‘Should We Welcome?’ Is the Wrong Question

Letters to the Editor

Published March 09, 2011, issue of March 18, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Your February 4 editorial “Who Isn’t a Jew?” rightly identified the discrepancy between the Jewish community’s embrace of Gabrielle Giffords as a Jew and its ongoing discomfort welcoming intermarried and patrilineal Jews. But the editorial ends by suggesting that there is still a need to disprove the notion that “opening the tent too wide will cause it to collapse.” Really?

We work with thousands of Jewish communal professionals and volunteer leaders and haven’t heard serious debate on that issue in years; if anything, the biggest attitudinal shift we saw from 2000 to 2010 was the move away from “Should we welcome in?” to the quest to determine “How we can best welcome in?”

In case after case of “tent-opening,” our community has been strengthened and our numbers have grown. Chabad has exploded across the continent and changed the engagement paradigm in many communities. The Reform movement’s acceptance of patrilineal descent has enabled tens of thousands of Americans to self-identify as Jewish who otherwise would have been forced to find their spiritual homes elsewhere. The Boston Jewish community has experienced population growth by encouraging and supporting more than 60% of its intermarried households to raise Jewish children. And those are just some examples.

The only tents we’ve seen collapse are those communities that were unable to welcome and engage newcomers and previously disenfranchised Jews.

Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky
Executive Director
Jewish Outreach Institute
New York, N.Y.

Your editorial “Who Isn’t a Jew?” is spot on when it asks why wouldn’t the Jewish community claim someone like Gabrielle Giffords, a non-halachic but self-identifying Jew, as our own. But the editorial’s lament that intermarriage leads to fewer Jewish families is not necessarily true, as demonstrated by the Boston Jewish community’s 2005 demographic study, which found 60% of intermarried families in that city raising their children as Jews. Your lament is, however, self-fulfilling: Interfaith couples will not want to associate with a community that regards them as a likely cause of collapse.

There is a solution to the divide between the Orthodox and everyone else, too. It behooves everyone in the Jewish community to regard non-halachic but self-identifying Jews like Giffords as Jews for most purposes — like support for Israel, for example — and to address situations where halachic status matters only when they arise. For instance, an Orthodox Jew could choose to marry someone like Giffords if she had an Orthodox conversion and not otherwise.

Edmund Case
Newton, Mass.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.