I made a presentation at a suburban New Jersey Conservative synagogue the other night, focusing on what grandparents can do to nurture the Jewish identity of interfaith grandchildren. It was scheduled to honor the memory of a young man—Dr. Michael Fink—who had died about ten years ago. Perhaps the rainy night reflected the mood of those in attendance—at least at the onset of the presentation—because of what drew them to the presentation: the topic of intermarriage. They all had different stories but nearly all of them were directly impacted upon by intermarriage in one way or another. The presentation was covered in the New Jersey Jewish News:
Olitzky suggested changing the culture at synagogues where non-Jewish spouses are barred or ostracized, even though their children may be attending congregation religious schools. Some synagogues still require Jews married to non-Jews to join as single parents, and many exclude non-Jewish parents and grandparents from having any role in lifecycle events such as a bar or bat mitzva. “Go down the street to the Unitarian church, where you’ll find many interfaith families because they’ve figured out a way to make them feel comfortable,” he said. “We’re still trying to figure out where they can stand on the bima.”
By the time I was finished, I believe those 100 people assembled in the room came away with a sense of optimism that many of them had not experienced since their adult children came home to tell them they had fallen in love with someone who was not Jewish. This is the power of our work in breaking some of the widely-held negative stereotypes about the potential for interfaith families to raise Jewish children, and in empowering the community to become more inclusive. It really does what the prophet suggested: turning the hearts of children [back] to their parents and the hearts of parents [back] to their children.