Highlights from JOI's Third National Conference on Jewish
Intermarriage, Outreach and Conversion
welcoming participants at the conference opening session
We must cultivate greater sensitivity to the personal
and family needs of the intermarried, coupled with a
keen awareness of the institutional culture of the organized
Jewish community. We must recognize that we may not
yet have all the answers to balancing commitment to
continuity and retaining the loyalty of large masses
of America's Jewry.
Mayer addressing plenary
Ultimately, all our conversations about outreach to
the intermarried are really about a larger issue. They
are about how we perpetuate a great culture, a philosophy
of life and a way of living that has carried the Jewish
people through the most incredible human dramas of history
to produce a compassionate nation, able to care about
others selflessly, a people able to weather the heaviest
human storms with their dignity intact.
Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald
Most of our young Jews are not walking away because
they are dissatisfied with Judaism. Most have never
had the opportunity to choose...It's important to reach
out to them and give them a chance to see the beauty
of our heritage. The most important thing is to not
turn them off. There is no such thing as losing in outreach.
Rabbi Harold Kushner
We have to face the prospect that a significant number
of Jewish young people will marry someone of a different
religious background. It is almost never a repudiation
of their Jewish identity. It happens. So what are we
going to do about it?
The single most important thing we can do is learn
to see intermarriage as a doorway that leads into Judaism
not a doorway that leads out. This is so obvious that
you wonder why it isn't being done?...Too many of us
tend to respond to intermarried families who had the
courage to step over the threshold of the community
with the unspoken response: "These are the people who
are undermining the Jewish future." We feel berated,
angry and threatened by intermarrying Jews and therefore
do not know how to embrace them. Not surprisingly, they
in turn feel terribly vulnerable to being judged. Sometimes
outreach will express itself in conversion...and sometimes
a person will not be able to choose Judaism for their
own but at least we can provide the gravitational force
for their sense of Jewish living, observance and ambience.
Outreach in its essence means enabling growth a transformative
change...It necessities the crossing of boundaries and
happens in the mysterious grey areas in ways that are
rarely straightforward or predictable.
Professor Frances D. Horowitz
From everything we know about identity formation and
child development, when intermarried couples decide
to expose their children to different cultural/religious
contexts with the idea of "letting them choose" or to
be free from having to choose anything at all, the likelihood
is that these positions are psychologically naive at
best and emotionally disruptive at worst. The problems
are often compounded by developmental changes that take
place in the parents themselves--with one or both parents
sometimes being drawn more closely and unpredictably
to their own cultural and religious background...Professionals
concerned with outreach therefore ought to focus upon
programs and activities they can mount that are developmentally
appropriate to the children and families involved.
Rabbi "Yitz" Greenberg
The shock of the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey,
it shorthand "52% intermarriage," is a reflection of
the fact that open society has arrived. The ecological
problem of an open society is that every Jew, before
we are done will be a "Jew-by- choice." This is, by
now, close to cliche. But although people now say it,
we have not yet come to grips with its implication in
our behaviors or communal patterns.
The issue is not conversion or intermarriage or outreach.
Rather it is the redesign of every institution so that
we convey a distinct and powerful message that is able
to win the respect of our people.
Rabbi Alan Silverstein
We have to be a welcoming community that offers a
sense of belonging and openness and inclusiveness.
We have to empower Jewish family members to be able
to discuss with non-Jewish family members a positive
view of entering the Jewish community. We need it provide
user-friendly information because at present both Jews
and non-Jews have a common lack of understanding how
you go about the process if joining the Jewish community
and the Jewish people.
We have to provide a multitude of venues to facilitate
people grappling with Jewish study, Jewish observance
and sincere conversion into Judaism. We have to promote
Jewish continuity by unifying the religious lives of
We must remember that it's important for people to
have the exposure through which they can build positive
Jewish memories. Those associations can be built through
programs that make it possible for people to develop
their Jewish memory banks as adults or at whatever point
of development they are.