I recently read a piece called “New Study Finds That It’s Not a Lack of Welcome That’s Keeping the Intermarrieds Away” in the eJewish Philanthropy daily e-letter. It explained how a study done by Steven M. Cohen, a sociologist who studies American Jews, determined that it was a lack of “competency” rather than welcome that was keeping intermarried families and their children from engaging with the Jewish community. I wasn’t the only one who found this thesis problematic and offensive. Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, and Edmund Case, the CEO of InterfaithFamily.com, wrote a response arguing that there is still work to be done in welcoming intermarried families into the Jewish fold.
Rabbi Olitzky and Mr. Case point out that Steven M. Cohen has an interesting history with this issue:
We at the Jewish Outreach Institute and InterfaithFamily.com find it ironic that after working so hard to create a more welcoming community despite the hindrance of literally decades of policy papers from Dr. Cohen discouraging communal support for outreach, he is now recommending we declare victory and go home.
They also point out that Cohen based his whole thesis on just one question from a survery about engaging Midwestern children in Jewish summer camps. Hardly data on which to make assumptions about the general experience of intermarried families throughout the entire American Jewish community! They do a great job of breaking down the statistics from that survey, and I encourage you to read more here. But I would argue that you don’t even need to look at the data to see that the issue of “welcoming” intermarried families has not yet been resolved; it’s right there in the first sentence of the original piece, written by Gal Beckerman:
Since at least the 1990s, one of the chief concerns of the American Jewish community has been the problem of intermarriage. With the perception that an increasing number of American Jews are marrying outside the faith, the problem of how to stop the attrition has been a major preoccupation. [Emphasis Added]
It’s language like this that makes me bristle every time I read something about intermarriage from “the Jewish establishment.” Intermarried families are never going to feel welcome in a community where they are considered a “problem.”