Intermarrieds in Dialogue
In an effort to explore how Jewish organizations might
be more effective in serving the needs of interfaith families,
the Jewish Family Center of B'nai B'rith International
and JOI conducted a series of focus group interviews in
several communities throughout the U.S (Complete study
available upon request.) The goal of the reasearch project
was to explore four broad questions:
- How are intermarried couples effected by the experience
of being a mixed religion marriage and family?
- How do their families respond to them and their
- How does the Jewish community respond to them and
- What can the Jewish community do to better serve
and be more attractive to interfaith families?
Participants engaged in dialogues on issues which
are common to many interfaith households, such as how
they and their relatives deal with holidays and life
cycle rituals . During the inteviews couples revealed
their personal experience of being intermarried, experiences
with each other, parents, siblings, children, and communities.
One wife said, "John's parents had more trouble with
us marrying than mine did, but my family was around
John the whole time we were going together, and his
family lived some distance away, so we only saw them
a few times before the wedding. After we first got married,
they would deliberately send extremely religious cards,
and they would address letters only to him and refer
somewhere in them to 'his wife.' You know, 'Hello to
your wife.' And then on my side, the one who reacted
on a religious level was my sister . She sent me letters
saying "How cruel this is of you. Somewhere there's
a Jewish man for you.'" Regardless of tensions, most
interfaith couples presented themselves as fairly comfortable
with their circumstances. Yet, all of the couples expressed
a variety of educational and cultural needs, particularly
realating to dealing with children.
Parents of intermarried children were also interviewed.
They , too, responded candidly to questions concerning
their relationship with children, sons/daughter-in-laws,
and grandchildren. Pressures from children and extended
family members is widespread. One grandmother described
being pulled apart, "My daughter married a Jew and has
two lovely Jewish kids. She's raising them beautifully.
My son is intermarried and has kids. He and his wife
are raising the children as Christians. Well my daughter
doesn't want me to be friends with them!" A number of
parents expressed feelings of rejection and uncertainty
about their roles. Many felt uncomfortable in their
relationships with grandchildren. Life cycle and holiday
events were frequently a source of tension for the parents
of intermarried couples.
The Jewish community and leaders got mixed reviews
from intermarried couples and their parents. The Jewish
partner of one couple, in the US military at the time
of their marrage, was troubled when she spoke to the
Jewish chaplain. She recalls: "He just castiagted me
for wanting to marry a 'gentile.' I walked out in tears
and sought another Jewish chaplain at a different naval
base. She was a female, really nice, and encouraging.
It turned out that her sister was in an interfaith marriage."
While the older generation was more familiar with the
operations and practices of the Jewish organizations,
neither generation expressed a firm belief that the
community could solve their private problems. However,
intermarried couples agreed that acceptance and gestures
of inclusions of nonJewish spouses and children at synogogues
and ceremonial rituals would be a welcomed step by the
Jewish community at large.
From these conversations, it appears that there are
a variety of initiatives that Jewish organizations could
undertake to improve the prospects of Jewish continuity
in the lives of intermarried families. Foremost, there
is a vast need for the developement of educational materials-booklets,
audio cassettes, and Internet sites- to help diseminate
user-sensitive information on religions. Intermarried
families in this study welcomed the organization of
group dialogues for interfaith couples and their parents
and guides to help people deal more sensitively and
effectively with the intermarried population.