As the Jewish community variously gears up to prevent, ‘inreach’ fret, strategize, or otherwise just plain deal with intermarriage, I think an important point is being overlooked.
The intermarriage of today is not the intermarriage of the past. A good analogy is how America assimilates people today versus in the past. The model of past assimilation was the melting pot. A diverse immigrant population would come to America and busy itself with the task of becoming indistinguishably American. People sought to abandon the individual trappings of their cultural in favor of American homogeneousness, and with it, American prosperity.
Today’s assimilation is different, as is today’s intermarriage. Sociologists now refer to the “salad bowl” rather than the melting pot. Individuals do not melt into a single type, but rather, retain much more of their individuality and identity evena s they are accepted into the whole. One no longer need shave a mustache, discard a head scarf, or unwind a turban to achieve acceptance and success in what has gone from a repressed culture in the 1950s to an exuberant, expressive and polyglot one today.
Intermarriage today is not about erasing a Jewish identity in order to melt into a Gentile society. Though marrying a person of another faith will certainly blunt certain kinds of religious expression and later others, in relationships observed today, it does not, nor does it even seek to, eliminate expression of one faith or the other.
The point in this, as in all discussion of intermarriage, is the next generation. Put aside for a moment the question of which children from what types of unions are ‘actually’ Jewish, as vexing a question as this may be for some, and as consuming as it is when we engage it. Children from mixed unions are often encouraged to explore both faiths. Many wish to choose only one, and many wish to commit to one in a more complete manner than perhaps their parents did. Maybe this is in response to the fractured upbringing they experienced. Who can say for sure? But these children will resurface in our Jewish communities. And some children will embrace all the fragments of their religious identity, and try to stitch a whole fabric out of this patchwork. They too will resurface in oru Jewish community.
And so will many others, undescribed here. But that puts the point on this whole discourse. Intermarriage today is different than intermarriage in the past because the children WILL EMERGE in our communities. That’s a hopeful thought.