Intermarriage tends to divorce young American Jews from Israel

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Intermarriage in the news:

This morning on NPR, anthropologist Leo Chavez, author of a book on the Latino “threat,” spoke of the virtues of intermarriage for Latinos. He said that white Americans should not be afraid of Latinos because they intermarry in the 2nd or 3rd generation and are even willing to throw off their Catholic faith after another generation or so. So Latinos don’t live outside historical forces, he said, as some whites seem to fear.

I found it interesting that an anthropologist was praising intermarriage and assimilation, in the Hispanic context. I can’t remember NPR ever offering a platform for a Jew making such assertions.

Last week at J Street, sociologist Steven M. Cohen said that intermarriage plays a significant factor in the alienation of young American Jews from Israel.

What Ari Kelman and I found in our research is that, there is an overall decline in attachment to Israel among younger people (and it’s not just younger, it’s middle aged versus older [Jews]) and that all of the decline statistically can be traced to the increasing number of people who are Jewish and the children of non-Jewish parents or who are Jewish and are married to non-Jews. If you remove those people from the analysis [leaving single Jews whose parents are Jewish and married Jews whose spouses are Jews] it turns out that attachment to Israel is quite stable if not actually increasing.

Cohen said that intermarried Jews actually hang on to a lot of Jewish life, seder attendance, synagogue attendance, and faith, but that “Israel and ethnic aspects of being Jewish” have no counterpart in Christianity– they don’t “make sense to Americans,” and so intermarriage has a “quite profound” effect on intermarried Jews’ attitudes toward Israel.

Like me. When I was getting into these issues, I was heavily influenced by the fact that my Christian mother-in-law, whose ancestors were against slavery, smuggled sheets into a Bethlehem hospital in the occupied West Bank. My Christian mother-in-law helped me overcome the resistance in my own family and community to seeing Palestinians as fellow human beings. 

And meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg, who married another Jew, is a zealot about supporting a militaristic state.

I have seen this pattern among many Jews who are involved in Palestinian solidarity; many of them are intermarried. 

Let me be clear, marriage is hard enough without some authority figure telling you who you should be married to or not married to; I think people should marry whoever they want, it’s none of my business– and Jews who want to marry Jews, great, and the same for Jews who want to marry out. Yet I must admit that I see some virtues in intermarriage in turning Jews to the outside world and making them more sensitive to universalist values. Though here too I would emphasize that many Jews who are married to Jews have also reached that awareness, against greater obstacles than the ones I’ve had to overcome.

Finally, despite all the hysteria about intermarriage, I don’t see intermarriage as nearly the threat to Jewish life and “continuity” that Israel-bondage is. In some ways, the intermarried are making the Jewish brand better.

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