Does Intermarriage Drive Young Jews Away From Israel?

Pew Data Suggests Link With Alienation From Jewish State

Tim Halberg

By Nathan Guttman

Published May 15, 2014, issue of May 23, 2014.
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Similar views on Israel among young American Jews have been detected in polls for almost three decades, but the recent analysis pinpoints the reasons for detachment and alienation, and points to interfaith marriage as a key indicator of resentment toward Israel. “The rate of alienated remained the same, but there is a change in their characteristics,” Sasson said. “A couple of decades ago they came from homes with two Jewish parents, and now they are coming from intermarried families.”

Children of interfaith families, experts explain, show less engagement in all aspects of Jewish life, including attachment to Israel. But while there was a relatively small decline among children of interfaith parents in participation in certain religious ceremonies (Passover Seders, for example), their feelings toward Israel demonstrated a greater drop.

“The non-Jewish parents have an understanding of Judaism that comports with Christianity, and that’s why going to synagogue makes sense to them” Cohen said. On the other hand, he added, “there is no counterpart in Christianity to the idea of an ethnic state.”

The Jewish community’s evolving attitude toward intermarriage could, however, hold promise for forging a better connection between these younger Jews and Israel.

“Organizations and synagogues are becoming more welcoming to intermarried families,” said Sarah Bunin Benor, a Jewish studies professor at the Los Angeles campus of HUC-JIR. This trend, she noted, will allow children of interfaith families greater access to the community and can influence their views on Israel: “They now have more possibilities to connect, and this means also connecting on Israel.”

The Reform movement has largely embraced interfaith families in its synagogues, and in many cases will agree to marry couples with only one Jewish partner. Conservative Judaism, while still opposed to officiating interfaith weddings, has also welcomed non-Jewish members to its synagogues and communal events.

This growing acceptance of interfaith families can also be seen in Birthright programs, the flagship project connecting young American Jews to Israel. Thirty percent of Birthright participants come from families with only one Jewish parent, according to Leonard Saxe, director of the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University.


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