How I Broke 'Cycle of Assimilation' Away From Jewish Engagement

Not All Children of Secular Jews Jettison Faith

Passover Daughters: Carla Naumburg was brought up by secular parents. Yet she is raising her daughters in a more Jewishly engaged way.
courtesy of carla naumburg
Passover Daughters: Carla Naumburg was brought up by secular parents. Yet she is raising her daughters in a more Jewishly engaged way.

By Carla Naumburg

Published October 12, 2013, issue of October 18, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

According to the results of the most recent Pew survey of Jewish America, I represent the best hope for the future of the Jewish people.

I guess I’d better explain that one.

The Pew survey found a significant rise in those who are not religious, marry outside the faith and are not raising their children Jewish, trends that are resulting in rapid assimilation affecting every branch of the faith except the Orthodox.

The problem with assimilation is that it is transmitted generationally, or, as the Pew report puts it, “circular and reinforcing” in that Jews of no religion (as defined by Pew) are significantly more likely than religious Jews to marry non-Jews. Those interfaith partnerships are significantly less likely to raise their children Jewish or even partially Jewish than households in which both parents identify as religiously Jewish.

Pew Survey! Click Here! Click for more on the survey.

I broke that cycle.

I was raised in a secular, interfaith family. My father was born to two Jewish parents, my mother has Jewish heritage, but neither of them identify as Jewish. If the Pew researchers had called me up when I was in high school or even college, I would have fallen into the “non-Jewish people of Jewish background” category.

If they had called me last month, I would have fallen into the “Jew by religion” category.

In the two decades in between, I married a Jewish man in a Jewish ceremony, joined a Reconstructionist synagogue, had a “conversion” ceremony, completed multiple adult education courses, traveled to Israel, joined a JCC, stopped eating treif, gave birth to two daughters (and held their brit bat ceremonies in our synagogue), became a contributing editor writing for Kveller.com (a Jewish parenting website), enrolled my daughters in Hebrew school, and just this fall, started touring Jewish day schools.

I’ve worked hard to find a path into the Jewish community that shares and encourages my commitment to a Jewish life and progressive, egalitarian values. It has been far from easy. I had to choose between outdated interpretations of halakha and my values, and as a result, there are members of the American and Israeli Jewish communities who would not consider me Jewish because the beit din at my mikveh consisted of three female Rabbis. If I didn’t have the support of like-minded individuals, including my husband, Rabbi, and synagogue community, I probably would have walked away a long time ago. Just like so many other American Jews are doing every day, and they’re taking their children, and perhaps the future of the American Jewish community, with them.

It shouldn’t be that hard, especially given than more than 94% of Pew respondents share the pride I feel in being Jewish.

Help us find the 94%. Tell us the stories of today’s proud American Jews. Tell us who they are, describe what they do that’s important to all of us and we may feature them in an upcoming issue of the Forward.

Let us know your name, your email, and the name and story of the person you are submitting in the form below.


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!
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • 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.