Birthright and Intermarriage


An article hit the internet today that’s sure to ruffle some feathers. Written by Kiera Feldman, a “baptized child of intermarriage” who went on a Birthright trip in February of 2010, the article, “Operation Birthright,” supported by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and appearing in this week’s Nation magazine, examines the mission of Birthright trips.

Of relevance to our readers are the discussions about Birthright’s creation, with goals that included ending (combating?) intermarriage.

The story of Birthright begins with the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey. The findings unleashed a panic within the halls of American Jewish institutions: 52 percent of Jews were marrying outside the faith. Steinhardt, a legendary hedge-fund manager, was among the Jewish community leaders who rallied to confront what soon became known as the “crisis of continuity,” characterized not only by intermarriage but by the weakening of Jewish communal ties such as synagogue membership and a waning attachment to Israel. A Goldwater Republican turned chair of the Democratic Leadership Council, Steinhardt wanted to make Jewish institutions more appealing to the young. He enlisted Yitz Greenberg, a well-known Orthodox rabbi and educator, as director of the foundation that would incubate Birthright. Reflecting on that 1990 survey some years later, Greenberg said, “I felt I’d been asleep at the switch as this disaster was coming.” Birthright trips, he hoped, would shore up a social order in decline.
The originator of the Birthright idea was Yossi Beilin, a Labor Party stalwart and an instrumental figure in the Oslo Accords. Widely considered an archliberal and reviled by Israel’s right, Beilin is an unlikely figure to boast the moniker “godfather of Birthright.” In a recent phone interview, Beilin compared his worries about intermarriage and Jewish identity to “the personal feeling of an old man who wants to see that his family is still around.” Among Beilin’s top goals for Birthright: “to create a situation whereby spouses are available.” An ardent Zionist and longtime friend of Bronfman, Beilin unsuccessfully pitched Birthright to him and Steinhardt in the mid-1990s.

Have you been on Birthright? What do you think?

One thought on “Birthright and Intermarriage”

  • I think that the Nation article is very truthful.

    I see several problems with Birthright Israel trips for members of interfaith families:

    (1) Birthright welcomes Jewish-identified children and grandchildren of intermarriage, but it wants to combat intermarriage — that means preventing more people like us — like myself, for example — from being born.

    Also, the article mentioned that 17,000 Birthright alumni now live in Israel — if Birthright’s goal is to prevent intermarriage, exporting young Jews to Israel means that there are now fewer young Jews for other American Jews to marry. That is 17,000 fewer synagogue and federation members.

    (2) Birthright trips — from having carefully read dozens of accounts, ranging from ecstatic to disgruntled — Birthright trip participants, like the young woman reporter in the “Nation” article —  are not told about Israel’s negative policies and laws against interfaith couples and descendants of intermarriage.

    I am sure if that had been mentioned to the Nation reporter, she would have reported it.

    One example is the recent Knesset “Jewish Identity Day” hearings on how to prevent Israeli Jewish women from marrying Arab Israeli men. … ?id=207772

    These are peaceful romantic couples, not terrorists.

    I think half-Jewish people on these trips would be severely shocked to learn about these laws and policies.

    These laws also affect in very negative ways  Israeli interfaith couples composed of one American or European Christian and an Israeli Jew and their children and grandchildren.

    There are several Israeli Jewish organizations working against these laws and policies — the Association for the Protection of Mixed Families (in Israel), Reform’s Israel Religious Action Center, and the New Family. They’d welcome donations from American Jews.

    Robin Margolis
    Coordinator, Half-Jewish Network

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