The Art of (Speaking About) Intermarriage


Esther Kustanowitz, the prolific blogger, columnist and editor of PresenTense, has written a column about her experience speaking about intermarriage–or more accurately, serving as “session artist” for a workshop on intermarriage at a conference for young Jewish leaders.

At the session, Kustanowitz read an essay from her book-in-progress about her own thoughts on intermarriage:

(To ruin the ending, I decided intermarriage wasn’t for me, and to this day I restrict my dating pool to Jews who are interested in living a traditionally Jewish life.)

In all modesty, I thought the piece was a sensitive, personal consideration of all of the issues involved and hoped it also brought some humor to the table. OK, maybe that wasn’t all that modest. Still, I was pretty sure it was balanced. But even with all the writing and reading I’ve done on the subject, I underestimated just how personally everyone in the room would react. While people were polite, challenging me respectfully and non-confrontationally, afterward I became aware that some offense had been taken. Some people — themselves intermarried or children of intermarriages — had heard my personal exploration as a condemnation of their (or their parents’) choices.

There are a number of interesting things going on here. Kustanowitz does not make a demographic appeal for inmarriage; her argument is personal (“intermarriage wasn’t for me“), based on her own desire to spend her life with somebody who shares her dedication to Judaism. Just as interesting is the fact that there were multiple young Jewish leaders at this conference who were intermarried or children of intermarriage. This is part of an emerging, little-noted trend: children of intermarriage are slowly ascending into positions of leadership at Jewish organizations. At a similar conference for young Jewish leaders I attended last month, I was struck by the number of people who came up to me to tell me that they were children of intermarriage.

You wouldn’t know from meeting any of them that they are the children of intermarriage. They are passionate about their work and committed to Judaism, in some way, in their personal lives. But it’s not something they broadcast, unless the forum–like my presence, or Kustanowitz’s session–calls for it.

The phenomenon makes me optimistic for the future. Currently, the leadership of the Jewish community lags behind the people in terms of acceptance and embrace of the intermarried. But soon enough, the leadership will more than catch up–they will be products of interfaith families themselves.

2 thoughts on “The Art of (Speaking About) Intermarriage”

  • i am not Orthodox, and have no desires to ever become observant. why? just like Ms. Kustanowitz decided that intermarriage wasn’t for her, i’ve decided that living an observant lifestyle isn’t for me. we are all entitled to our opinions. it doesn’t make us horrible people. if Ms. Kustanowitz only wants to date Jews, then that’s her choice. if i don’t want to wear long skirts, that’s my choice. i am still Jewish, regardless of what you think simply because i’m not Orthodox.

    no offense, but you can’t convince people to date and marry within their faith by scaring them with these notions of “enemies” and “the end is near.” people are not going to frightened into same-faith relationships by family and community pressure. they have to want them, just as Ms. Kustanowitz does. she did not tell her audience that in-marriage is the only way to go. she simply said it was the only way for her. i’m sure she realizes that many young Jews do interdate and intermarry. does she go out of her way to treat them disrespectfully? she may disagree with their choices, but if she’s a decent human (which i’m sure she is) then she’ll simply go about her own life and continue to seek out a Jewish man for herself.

    while i commend the Orthodox for their dedication to Jewish continuity, they should not be placed on a pedestal, because believe it or not no one is perfect. they may be the most observant of the denominations, but they are not immune to problems. in the end, they are human beings just like anyone else.

  • I’m furious that half-Jews or barely Jewish Gentiles would criticize Esther about her decision to only date Jews. Real Jews would understand why it’s important to date only within our faith. Unbelievable! The enemy is inflitriating within and we have to stop it for the sake of our ancestors.
    No Micah, the future Jewish leadership will not be fradulent Jews. Maybe in the loony Reform Movement but not in the majority of Jewish groups.
    People like you forget that the Orthodoxy is growing by leaps and bounds because of their large families, low divorce rate, practically non-existant intermarriage. The liberal Jewish congregations have high intermarriages with high divorce rates and few children. Most of their children will not be Jewish.
    I’m not saying that children of intermarriage can’t be Jewish. They would have to convert of their mother’s aren’t Jewish. If their mother’s are Jewish and they were brought up within the faith than they are Jewish. I’ve met individuals with only Jewish father’s who converted because they respect the laws of Judaism. Not like “interfaith family” which wants Judaism to change.
    Orthodoxy is the future of Judiasm and it’s obvious why groups like this one and other liberal “Jewish” groups are ignoring it. The future makes me optimistic because God wil make sure that Real Judaism survives.

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