My esteemed Jewish Theological Seminary professor, Dr. Jack Wertheimer, in his “Outreach to Intermarrieds Makes Wrong Assumptions” (Opinion, Dec. 16) takes UJA-Federation of New York to task for its recent report on welcoming intermarried families.
He claims that the task force has abandoned “the Jewish commitment to endogamy” insisting that, with the exception of rare cases, intermarriage is always bad for the Jewish people. In his argument, Wertheimer is repeating the “old math” of past millennia, where 1+1=0, one Jew plus one non-Jew in a marriage definitely equal zero future Jews in the newly formed family.
Here in the exurban portions of greater New York, we see this math quite differently. In our Conservative congregation, families with one Jewish parent continue to show us that 1+1 can equal three, four or five. These families make up a large and growing segment of the community. They are deeply committed. They actively participate in synagogue life. They educate their children Jewishly and they show a love and respect for Judaism in the wider community. Nearly each week since Rosh HaShanah, a new family has comes through our doors and joined the congregation — 29 families so far this year — many with one Jewish parent, rather than two.
What’s the secret to engaging these families? Indeed, it is more than just being a welcoming institution. We also meet them where they are — socially, religiously and spiritually. We invite all members of the family to participate in ritual celebrations as appropriate. We go out of our way to involve the non-Jewish parent, to encourage him or her to also serve the community. We demonstrate an infectious love for Judaism and, as we have seen, they continue coming back. It is not simply about welcoming; it is about involving. And, it is about looking forward to a Judaism that does not have the barriers that once wholly separated our people from our neighbors.
We can either criticize those Jewish institutions and organizations that embrace the reality of our 21st-century Jewish community or we can focus on creating dynamic, forward-looking and sustainable communities. We plan to do the latter here in Mahopac, with Jewish families of all types.
Temple Beth Shalom Mahopac, N.Y.