Op-Ed: Jewish Communiy Collapse Disorder
Dr. Harold GoldmeierThe writer is a former Research and Teaching Fellow at Harvard University...
Intermarriage is so prevalent in America, Europe and South America, that once vibrant Jewish communities in small cities and towns are collapsing and disappearing. The numbers from recent population studies so alarm Israel’s leaders they spent one million dollars on an ad campaign called MASA to convince Jews to marry Jews.
Israel’s Jewish Agency chief Natan Sharansky, an expert on assimilation, witnessing communities of Russian Jews disappear, is giving up on large scale aliyah from Western countries. He is funneling resources to strengthen Jewish identity and salvage Jewish communities outside Israel.
Adding traction and intellectual gravitas to intermarriage, for example, is a vexing narrative from Rachel Shukert, a contributing editor at Tablet Magazine (February 1, 2013). She extolls intermarriage and attacks small-minded parents for feeling bad when their child marries out. She and other like-minded authors shroud the lifestyle in scholastic authenticity. They cloak it as a non-religious, democratic, spiritual energy field casting aside Jewish law and 3,000 years of tradition and continuity. Intermarriage is the brick wall just ahead of Leo Tolstoy’s observation, “The Jew is eternal. He is the embodiment of eternity.”
The union of Jew marrying non-Jew bore the Fiddler’s mark (as in Fiddler on the Roof) of vilification, rejection and parental heartbreak throughout the centuries. Screaming past grudging justification and acceptance in the twentieth century, advocacy and virtue are the watchwords in the twenty-first.
The movement finds its roots in the democratic notions of free society with its antipathy for all forms of discrimination. The movement disavows personal sacrifice for commitment to group identity that preserves culture and tradition.
The result is Jewish Community Collapse Disorder.
On the brink of extinction, one Reform Rabbi in a mid-size Midwestern city laments to me that if it not for the “shiksas” active in his temple, the last congregation would have closed years ago.
On a cold February evening in 1992, seated over dinner in a Chinese restaurant, Jamin Dershowitz tells his father that he and live-in, Irish-Catholic girlfriend Barbara are going to marry. Harvard Law Professor, freehearted advocate for Israel and the Jewish people, and father of Jamin, Alan instinctively responds in Hebrew, “Mazel tov.” Theirs will be an interfaithless marriage, since none at the dinner professes a religious faith in God, as he tells the story in The Vanishing American Jew.
Jamin’s Orthodox grandmother was devastated at the news, and asked, “What did I do wrong?” Alan knows his grandchildren will likely abandon their Jewish heritage. What bothers this father is that a world without Jews will be “a less noble, a much poorer place in every way that matters.” With a sigh, the memory keeper accepts that I’m happy if my son is happy.
Blissful anecdotes about interfaith religious traditions fill the Internet and family magazines. Moving from defense to offense, intermarriage is the latest liberation movement from unjustifiable prejudice, racism, and prideful disdain for all the hurt religion has brought mankind.
Shukert has notched up the literature creating a manifesto for intermarriage. She pillories Jews who oppose intermarriage as wanting to maintain the tribe on the basis of antipathetic religious and cultural intolerance. To her, they harbor the same shocking, noxious feelings as homophobes repressing gay people.
Her comparison turns the stomach of those who give no quarter to racism and intolerance, but love and practice religious preference in soul mates and lifestyles. Shukert is “puzzled…why would you possibly care who someone else wants to sleep with?” Is that all marriage is to her, really?
On the attack, she charges opposing intermarriage is furiously divisive in a global environment, sanctimonious, pissy, and tribalist. Do not, she warns, disapprove of your child’s abandonment of his religion, tradition, and continuity. “A child’s happiness should never be conditional on her parent’s limitations,” and it is “wrong (to) demand that their children choose partners on the basis of what makes their parents comfortable.”
This drivel appears in Tablet Magazine that offers “A New Read on Jewish Life.” TM Together, they promulgate a manifesto for the Jewish community swan song. There is no arguing with her logic from an intellectual perspective, nor from a parental point of view.
It is an epic waste of time and message, but there are things the Jewish leadership can do before it is too late.
New action plans are needed in the face of Jewish Community Collapse Disorder. Momentum is on the side of intermarriage. It cannot be prevented in a free society, but Judaism need not take a back seat to modernity.
Ours is an enriching and fulfilling lifestyle, one that many turn to at lifecycle events. One critical time is when PTA meetings replace lust.
The successful baal tshuva movement reaches out to drifting Jews, and it must employ the same tactics of love and acceptance to intermarrieds. Persuade them to accept Judaism and bring Jewishness into their lives.
We have to extend our horizons, displace our emotions of guilt, shame and rejection when Jews marry out. This will require a concomitant change in how we currently handle conversions.
The official conversion process today adheres to the strictest narrow interpretations of Jewish Law. It excludes potential converts issuing proclamations that vastly outnumber those from previous generations. Conversion is exhausting, exasperating, and nearly impossible now. A more user-friendly process can give new trajectory to Jewish continuity. Instead of abandoning them, bring them in. If they don’t become part of our community will their children return, or are we writing them off too?
Shukert is considered “a hugely funny, wildly smart, and menacingly original writer.” She and her husband, Ben Abramowitz, cast curses on Republican Jews during the last election. Let’s hope one of them will not likely be our destiny: “May your grandchildren baptize you after you’re dead.”
Shukert knows how to spin a good curse.