Interfaith Families

With intermarriage an acknowledged part of the American landscape, the only remaining debate is how to respond to interfaith unions.

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"The most repeated mitzvah [commandment] in the Torah is to welcome the stranger, to ...treat the stranger as the one born," argues Dru Greenwood, director of the Department of Outreach at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. "That is a mitzvah that is taken to heart by the Reform movement."

Making Jewish Choices

"The percentage of interfaith families who raise their children as Jews is not more than 30 percent," says Case. "To [increase that number], Jewish leaders have to change their attitudes because they get in the way of making families interested in affiliating feel welcome. We need to stop using off-putting language like goyim and shiksa?and [end] negative attitudes about the leadership and participation of non-Jews in synagogues?. I'm not saying intermarriage is a good thing, just that the Jewish community should be welcoming." 

Rabbi Avis Miller, chairperson of the committee that in 1995 authored the official Conservative position on intermarriage, argues that rather than create a support system where couples can bond over the rejection of conversion or share Hanukkah and Christmas decorating tips, an educational approach to outreach needs to be emphasized with thought-provoking programming and experiences rich in Jewish culture. 

"What happens in support groups is that you are defined by your intermarried-ness," says Miller. "I've had people come to me for conversion and say, 'We've become friendly with these people, we have them over for dinner, and I just can't tell them that I have decided to convert. It will throw everything out of equilibrium.'" 

Despite the schisms among the branches, most agree that creating a Jewish atmosphere in the home can be simple. Whether you play klezmer, light Shabbat candles, read Jewish books or hang Israeli art on your wall, little touches can go a long way. 

Raising a Jewish child is more about what you do than what you say, explains Karen Kushner, a San Francisco social worker who has run interfaith workshops for over 20 years. "If we never take a child to see a Jewish play or go to a Jewish fair they will never have any idea of what is important to us. Look at how much money people spend to join health clubs and how much time they spend working out. So what are the kids going to learn? What's important in life: working out and looking good. So we've got kids who look good and they're intermarrying." 

One of the most valuable resources of Jewish continuity are grandparents. Stories recalled from a grandmother's youth--carp for gefilte fish swimming in the bathtub or memories of the establishment of Israel--will not only leave indelible marks on the minds and memories of a child but will help to foster a sense of roots. Don't be surprised, however, if the relationship takes some work. Many parents experience mixed emotions when their child marries out of the faith and those feelings may resurface when they have an interfaith grandchild. 

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Amy Blumenfeld is a freelance writer and a former editor of George magazine. Her articles have appeared in various magazines, including People, Self, and Fitness.