Judaism 'fan club' gaining new members

Interfaith Conference: Reform, Conservative congregations increasingly welcome intermarried into the Jewish community.

Hillel Fendel,

Wedding ring (illustration)
Wedding ring (illustration)
Thinkstock

For the first time ever, a major conference under Jewish auspices has been held devoted to welcoming the intermarried into the Jewish community. The organizers also heralded using intermarriage as a means of strengthening Judaism, instead of rejecting intermarried couples or treating intermarriage as a Jewish failure.

Held late last month in Philadelphia, the first “Interfaith Opportunity Summit” attracted more than 300 officials from non-Orthodox synagogues, Hillel chapters, and Jewish camps, schools and philanthropies. It was sponsored by an organization called Interfaith Family.

“It was only possible to have a gathering like this in the last few years,” Ed Case told the Jewish Week. Case, founder of InterfaithFamily, added, "It's now in the mainstream."

He noted that two prominent Jewish organizations — Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the umbrella group of local federations in the U.S. and Canada, and the Jewish Funders Network, a major philanthropic supporter of Jewish ventures – were partners in organizing the conference.

The theme of the one-day event was “Embracing the New Jewish Reality,” and a series of panel discussions emphasized various ways to “engage” interfaith families.

“It’s the new Jewish reality,” said Jodi Bromberg, CEO of InterfaithFamily. The organizers report that intermarriage community is steadily growing, and is now around 70% outside of Orthodox Jews. It was also noted that most Jewish men and women of the millennial generation, between the ages of 10 and 30-something, are the children of intermarriage.

The report quoted Anne Goodman, a church-going Catholic married to Sam, who was raised in a Reform Jewish family. She said she and Sam were readily welcomed into a Reform congregation in the Philadelphia area, and that she has been invited to join its board. “They really accepted us,” Anne said, noting that the majority of the young couples in that congregation are intermarried. She and Sam are raising their 9-month-old son as Jewish, planning to enroll him in a Jewish school when he becomes of age.

Another participant was Reform Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, Executive Director of Big Tent Judaism, dedicated to bringing Judaism to interfaith families and the unaffiliated. “The bottom line for the community is that intermarriage is an opportunity — not a problem, not a challenge.” His organization found last year that nearly half of Conservative rabbis have defied their stream's ban on intermarriage.

The Jewish Week further reports that as early as a decade ago, a study in Boston’s Jewish community found that 60% of the children of intermarried couples were being raised as Jews.

According to Jewish Law, only those who have been born to a Jewish mother or have Halakhically converted to Judaism are actually Jewish.




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