Israel gets tough on intermarriage - more Israeli/Jewish double standards

from "Israel gets tough on intermarriage," Jonathan Cook, The National

The Israeli government has launched a television and internet advertising campaign urging Israelis to inform on Jewish friends and relatives abroad who may be in danger of marrying non-Jews.

The advertisements, employing what the Israeli media described as “scare tactics”, are designed to stop assimilation through intermarriage among young diaspora Jews by encouraging them to move to Israel.

The campaign, which cost US$800,000 was created in response to reports that half of all Jews outside Israel marry non-Jews. It is just one of several initiatives by the Israeli state and private organisations to try to increase the size of Israel’s Jewish population.

According to one of the advertisements, voiced over by one of the country’s leading news anchors, assimilation is “a strategic national threat” and warns that “more than 50 per cent of Diaspora youth assimilate and are lost to us.” (more)

For kids of intermarriage, choices are complex

from "For kids of intermarriage, choices are complex," Sue Fishkoff, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA)

Robin Margolis was in her 30s when she found out her late mother was Jewish. It was 1984 and she was cleaning out her mother’s closet when she found a bag of old documents. The woman she knew as Marie Margolis was born Marie Levine. The revelation, though sudden, was somehow comforting.

"I’d been drifting toward Judaism for years,” Margolis says. “I had Jewish friends, dated Jewish men, even thought about conversion. When I found out I already belonged, it felt natural."Today Margolis belongs to a Jewish Renewal congregation in the Washington area and advises synagogues on how to reach out to the adult children of intermarried parents. But she also runs The Half-Jewish Network, [] an online support group for anyone with a Jewish parent, whether they identify as Jewish, Christian or something else.

"I don’t push anything,” she says. “All I can do is offer them warmth and welcome."Margolis’ story, though extreme, illustrates the emotional complexity of growing up with parents from different religious backgrounds. Even those raised unequivocally as Jews have an entire side of their family that is not Jewish.And while in past generations they may have been cut off from that other half, in today’s more tolerant world it’s likely they share holiday traditions, family lore and ethnic cuisine with their non-Jewish relatives.

Margolis, 56, is from a generation in which interfaith marriage was rare and the Jewish side often got lost. She says today’s young adults from intermarried homes, who have grown up in an era of outreach and welcome, don’t understand what she and her peers went through."These Gen-Xers were raised as Jews in the ‘80s,” she says. “They look down at us older ones who weren’t raised Jewish, who identify as ‘half.’ But as they get older they’ll learn there’s another side of themselves that needs to be cherished and respected. And it won’t make them any less Jewish."Joelle Berman, a 23-year-old Bostonian with a Sicilian Catholic mother and Jewish father, says she grew up with Jewish religion and Italian culture. Berman says she has “a strong sense” of her Italian background, but considers herself Jewish and even works as a Jewish professional.

Even conversion doesn’t erase family ties."Of course I’m Jewish, I made a legal conversion, but that doesn’t undo that other part of my life,” says Laurel Snyder, 33, of Atlanta, editor of “Half Life,” a collection of essays by writers from intermarried homes. (more)

Why not intermarry?

from "Why not intermarry?," by Rabbi Shraga Simmon

Your grandmother would turn over in her grave!

It's forbidden by the Torah!

You're finishing Hitler's work!

These are some of the more common arguments against intermarriage. But these are negative, guilt-inducing reasons, and they rarely work.

Perhaps a more effective approach is the rational, practical view.

There's a video put out by the Reform Movement of America, called Intermarriage: When Love Meets Tradition. It's a real-life documentary depicting a series of group therapy sessions for intermarried couples, designed to help them deal with the challenges of intermarriage. None of the couples are religious, but the video depicts how -- surprisingly -- the major obstacle in their marriage is the issue of religious identity.

Esther Perel, a therapist who counsels interfaith couples, says in New York magazine: "The difference isn't just between Moses and Christ. You're dealing with issues of money, sex, education, child-rearing practices, food, family relationships, styles of emotional expressiveness, issues of autonomy -- all of these are culturally embedded."

