In the traditional Torah portion selection for the first day of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Hagar and her son Ishmael are pushed out of Abraham’s tent and sent into exile. This is the memory that their ancestors carry with them throughout the generations. It is this burden of memory that we carry with us, as well. After all, all peoples have history; it is our memory that makes us unique as a people.
Unfortunately, this pattern of “pushing away” has not been broken. We can’t continue to push away with one hand and then reach out with the other (as Abraham and Sarah were also known for their hospitality). This is especially true in the case of interfaith families. Imagine what the world would be like today had Abraham not sent Hagar and Ishmael out on their own. Imagine what our communities would be like had we not sent out those of our children who had intermarried out on their own.
Regardless of the exact percentage of intermarried families raising Jewish children, we can still do better. Most are raising their children in what I like to call “American Civil Religion” even when it does come with a smattering of holidays, irrespective of the religious tradition from which those holidays arise. Perhaps it is because our institutions are not readily open to them—and when they are, it is only on our terms—that they have chosen not to raise Jewish children.
Let’s rein in our inner Abraham, the one that forced out Hagar and Ishmael. Tell them not to get on that horse. Tell them to stay awhile in our tent where they are welcome.