmas tree might be counted as evidence of practicing another religion–not a very compelling argument all on its own, since many assimilated Jewish families with TWO Jewish parents put up such “secular” Christmas decorations earlier in this century without being Christians by dint of same…)

    5) A comment now on linguistics rather than cultural politics. Paul writes: “My grandmother, whose first language was Yiddish, couldnít help but call African-Americans ’shvartzas’ because she knew no better word for it.” In Yiddish, there may be no better word and no need for a better one: as discussed at a Yugntruf Yidish-Vokh (Yiddish Week) session on euphemisms and polite/impolite speech a year or two ago, the term is _not_ considered pejorative _in Yiddish_–now, if you’re speaking Yinglish & importing Yiddish terms into your English usage, that’s a different (and potentially problematic) context. But just as “black” is one acceptable current identity term for members of this community of color (though some prefer African-American or Afro-American; terms change with the times, as Negro was the term of choice when the NAACP and United Negro College Fund were founded), the semantically identical “shvartze” (meaning “black”) is not a loaded term in Yiddish: it’s a normal unmarked one. (Though to use a Yiddish term in an otherwise English sentence, outside of the original linguistic context, can make it marked–as I said, that’s a different matter…)

    Comment by Becca — May 10, 2005 @ 1:53 am

  20. Becca, thank you for sharing your personal story with us. I think we can learn much when open dialogue is permitted.

    I am sorry you were insulted by my comments, but please understand that I am interested in the future of the klal, as you state you are. Intermarriage, from the macro perspective, IS a mistake for the Jewish community. That your family is a shining exception to the rule notwithstanding.

    As you probably know, the vast majority of intermarried households in America do not go into that situation w/ knowledge of Judaism, as you did. Most have not thought about the implications (halachic or otherwise), and are woefully deficient in terms of their Jewish education, connection to the Jewish community, and religious practice. We, as a community, cannot pursue policies which are detrimental to 90% of those likely to intermarry, even though 10% of those (being generous), perhaps those who, like yourself, have a strong background withing the Conservative movement, will continue to raise halachically Jewish children within a home of strong Jewish content.

    I am glad that you stated that you had respect for halacha b/c you care about the klal. Certainly you recognize then that, halachically, intermarriage is not permitted. We don’t disregard halacha because pork tastes good, or because we fall in love. The Torah says we shouldn’t be led astray by our eyes nor our heart…neither the physical nor the emotional should lead us away from the ways of our people. As someone who respects halacha, you must also see the problems with encouraging a non-Jewish child to be raised as a Jew or with having a non-halachic conversion that could lead to children who are called Jewish by some and not Jewish by others in our community. This is dividing us horribly and what we need more than ever is more unity.

    Your daughter can intermarry (though she would be breaking w/ halacha) and will still have a Jewish child. Your son, however, cannot. Somehow it does not seem right that you may one day have to explain to your son that, b/c you respect halacha, he must marry a Jewish girl but that your daughter can marry whom she pleases. Maybe I’m being too egalitarian here, but I think you see what is troubling about this.

    Finally, it’s not the Conservative Movement’s loss that they do not encourage the children of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother to be raised Jewish. To the contrary, it’s a gain for the entire Jewish and non-Jewish communities. A Jew is no better than a non-Jew, but we do have more obligations in order to connect with God. Why convince a non-Jew that they, in order to be a good person, have all these obligations they do not have? I am not so holier than thow to preach to the non-Jews (as will some fundamentalist Christians and Muslims do to the Jews) that they have to adopt our beliefs or they will be damned.

    I guess to sum it up, I’m not sure you have the respect for halacha that you claim. That doesn’t make you a bad person or any less of a Jew than me, and I am glad you have found happiness and fulfillment in your marriage. I am also glad that your children are being raised as Jews, b/c they ARE Jews. But please recognize that we, as a community, cannot make rules based upon the exceptions, like yourself. We have to ask how to ensure that people marrying today have Jewish grandchildren and greatgranchildren. Statistically, you have decreased your chances, though families like yours may be the ones who keep the intermarried on the chart at all. If that is the case, and if you are the exception, then realize that for every 4 Jewish grandchildren you have who are raised as Jews, there will be born 36 grandchildren of others who will not be raised Jewish…even sadder is that 12 of these children will be halachically Jewish, and will never be taught to care about Judaism or the unique destiny and mission of the Jewish people.

