“I have been following responses to the new Pew Research Center survey data on Jewish Americans, and noticed that many Jewish leaders are responding negatively to news about rates of intermarriage. How might interfaith couples and families respond?”
I am reading your question during the week of the Torah portion called Toldot, which means “generations.” Distilled to its essence, concern for the Pew Research Center survey data has to do with the continued unfolding of the generations of the Jewish people and of Jewish life. All who wish to be part of that journey from past to future as it wends through the present should be welcome, as each person plays a vital part through the unique nature of his or her own gifts. In the pain and puzzlement of your question, I sense a deeper question, the answer to which is, “Yes, you do belong and you have a place.” The concern with intermarriage is precisely that the generations of the Jewish people will not continue. Interfaith couples and families are in a unique position to help shape both the discussion and the journey through their presence. Offered with understanding and pride, the most powerful response to preachers of doom is to say, “We, too, are part of the Jewish future and will help to make it happen.”
Once you have taken your place and found a community with whom to travel, the discussion needs to move quickly beyond the call of survival and continuity, though itself a sacred task. The question then is how best to acquire the inheritance that is your due, the gifts of Jewish life that are yours, the fruits and flowers with which to adorn your home and delight the souls of all within. There are enough fellow seekers, enough communities, enough teachers and rabbis of open heart and mind who will embrace you, but you need to enter and say, “We are here.” I would hope that out of the Pew survey all of our Jewish religious movements might learn to draw without fear on each other’s strengths and help all who come to us to find the right place for them. However familiar or foreign the song of Jewish life, learn to sing it together, shaping the words and the melody in your own key, your love enriched in Shabbos embrace, the mystery of the aleph-bet (Hebrew alphabet) upon your children’s lips. Finding meaning in the moment, you affirm the future.
Affirming the future of the Jewish people becomes one with affirming the future of the world and all people. One of the most critical tensions is that between the universal and the particular. It is a tension that needs always to be finely tuned. As an interfaith couple, you have a unique perspective on what it means to negotiate difference. Weaving together the wisdom of our own past with the wisdom emerging in our time, and the wisdom of your experience, we can create a vibrant Jewish people whose song shall enrich the human chorus. Please raise your voice and sing.
Find resources for interfaith couples and families at InterfaithFamily.