Keeping the (Inter)faith

JVIBE is a Jewish teen magazine that holds a refreshingly inclusive attitude toward intermarried families and the children of intermarriage. A recent JVibe article called “Keeping the (Inter)Faith” (link is a PDF, reprinted with permission) explores the challenges faced by children of intermarriage in being fully accepted into the Jewish community. The piece is written by JVibe co-editor Joelle Asaro Berman who reveals that she, too, is an adult child of intermarriage. She discusses one of her unwelcoming experiences, an unfortunately all-too-common one among Jews of patrilineal descent:

…I went to a public middle school, where I met my first group of Jewish best friends. I attended a youth group meeting with them and somehow found myself in a discussion with one of the adult advisors. When he found out that my mother was not Jewish, he came back with something that alarmed me:

“Well, that means you’re not really Jewish.”

I was 12, and very confused. There I was, studying for my bat mitzvah, and this total stranger dismissed my Jewish identity in about five seconds. Today I would know how to respond to a comment like that, but back then, I had no idea what he was talking about.

Along with intermarriage itself, patrilineal descent is one of the most divisive issues in the organized community. It is terribly sad that some Jews are so quick to discredit another person’s Judaism, under the guise of “just stating the facts” without any consideration of the other person’s feelings. At the same time, it is a failing of the Reform and Reconstructionist movements to not properly prepare their own members and young people with answers for these seemingly inevitable encounters. Those movements’ decision about “Who’s a Jew” is actually based on an understanding of Jewish law, not a rejection of Jewish law, and their adherents should be able to impart that reasoning to those who would question it.

Joelle is in the vanguard of young Jewish communal professionals from interfaith families, yet she is far from alone, and sure to be followed by many more—even as other segments of the same organized community continue to claim that intermarriage is synonymous with assimilation out of Judaism!

JVIBE provides a free three-year subscription for those Jewish families with teenagers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, by completing the form here. For everyone else, you can get a free trial subscription here.


  1. Hi Paul Golin,
    I am Joelle Asaro Berman’s Sicilian(hence the Asaro) Catholic Mother, and was very happy to read your comments about my daughter. My husband and I see her on a wonderfully, positive spiritual journey that we never anticipated when deciding to raise her Jewish. She has always been a seeking,questioning individual in many areas, but her faith has always given her the support she needed ( and I hope we have too) to continue this journey. It is so interesting and somewhat reflective for us to think about our strong commitment to raise our children Jewish and all the stories one could tell about the process. It has been incredibly rewarding, positive and spiritual for our family. In retrospect, it seemed effortless, with all the support from both sides of the family, and having the strong commitment to each other to have it grow and carry it through. I have so many stories, most of them wonderful, funny and thought ful…just a few that were a little poignant…I feel like I could write a book….anyway, we are so proud and happy on who Joelle has become and where she is going.
    Thanx for your kind words,
    Beverly Asaro

    Comment by Beverly Asaro — March 14, 2007 @ 5:52 pm

  2. Thank YOU Beverly! It’s parents like you who are literally insuring the Jewish future. I truly believe that the perspective and diversity you and others bring with you into the community strengthens Judaism in general, and I’m sure Joelle wouldn’t trade the experience for any other. Our mission at JOI is to help the Jewish community provide even more help and support for parents just like you who have made the decision — and in some ways, the sacrifice — to raise Jewish children. Our Mothers Circle program provides that kind of (free) support through a course and email listserve for women of other religions raising Jewish children. Many have young children, but several have adult children, and we welcome you to join the conversation on the listserve by signing up at, where perhaps you will write your book over the course of many emails… ;)

    Again, thanks so much for your kind words and for providing the Jewish community with a future leader!

    Comment by Paul Golin — March 14, 2007 @ 6:13 pm

  3. Beverly,

    As a Jewish person by patrilineal descent, matrilineal descent, and most importantly, by choice, (and by the way, I am not affililated with JOI), please allow me to applaud the choices your family has made. Despite some short-sighted comments (e.g., not a ‘real’ Jew) that you may be exposed to from time to time, let me assure you that there are many people like myself, that are very, very supportive of what you are doing, and prepared to welcome your family with open arms.