    I am all for the work Paul does in reaching out to those 12 children and bringing them back to Judaism, and I hope on that we can at least agree. God willing, neither your grandchildren nor greatgrandchildren will ever need Paul’s or the JOI’s help.

    All the best,


    Comment by marc — May 10, 2005 @ 9:17 am

  21. Marc, I’m willing to take more of these points up again later, but I’m also someone whose profession involves close attention to language (I’m a PhD student in English, soon to be an assistant professor in a literature department). And I just want to tell you that I admire you for being a straight shooter but _have_ to ask whether you’re aware of how what you write is consistenly alienating the audience you claim that you want to win over. I’m happy to discuss with you the issues that you’ve raised–but you’re not winning any friends by writing “Iím not sure you have the respect for halacha that you claim.” That’s a rhetorical move that points in the direction of two very different meanings:

    1) I’m not yet convinced: let’s keep talking. (I think it will turn out that you and I have different understandings of what “respect for halakha” means in our approaches to Jewish pluralism, and that that’s part of the potential problem here.) OR
    2) You liar! I’m too polite to call you one to your face, but you’re lying at worst, misleading yourself (and perhaps others) at best, in your erroneous _claim_ to respect halakha.
    And that’s a conversation-ender.

    Comment by Becca — May 10, 2005 @ 1:29 pm

  22. Becca, suffice it to say, I meant the former…#1. Sometimes in email things sound sarcastic or pointed that aren’t meant to come across that way. I’m sorry if I wrote in a way that made #2 seem plausible. As I re-read it, I agree w/ you and am sorry for the way I put that.

    You mentioned that you’d prefer the route of halachic conversion for the sake of Klal Yisrael. I wondered why, and in what way you thought halachic conversion was good for the klal? Perhaps this will help us define our understandings of what halacha is, and what respect for halacha entails. You may be right that we have different understandings of that.

    If there’s other things I write that come off insulting, please let me know. I try to soften it, but please recognize that my discourse w/ Paul got rather heated, and that he spent quite a bit of time insulting and taking digs at me for no apparent reason other than that he disagreed with me. In the interest of keeping things on an intellectual level, I know my writing can come across as cold. I did not wish to stoop to personal attacks on him which are both un-Mensch-like and counterproductive. I appreciate your kind words of “straight shooter”…a much nicer way of putting it.

    Finally, I’m not sure I’m “consistently alienating” anyone who is on the fence about whether intermarriage is good or bad for the Jewish community. Or anyone who themselves is considering it. I understand that Paul (invested in the JOI mission), and that those already intermarried will probably disagree with me, but I’d like to think that those who’ve gone through difficult divorces routed in the added difficulties an intermarriage presents, or those who will ultimately be the decision-makers in the Jewish diaspora community will see some merit in my arguments, if examined w/o bias.

    I am happy to discuss both of our points more at length, at your leisure.

    All the best,


    Comment by marc — May 10, 2005 @ 2:33 pm

  23. Dear Becca,

    This blog is relatively new, we’ve been doing it for a few months now, and it took me a LOT of work (together with a very nice designer) to put it all together, but it was not until I read your first post that I genuinely felt, “AH-HA! Here is the REASON we created this!” THANK YOU so much for your kind words, for sharing your experiences, and for your interest in JOI’s work. It really makes it worthwhile for me, and for everyone here at JOI.

    For too long the Jewish community has operated under the blanket statement that all intermarriage is “bad for the Jews.” Instead, we should be holding up positive examples of what we call “successful Jewish intermarriages,” and your personal story is EXACTLY what we mean. We’re not “promoting intermarriage” to unmarried Jews by simply welcome ALL Jewish families regardless of their configuration.

    I also read Ellen Jaffe McClain’s book and thought it was, on the whole, excellent. I’m sorry that it did not get the kind of attention it deserved from the organized Jewish community.

    So again, thank you. And please feel free to contact me any time, either here or by email. (Now please excuse me as I gracefully disengage from this “raging” debate…;)


    Comment by Paul Golin, Assistant Executive Director, JOI — May 10, 2005 @ 3:59 pm

  24. Im sorry to hear that our 18 posts on this important issue prior to Becca’s entry did not make this blog worthwhile for you, Paul. I was hoping we had learned from one another.

    Comment by marc — May 11, 2005 @ 10:30 am

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