November 22, 2011
Letter to the Editor: Demographic Duo
Dear Jewish Journal,
I read with great concern the dual columns about intermarriage from your “demographic duo,” Dr. Bruce Phillips (“Jewish Intermarriage Declining?” 11/15/11) and Pini Herman (“Jewish Intermarriage was down in 2000, who’s going to claim credit?” 11/21/11), and was distressed much more by what was omitted than by what was said. While Dr. Phillips’ column may serve as good advocacy in an attempt to spark interest in “a 2010 National Jewish Population Study”—and by the way, isn’t it almost 2012 already?—it does a dangerously deceptive job of explaining Jewish intermarriage in America.
As Dr. Phillips understands perhaps better than anyone else—and why I have so much respect for much of what he’s had to say on the topic—the battle is no longer about stemming the tide of intermarriage, but rather engaging the children of intermarried families. He himself has demonstrated how valuable this has been for at least one major Jewish community through his important San Francisco Jewish demographic study.
Rather than just titillate, a responsible version of his column would have pointed out that today in America, there are more intermarried than in-married households. There are more Americans under 20 born to just one Jewish parent than to two. Jewish demographic growth—barring a sudden and unpredicted increase in Jewish birth rates—hinges primarily on the community’s ability to encourage and support the raising of Jewish children by intermarried parents.
That the intermarriage rate among Jews with two Jewish parents may have declined is a measurement of just one segment of Jews, a segment that may also be a decreasing minority. Dr. Phillips’ readers would have been better served had he instead focused on the results of these “individual rates” of intermarriage: that even a “declined” individual rate of 33% among Jews with two Jewish parents results in as many intermarried as in-married households. I encourage Dr. Phillips to dedicate at least one column to demonstrate the deceptive difference between the “individual” and “couples” rates of intermarriage, allowing his readers to fully understand just how big a segment of our community is already intermarried. Perhaps such a column could also reiterate how essential it is that the focus of the community continues to move toward engagement—for all Jewish households—and not revert to the obsession over intermarriage rates that most Jews, apparently including his colleague Pini Herman, don’t fully understand.
Associate Executive Director
Jewish Outreach Institute