Thursday, July 07, 2005

New Jews / New Judaism

In a strange editorial, the Forward argues,

The question is no longer how to stop Jews from fleeing the community, whether by "marrying out" or simply assimilating. Those are yesterday's problems. The burning question today is this: Can the Jewish community make room for the many types of Jews who want to join?
The question is prompted by a new survey of 90 children of intermarriage, which concludes that their ties to Judaism are stronger than previously reported. In fact, the ties seem to be strictly cultural, not religious at all, and even then only very tenuous, eg.:

Eighty-five percent of the respondents said they "find themselves stopping to read articles relating to Jewish topics in newspapers and magazines."
Yeah. I wouldn't change my policy on outreach to intermarried couples based on that.
In any case, even assuming that the report is right and many children of intermarried couples (shame btw the stats aren't seperated into those with Jewish mothers, those with Jewish fathers, etc., which would make them easier to analyze) do feel stronger ties to Judaism than we'd expect. What the survey doesn't cover is what ties they have to other religions as well.
As two books I read last summer argued persuasively, after many more than 90 in-depth interviews with children of intermarriage, most of these kids may feel something towards Judaism, but after attending Christmas celebrations every year, going to Church with their mother or grandparents, etc., they probably feel equally, or also, close to Christianity.
The upshot of this isn't just that 'competition' for these kids -- if you want them -- is tougher than this new survey is implying, but that their religious identity is much more complex as well. They're not just blank slates waiting for Judaism to entice them, or weakly affiliated Jews waiting to be strengthened. In effect, they are hybrids religiously/culturally, part of a completely new phenomenon which is not Judaism as we, in the mainstream community, know it, with other religious influences impacting on them as well. Abandoning the fight against intermarriage, and simply welcoming these people into the community on their own terms, means not only 'New Jews,' as the Forward puts it, but 'New Judaism.'

*PS. -- Please don't write in to tell me that there are many children of intermarriage who identify completely as Jews, who actually grow up in Jewish homes or who are, with the right encouragement, likely to become more 'Jewish.' I know this. We're talking stats and averages here.

1 comment:

F said...

Clearly one is not likely to be interested in a culture/religion/ identity from which one feels excluded because he/she is not deemed a 'real' Jew (because of being Reform/Liberal or not having a Jewish mother but only a Jewish father).