Intermarriage + Outreach = Jewish Population Growth
Conventional wisdom has it that the high rate of intermarriage
among American Jews will inevitably result in the decline
of the Jewish population. It is only a matter of time.
But, facts alone are no sure guide to the Jewish future
in America. A closer examination of the Council of Jewish
Federation's 1990 National Jewish Population Survey
shows a dramatic growth in the number of American households
in which there is at least one person of Jewish descent.
In CJF's 1970 National Jewish Population Study it
was reported that 2.1 million American households had
at least one Jewish person. Approximately 250,000 non-Jewish
adult were found living with Jews.
With some slight change in methodology, the 1990 survey
reported 3.2 million households with at least one person
of Jewish descent. These households also add about 1.3
million non- Jews.
The dramatic 50% increase in the number of American
households with either Jews or persons of Jewish ancestry
represents both the risk of assimilation and the enormous
potential for Jewish growth.
In the 1990s, as a result of intermarriage and the
increasing number of children born to intermarried Jews,
more than two million non-Jews live in those self-same
The potential for growth inherent in these facts,
which are usually treated with a sense of alarm, is
that if all Jews married Jews, they could produce half
as many families and, therefore, half as many children
as if they all married non-Jews. In purely demographic
terms (not religious or cultural terms) intermarriage
is the fastest way that a small group can extend its
In 1990 the children under age 5 who are of mixed
marriages, about two hundred and seventy thousand, represented
56% of all children in that age category with at least
one Jewish parent. Dr. Barry A. Kosmin, CJF's director
of research, estimates that between 1990 and the year
2000 (assuming the continuing increase in the American
Jewish intermarriage rate of just 5% in the decade),
66% of all children with at least one Jewish parent
will be the children of a mixed marriage.
The critical question of American Jewry is whether
constitutes extending its reach or loosing its grasp.
Effective Jewish outreach can swell the ranks of the
Jewish community in a very short space of time by providing
networks of inclusion of the non-Jewish spouses and
children of the intermarried. By enabling non-Jewish
family members to participate and join in Jewish communal
activities they will ultimately come to identify with
the life and culture of the Jewish people, resulting
in Jewish inclusion and growth.
As JOI's national directory, Jewish
Connections for Interfaith Families, has shown the
numerous synagogues, Jewish Community Centers, Jewish
Family Services agencies and other communal institutions
that have extended their embrace of the intermarried
have, in fact, helped secure the Jewish continuity of
those families and have also contributed to the growth
and robustness of American Jewry.