My post on this topic from last week generated a broad response and many hits. Following are a few reflections:
1. This issue is of intense interest to people. There were over 500 hits on the post in the first day, at this point pushing a total of 700 hits. People in the liberal Jewish community are concerned about intermarriage, it is on their minds, and they are wondering how to address it. My sense is people look at it as not a question of will this happen in my family, but when will it happen, and they want to be prepared. They understand this is a new world and the old responses, like sitting shiva for a child who was intermarrying, are no longer even on the table (nor should they be). But people aren’t quite sure what the ‘new’ response should be. They sense it should be about inclusion, acceptance, welcoming, but at the same time they want their children to remain Jewish and they want Jewish grandchildren! And that leads to point number two.
2. The responses the post generated were clearly split into two groups. On the one hand, ‘professional’ Jews, who work in the community and who have an ideal picture of what Jewish life should be like. Most of these folks are still invested in toeing the old party line – that we must figure out a way to stem the tide of intermarriage (remember that the Pew Study indicates the rate in the liberal Jewish community is now hovering at %70!) – quite a tide to stem! This group still seems to believe that if we can only create the right program, figure out the correct response, get enough Jewish kids to go to Jewish camp and day school, the problem will take care of itself. The second set of responses came from ‘ba’al habatim’ – the Jews in the pews. They may or may not have read the Pew Study, but anecdotally they know the scene – 7 out of 10 young Jews in the liberal Jewish community are intermarrying. It is purely a numbers game, and with those numbers, they know their friend’s children, their own children, have a significant chance of marrying someone who is not Jewish. They are willing to accept that, in fact in many cases I think families are resigned to it – it is the new normal. But, as I wrote above, they still want their children to remain Jewish, and they want Jewish grandchildren. And they believe that their clergy, their rabbis and cantors, should play a role in helping that to happen. They see this as a moment of religious crises, precisely the kind of moment when you want your clergy present, but they feel their clergy is absent. And they are not satisfied when we say ‘have the kids talk to us before the wedding, then have them join the shul and send their kids to our Hebrew school after the wedding.’ That is like saying we’ll send you the syllabus, and we want you to hand in the paper at the end, but you can’t take the class.
3. Last thought for now. One response suggested that it would be better for Conservative Judaism to disappear than for Conservative rabbis to officiate at interfaith weddings. Really? With the numbers trending the way they are, we might actually get to find out whether that statement is true. Think of it like this: it may be that THE key to survival and success in the liberal Jewish commmunity will be figuring out how to attract interfaith families, and then how to help them create a Jewish home that is both comfortable and meaningful. The question in the Conservative Movement is are we ready to tackle that challenge?