January 18, 2007
Jewish parent + Christian parent = Jewish kids
(Page 2 - Previous Page)John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, found the Boston study "compelling" and "provocative."
"I think they're legitimately addressing the issue that all Jewish communities have to recognize: The community has changed," he said.
Los Angeles' Jewish community has not done a demographic study since 1997, but Fishel said The Federation is considering beginning one again in 2008.
"We have to do another demographic study and do some research to determine the reality of the situation," he said. "We know empirically that there are a lot of intermarried couples in the community."
The Federation recently helped with one modest study, "The Jewish Outreach Scan of the West Valley/Conejo Valley, 2006," conducted by the Jewish Outreach Institute with the help of the Valley Alliance. It surveyed 15 institutions -- 11 synagogues and four organizations -- in their outreach toward the unaffiliated and unengaged, including teenagers, young families, multiracial families and interfaith families.
"It is safe to assume that the number of intermarried households has increased to one-third of all married households," the study found. "It is also safe to assume that among households with young children -- a key target demographic for the organized Jewish community -- intermarried households represent half or more of all married households containing Jews in Simi-Conejo."
While these figures were guesstimates based on the 1997 Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey, other results were more definite. For example, only two of the 15 institutions had programs specifically targeted at interfaith families. Only 10 of those could estimate their congregations' interfaith participation, with six reporting less than 10 percent, and two at 50 percent.
"Having high interfaith membership does not necessarily translate into targeting interfaith couples or families with programs or events," the study found.
Fishel said the Outreach Scan was only the first step in targeting the unaffiliated. Next, he said, "we should ask the question, 'What's the priority of the Los Angeles Jewish community, and how do we begin to marshal the resources to begin to address some of those changing community issues?'"
Whatever priority interfaith outreach is in various communities, what many religious leaders -- and interfaith couples -- are coming to realize is that syncretism -- the blending of religions -- doesn't work.
For example, 75 percent of families who participated in the InterfaithFamily.com "December Dilemma" survey said they think the dual holiday of "Chrismukka" is a bad idea.
"A child needs to be brought up with a religious background, and it has to be one religion," said Rabbi Neal Weinberg, director of the Louis & Judith Miller Introduction to Judaism program at the University of Judaism for the last 20 years.
"I know a girl who was raised by a Catholic mother and a Jewish father, who raised her with both religions, and now she's a Sikh," he said. "She didn't want to hurt either parent. You can't raise children to believe Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus isn't the Messiah. They need one religion."
Judi Brooks Johnson of Burbank agrees. Although she was raised Jewish, in a mostly secular household, when she married her Christian, church-going husband 10 years ago, she found she wanted to raise her daughter Jewish.
"I know I can't teach her how to be a Christian, because I'm not one. I don't know how much I could allow [my husband] to profess Christ is God, when I don't believe it," she said.
For many interfaith couples, choosing one religion for the children is less a matter of religious philosophy than creating a consistent message. When Christine and Gary Goldhammer of Tustin married 16 years ago, they decided to raise their child with one religion.
"I think you get a stronger identity and stronger moral background when you pick one. You cannot be a part of something when you're a part of two," Christine Goldhammer said. Although Gary was raised a secular Jew and Christine was raised Lutheran, Christine agreed on Judaism, because she didn't feel fully aligned with her childhood faith. What she really wanted for her daughter was community and faith. "I don't care if she's Christian or Jewish or Hindu -- I just care she has a strong moral upbringing."
What all this means to InterfaithFamily.com editor Case is that "the leaders in the Jewish community, who think that intermarriage is a bad thing, are going to shoot themselves in the foot if they have a rigid line. Half the Jews are going to be intermarried."
When "intermarriage" and "assimilation" are linked in the same breath, he said, "it drives me crazy. Not all intermarriage leads to assimilation. To me, assimilation is a terrible thing. That's someone who leaves Jewish life. To me, everything we do is a counter to that."
He said one should encourage in-marriage but welcome interfaith families: "I think it's a terrible mistake to talk about intermarriage as a bad thing. No matter what's said, half those people are likely to intermarry, and if they think the Jewish community thinks it's bad, they won't come back."
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