Southern Jewish Life

I just returned from speaking at the annual educational conference of the Institute for Southern Jewish Life. This is the fourth time that I have presented at a conference that should be more on the radar screen of the national Jewish community. It is an amazing group of people. Fifty synagogue communities were represented. Most of the synagogues and cities were small and smaller, but some of the larger cities in the south were also represented.

During my keynote presentation, I asked this question: “How many of you have intermarriage in your immediate family? (Either you are intermarried, your parents are intermarried, or you have a child or sibling who is intermarried.)” Nearly every hand in the room went up. Intermarriage impacted on nearly every person who was in attendance. It is why I constantly say that intermarriage is the most significant domestic issue facing the North American Jewish community.

Some will say that this is not a new phenomenon for Southern Jewry or for small town Jewry. And maybe they are right. The issue of intermarriage has been impacting on these towns for many years. As a result, they have been responding to the issues that emerge from intermarriage for a long time. Often we suggest that it is the big cities, the big synagogue who lead the way in the Jewish community and so we should look to them for guidance. This is not the case here. The small communities have it right. They have faced intermarriage head on and moved forward. They may not have all the answers—nobody does yet—but they understand perhaps more than any other part of the community that their Jewish survival depends on discussing it openly and working together to find ways to engage intermarried households in Jewish life. It was an honor to be able to share with and learn from such a dedicated group of Jewish professionals and lay leaders.


  1. On behalf of the ISJL, I wish to thank Kerry for his leadership at our conference. I’d argue that we further JOI’s goals in more ways than facing interfaith marraiges. The ISJL’s core mission is to enable Jews to live Jewishly even where they are isolated. We enable Jewish families and Jewish homes to thrive everywhere. When Jews live among a diverse group of neighbors and demonstrate daily the values of tzedakah, tikkun olam, family, we all benefit. Thankfully, Jewish values and traditions can continue as part of the American fabric, all the way through and not just at the edges. Thank you Rabbi, for your support.

    Jay Tanenbaum
    Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life

    Comment by Jay Tanenbaum — July 13, 2007 @ 12:20 pm

  2. We are indeed in agreement. I highlighted this issue because that was the issue that I was asked to address and did so publically. As you know and as our colleagues at ISJL know we are about engagement for the entire community, regardless of background or affiliation. In an inclusive Jewish community, all feel welcomed and embraced.

    Comment by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky — July 13, 2007 @ 1:26 pm

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