Young Jewish Leaders Less Concerned About Intermarriage


“Jewish leaders younger than 40 aren’t as bent out of shape about intermarriage as their older colleagues.” That’s how Sue Fishkoff, for the JTA, introduced for blog post about a recent finding in the study Generation of Change: How Leaders in their Twenties and Thirties are Reshaping American Jewish Life.

Fishkoff continued, summarizing the finding as:

In keeping with the millennial generation’s non-exclusivist ideology, these younger Jewish leaders don’t see intermarriage in quite the same light as Jewish leaders over 40 do: “Older establishment leaders tend to view intermarriage as a threat to Jewish life and as a violation of long-standing communal norms. During interviews, younger nonestablishment leaders described intermarriage as an obstacle to Jewish participation, but felt it could be overcome with genuine commitment and involvement. Moreover, they tended to believe that the Jewish community is unwise or not entitled to take a stance on personal choices such as marriage.”

If that is how young Jewish leaders feel, you can imagine how non-leaders feel.

If you want the rundown on the study, but don’t have the time to read through all of it, allow me to offer some highlights:

  • More than twice as many of the older establishment leaders are very worried about intermarriage (43% to 17%) than younger non-establishment leaders.
  • “Jewish leaders of all ages and sectors preponderantly oppose the intermarriage of their own offspring, with younger nonestablishment leaders lagging behind others but still half would be upset if a child of theirs would intermarry.”
  • These young Jewish leaders in their 20’s and 30’s are committed to “creating a particular type of Jewish community, one that helps their peers find meaning in being Jewish and that is welcoming and inclusive.”
  • These young leaders prefer to avoid us-them distinctions. “For this reason, they claim a fair amount of indifference to intermarriage, and instead want to focus on making Jewish life meaningful, including for their non-Jewish friends, who attend all kinds of Jewish events.” … “Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, the founder of Encounter, explained why young nonestablishment leaders recoil from ‘us/them’ thinking, observing that they do not wish ‘to be restricted to the tribe,’ desiring instead to ‘identify with other groups, serving other groups, or being in community with other groups.'”
  • “The ways young leaders think about the relationship between Jews and non-Jews, their desire to include the latter in programs, and their openness to intermarried Jews suggest a major shift is under way in how Jews think about the boundaries of Jewish life. Indeed, the very notion that there ought to be boundaries may further erode. This trend is likely to deepen the chasm separating the Orthodox from all other types of Jews. For those who are about that divide, serious thought will have to be devoted to bridging those worlds.”

In other words…

The ways these young leaders think about the relationship between Jews and non-Jews, their desire to include the latter in programs, and their openness to intermarried Jews will further erode previously held boundaries of Jewish life. Indeed, the importance of maintaining boundaries between Jews and non-Jews is already being questioned. This new outlook poses particular challenges to some of the denominations, but more generally will require institutions to consider how to approach boundary issues.

It sounds, to me, like this could be a shift in the right direction for all Jews, and their not Jewish friends and family, who are looking for inclusive and welcoming, innovative and meaningful communities.

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