By Uriel Heilman for JTA
YORK (JTA) — When the nation’s largest Jewish federation convened its
first-ever conference recently on engaging interfaith families, perhaps
the most notable thing about it was the utter lack of controversy that
greeted the event.
There was a time when the stereotypical Jewish approach to intermarriage was to shun the offender and sit shiva.
generation ago, the publication of the 1990 National Jewish Population
Survey showing intermarriage at the alarmingly high rate of 52 percent
turned into a rallying cry. No matter that subsequent scholarship
revised the figure down to 43 percent, interfaith marriage was seen as
the core of the problem of Jewish assimilation in America. Jewish
institutions poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Jewish identity
building with an eye toward stemming intermarriage.
two decades and the question is no longer how to fight intermarriage,
but how Jewish institutions can be as welcoming as possible to
intermarried Jews and the gentiles who love them.
Jewish communal attitudes have changed,” said David Mallach, managing
director of the Commission on the Jewish People at UJA-Federation of New
York, which hosted the one-day interfaith conference in June.
of the results of the whole process begun with the 1990 study was that
in a free America we’re all Jews by choice. That’s been a profound
insight that has permeated a lot of the work of the Jewish community in
the last 20-plus years,” Mallach said. “It shifted the discussion from
the classic stereotypical sitting shiva and never talking to a person
again to saying that if we’re all Jews by choice, let’s also sit with
this segment of the community and offer them that choice.”