A message from Rabbi Neil Schuman – Merry Christmas from MHJC
Merry Christmas from MHJC
When the announcements on Shabbat concluded with a wish to those who celebrate Christmas to have a beautiful and joyous Holiday, I know things had changed at MHJC.
Only a few years ago, it probably would have been considered sacrilegious to say such a thing. Back then we weren’t even allowing a non-Jewish parent to stand next to their child on the bima at their bar/bat mitzvah. Previously, when I was the rabbi of Orthodox synagogues, we’d give aliyot to those that didn’t keep kosher or Shabbat but not to someone married to a non-Jew. Years before that, parents might even sit shiva (act as if the person were dead) over a child who intermarried. Now, we’re wishing the spouse and family a merry Christmas. What changed?
We have changed our perspective and understanding of intermarriage.
Rabbi Mike Uram is the Executive Director and Campus Rabbi for the Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania. His years of experience guiding Jewish Millennials through college gave him unique insight into this generation. In his book, Next Generation Judaism, he writes:
“Millennials (those born from 1980-1999) see their identity as more fluid than previous generations. For example, rather than being either Jewish or American, millennials see their identity almost as a series of windows on a computer screen that can all be open at the same time or that can be rearranged or closed as desired. This means that they don’t want to be forced to choose between being members or non-members or between Jewish spaces and regular spaces. They want to feel that their different identity characteristics can be flexible and integrated with one another.”
Whereas in earlier generations intermarriage might have implied an abandonment of Judaism, today’s youth now see love as one aspect (window) of their lives and their Jewish affiliation as another. They don’t see it as a contradiction. This has been further validated by Pew studies on the Jewish population. Intermarriage nowadays is occurring even with children from strong Jewish backgrounds. They’re not necessarily rejecting their Judaism; rather, they don’t see intermarriage as a limiting factor.
Furthermore, Uram says, “For people who might be concerned with intermarriage, I want to share a startling and important statistic: just over 50 percent of Jewish millennials have one parent who isn’t Jewish! That’s half! That means that in most Jewish settings, you cannot assume that everyone is Jewish, let alone that they have two Jewish parents.”
That explains all the Jews in professional sports nowadays, but it has also an aspect to it that makes me proud of our synagogue:
“It also means that one of the simplest ways to determine if your organization is really reaching Engagement Jews (Jews one can involve in your institution) is to look at the percentage of your participants and donors who are either intermarried or have intermarried parents. If that number is nowhere close to 50 percent, it probably means that your organization is failing to reach large numbers of Engagement Jews.”
Now I don’t think we’re at 50% intermarried families in our Hebrew School, but I do know that some of the most supportive and contributing parents are those from intermarried families. Their involvement makes me feel that we must be doing something right.
Uram brings another encouraging statistic, “It is also important to mention that intermarriage means something different than it did decades ago. According to the 2000– 2001 National Jewish Population Survey, only 33 percent of children of intermarried families were raised Jewish. Today (2016), for the first time ever, the majority of children of intermarried families consider themselves Jewish (59 percent).”
I know this is a still a very controversial topic to which many are sensitive. However, intermarriage isn’t just a Jewish issue, it’s emblematic of 21st century life: children of all religions and ethnicities are mixing with one another. We can resist it or accept it. By accepting it, we enable intermarried families to embrace their Jewish heritage and gain the opportunity to carry the love of Judaism on to the next generation.
One of the great sages of the Mishnah, Rabbi Tarfon said,
הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, לֹא עָלֶיךָ הַמְּלָאכָה לִגְמֹר, וְלֹא אַתָּה בֶן חוֹרִין לִבָּטֵל מִמֶּנָּה
“It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.”
We at MHJC are not neglecting this matter; it is a matter of pride that so many intermarried families feel comfortable with us and are reveling in their Jewishness. Happy New Year to all, may 2021 be a year of healing, vaccination and return to our friends, families and beloved pastimes, and Happy Holidays to all who are celebrating Christmas as well.