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.

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.

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