Today I read an op-ed piece on The Jewish Daily Forward by Jane Eisner titled "For 2013, A Marriage Agenda," thanks to a link on Hirhurim's news postings.
Eisner's piece is thoughtful, and thought provoking, especially for those of us who know, are friends with, or perhaps related to Jews who are not particularly observant and are rather free-spirited when it comes to who they date and who they would consider marrying.
As I mentioned at the end of my post The Shanda of "Chrismukkah," I believe that intermarriage is perhaps the worst thing an individual Jew can do nowadays, because he or she is actively choosing to betray his or her own people, friends, family, and parents.
Eisner cites the statistics of later marriage period, and thus fewer marriages and fewer births, which combine with a 1/3 to 1/2 of those unions being intermarriage, are set to decimate (and are decimating) the non-Orthodox Jewish population.
While some people in various circles of our Torah Observant populace might turn their nose up and announce that our less observant brethren are getting just what they deserve - and as soon as they're all gone the "frum" people will be the only ones left to define and embody Judaism - I say we have to stop this madness before so many unique, precious people are lost to the sands of time.
One particular paragraph in Eisner's piece struck me:
But this acceptance — some call it assimilation — comes at a price we are not willing to acknowledge, which I believe endangers the future of egalitarian, progressive American Judaism. And we don’t know what to do. Parents do not want to alienate their children with what may seem like outdated prejudices, while religious authorities, such as they are, are reluctant to judge for fear of rejection. We hope that those coming into our community will compensate for all who leave, but they won’t. We pour money into free 10-day trips to Israel with the not-so-hidden agenda of promoting inmarriage, and they do a little. But such “success” comes at a huge monetary cost, with the added risk of tying Jewishness only to Israel — hardly a winning argument in today’s political environment.
Without expressly admitting it, I think this indicates who the primary people at fault are: the parents.
For years, in personal communication with people in my hometown community and elsewhere, I've been decrying how much the parents have negated their responsibility for instilling a firm sense of Jewish identity in their children. This happens in Orthodox homes as well, Modern and not - and is the reason I strongly encourage high school graduates to find the program in Israel that best suits him or her so that they can forge their own Jewish identity of their choosing - one that will be strong enough to combat the pressures of college, wherever they attend, and guide them in a path of recognition and service of G-d that includes marrying a Jewish spouse.
Parents who still have young children need to open their eyes and realize what impact, or lack thereof, they are having on their kids with regard to establishing and creating their own Jewish identity. Children may not want to be exactly like their parents, hashkafically or otherwise, and that needs to be acceptable, rather than a source of discord that pushes their offspring further away and into such a lack of Jewish observance that they intermarry.
Parents who themselves have been fortunate enough to marry a Jewish spouse need to realize that what made them choose to do so will probably have little to no influence on their children. They don't have the grandparents or parents who were immigrants and instilled the basic need of marrying someone Jewish, regardless of how many mitzvos they did or didn't keep. The more these parents keep their heads in the sand, the more they will come to regret a future heartbreak when their son or daughter brings a non-Jew home to meet the parents and their dreams of Jewish grandchildren go up in flames. Even if a daughter ends up marrying a gentile, that does not create an environment which will be conducive to the growth of a hardy Jewish identity, and those grandchildren, though halachically Jewish, will be that much more likely to care very little about having a Jewish husband or wife - and could view their mother as hypocritical for suggesting otherwise.
For the youth, young adults, and adults out there - we need to educate them. Books like Why Marry Jewish? by Rabbi Doron Kornbluth (who I heard speak when this book was released) explain the need to marry-in without beating people over the head with Jewish guilt or more extreme-minded perspectives that can and do turn people off.
Every Jew out there has a spark within, some call it the Pintele Yid, which can and should be engaged. There is bound to be some topic about Judaism that interests the guy or girl you know that can capture their thoughts and imagination. Even if they don't become complete ba'alei teshuva, as wonderful as that would be, averting the disaster of intermarriage is something that needs to be addressed by every single one of us.
Keep our future Jewish. Date Jewish. Marry Jewish. Raise your children to be proud of their Jewish identity. Make it the bedrock of who they are so that they will always choose to build the rest of their lives by that path.
Let's not forsake any more unfortunate souls... we've lost too many already.