These problems often come to the fore during lifecycle events. In the Intermarriage video, a Jewish woman says: "Our marriage was going smoothly until the birth of our baby boy. I was thrilled and wanted to arrange for a Bris (circumcision). But my husband thought I was crazy and said, 'I won't allow that bloody, barbaric cult ritual.' Instead of celebrating the birth of our child, we were having a terrible fight. He finally agreed to a Bris, on condition that the baby be baptized. I was shocked. Now I'm not sure our marriage is going to survive."

Egon Mayer, a professor at Brooklyn College who studies interfaith issues and published a study linking intermarriage with higher divorce rates, said : "When you bury something that is really important to you, all you're doing is building up a kind of pressure within the family relationship, which becomes a source of tension, which ultimately becomes a time bomb. If there's any reason why intermarriages break up, it's because of that time bomb."

The Next Generation

One of the most challenging aspects of intermarriage is raising children. Many intermarried couples say: "We're going to let our children choose their own religion. When they grow up they can choose what they want. That way they'll get the best of both worlds." The reality, however, is that children of intermarried couples frequently suffer an identity crisis. Jews often look at these children as non-Jews, and non-Jews look at them as Jews. One set of grandparents has a Christmas tree, the other a Chanukah menorah. This is all very confusing for a young person trying to forge an identity in an already-complex world.

Children need to have a solid, unambiguous identity which gives them a place in the world. They need a spiritual tradition through which to experience lifecycle events, and to have a community where they feel at home.

Psychologists report that many "dual-religion" children express anger at their parents for putting them in the middle of an issue that the parents themselves could not resolve. When a person has to choose one religion over the other, there is always the subconscious sense of choosing one parent over another.

Even when the non-Jewish spouse agrees to "raise the kids as Jewish," that only works as long as the couple stays married. In the event of divorce, custody issues become a huge challenge. I know of many cases where -- following a divorce -- the non-Jewish spouse simply reverted to raising the kids in a fully Christian lifestyle.

Complicating the problem is that the child may grow up to strongly embrace religion. If he turns to Judaism, he'll disrespect his parents for having intermarried. And if he becomes a believing Christian, he'll think the Jewish parent is destined to hell for denying the faith.

Beyond this is the issue of the husband or wife experiencing his/her own spiritual awakening. Young adults who do not profess a belief in any particular religion often turn to religion later in life. A Gallup Poll showed that during an average lifetime, religious commitment is lowest from ages 18-39 -- precisely the time when people are making their decision about who to marry. I have a folder of emails from intermarried people whose lives turned to horror when they (or their spouses) turned back to religion. In such a case the issues become insurmountable.

A related scenario is where an intermarried spouse wants to explore his/her own religion, but holds back from doing so in order not to drive a wedge into the marriage. This inevitably leads to spiritual frustration and resentment toward the spouse. Many intermarried people have told me with great sadness, "I would like to be doing more Jewish things, but my spouse would never allow it."

This is not to say that all intermarried couples are unhappy. But if you would ask their advice, they would almost unanimously agree that with all things being equal, it's better to look for a partner with the same religious background as yourself.

Millennia of Loyalty

One consequence of intermarriage is that it is often the first step to total assimilation. Studies show that 92 percent of children of intermarriage marry non-Jews, effectively detaching themselves forever from the Jewish people. In other words, intermarriage threatens Jewish survival.

This is true, but it begs the question: Why is Jewish survival important? Why is Jewish survival something one should sacrifice personal happiness to achieve?

Jewish survival is not merely an ethnic issue, but also a moral issue, because the Jews are not only an ethnic group, they are a moral force. The values that the civilized world takes for granted -- monotheism, love your neighbor, peace on earth, justice for all, universal education, all men are created equal, dignity of the individual, the preciousness of life -- were all revolutionary ideas taught by the Jewish people. (more)