    Comment by Jeff — March 14, 2007 @ 11:38 pm

  4. Dear Friends: I was very happy to see the coverage of Joelle’s work and the JVibe article she worte and appeared in. The article gave a very good idea of what the “coming majority” of Jews — who will be adult children of intermarriage — will be like. I strongly recommend the article to anyone seeking to understand more about adult children of intermarriage.

    Full disclosure: I do not work for JOI :)

    Robin Margolis
    The Half-Jewish Network

    Comment by Robin Margolis — March 15, 2007 @ 12:04 pm

  5. Paul, you wrote “Those movements’ decision about “Who’s a Jew” is actually based on an understanding of Jewish law, not a rejection of Jewish law…”

    I grew up in the Reform Movement with secular parents and step-parents and, as an adult, have found the Reform Movement thoroughly lacking in spirituality and meaning. Please help me understand what these movements’ understanding of Jewish law is.

    Besides the patrilineal-vs.-matrilineal issue, why did these movements abandon kashrut and Shabbat?

    Thank you.


    Comment by Andy — March 20, 2007 @ 10:51 pm

  6. Hi Andy,

    Thanks very much for your comment and your interest in JOI’s website. You are not the first person I’ve heard bemoan a lack of spirituality and meaning in the Reform Movement. Yet in my experience, it’s not so much about the movements. There are Orthodox synagogues where the men mumble through the prayers as fast as possible while the women gossip in the back as if it’s all a big chore; there are also amazingly joyous and spiritual Orthodox prayer communities. Likewise in the Reform movement — I don’t think it’s about the variation in liturgy or melody but rather it’s about the people. Are there charismatic, enthusiastic clergy? Are congregants there because they want to be (rather than because they feel they have to be)? If you want to make generalizations, I’d probably agree that the congregants in Orthodox synagogues want to be there more (because they ARE there more often) and have a better understanding of how the traditional liturgy is supposed to lead to spirituality. On the other hand, the Orthodox lifestyle simply does not speak to the overwhelming majority of American Jews, and that’s been the case for centuries.

    So the Reform Movement has interpreted an understanding of covenant while engaging fully with modern life. You can read their Responsa about patrilineal descent here. You can read their Responsa about kashrut here. For a full list of Reform Responsa, click here.

    My bottom line point is, it’s not a competition. We’re blessed with a tradition that speaks to people on many different levels. There are tremendous options for expressing Jewish identity. Some folks may not be looking for spirituality but rather “community” when they join a synagogue. Others don’t connect religiously whatsoever, but get involved with Jewish cultural events or political action or social justice as their expression of Jewish identity. You seemed to have been looking for more spirituality, and it seems you’ve found it, which is terrific! The challenge that we at JOI are trying to address is that too many Jewish households don’t have a full view of what all those options are, and therefore they are opting out because they don’t find a meaningful way of participating in Jewish life. We need to make all the options available.

    Comment by Paul Golin — March 20, 2007 @ 11:27 pm

  7. Andy,

    Paul provided you with a very fair response to your question on the reform responsa on patrilineal descent. I would only add, as a Torah-observant Jew myself today who meandered through the Conservative and Reform movements during by college and post-college years, that Reform is not a “halachic” movement, meaning that although they will issue responsa on halachic issues, these responsa do not form the basis of their decision-making process. The decisions, based upon the desires of the laity or URC guiding boards and presidents, can openly contradict halacha in the name of progressivism. Case in point is their responsa on abortion (found on the same website) which admits no way out of the halachic restraints upon it in most cases, but which ultimately rules that it is a matter of personal choice. Reform responsa often take passages of the Torah and talmud out of context to prove a point, which I found very intellectually dishonest and this was a turn-off for me personaly. The conservative movement fares somewhat better, but because their major decisions are made by professors and not their Talmudic faculty, they also fall victim to the desires of the laity over halachic dictates.

    And let me welcome you back to Torah-observant Judaism. The Torah clearly states that we will be an eternal people and that we will be few in number. Our strength lies in our quality, not our quantity. Yasher Koach!

    Comment by marc — March 26, 2007 @ 11:28 am

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