Preaching Marry a Jew today is a misguided approach

Upon hearing the news that the American Jewish Committee has formed a new venture to oppose intermarriage, I must admit that my first reaction was "Are they totally out of their minds?"

Don't get me wrong, I'm wholeheartedly supportive of in-marriage and I hope that my daughter chooses to marry someone who is Jewish. I believe her family life would be more meaningful and enriching, her relationship with her spouse would be easier with a shared history and religion, and, of course, the union would hopefully result in Jewish babies.

I just don't believe that promoting the evils of intermarriage or crying "The sky is falling!" is the way to go. Perhaps instead, we should be promoting the joy of Judaism, encouraging Jewish education and observance — gee, we could even name it something — how about a campaign for "Jewish continuity"?

I mean, where have these folks been for the last 10 to 15 years? Jewish federations, synagogues and organizations have made continuity the centerpiece of their programming in order to encourage and ensure the perpetuation of the Jewish people — not just its institutions. They recognized, however, that in the last several decades, negative campaigning doesn't work. Our community's leadership realized that if Jews fall in love with Judaism all over again, maybe they will want to marry someone who is Jewish, they will have Jewish children and our people will continue to defy the odds.

Indeed, in the last decade our community, nationally, has begun a rebirth, a resurgence of celebration in being Jewish. Quite honestly, it is too soon to tell whether the outcome of this effort will result in increased in-marriage, but synagogue membership is growing, Jewish day schools and camps have been burgeoning, and study groups have been popping up all over the place. My gut says that we will see a decrease in intermarriage and it will be as a result of this emphasis and not the implementation of an anti-intermarriage campaign.

The AJCommittee announcement took me back almost 20 years, when as a new Jewish communal worker I heard, "We should be campaigning against intermarriage!" to which I admit I replied, "What should we do, hang out on street corners with signs reading "Marry a Jew today"? Of course, my all-time favorite line was from one of my volunteers, who said to me, "If you really want to help the Jewish people, you'll go home and have Jewish babies." Oy.

We can't force people to do things. What we can do is to be more welcoming. I know I speak heresy, but truly, when rabbis won't officiate at interfaith ceremonies, not only do we lose the Jewish member of the couple, we lose their children and even the hope that the non-Jewish spouse will decide to convert. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but has anyone ever decided not to marry their love match because they couldn't find a rabbi to marry them? I think not. I think we just alienate them and their families.

I have another question. How many members of this special committee are women?

In my mind, one of the key factors in fostering a desire to have a Jewish family is growing up within an enriching Jewish home, one with celebrations and the spirit of Judaism infusing the conversation, experience and, of course, menu.

Think about it. Why marry someone Jewish? Is it just to have Jewish children so that we won't die out? Is it so your spouse will understand when you want to be left alone to study Torah? Judaism is about life and family. It is about how we live and the texture of our lives, and so much of this texture is wrapped around our experience together as a family, sitting around the dining room table, lighting Shabbat candles and telling the stories of our ancestors.

Women, who still bear the vast majority of this responsibility, work now. They have no choice. By the end of the week, there is no energy for pulling together Shabbat dinner or baking mandelbrot. I went through a period where I was rather dismayed that I was hosting the dinner for every single holiday. How come no one was inviting us over? Then I realized — it wasn't that we were being excluded, it was that by and large, none of my friends entertained. It is simply too much work.

Truthfully, after enduring a horrific week, pulling together Shabbat or a holiday along with the normal details of life, I can barely move come Saturday. Yet, I continue to do it. Because of our celebrations, not only is my daughter thriving on being Jewish, but her friends — many of whom are "part-Jewish" — are identifying with their Jewishness. A novel approach, but as it is said, the best defense is a good offense.

So, if the members of the anti-intermarriage coalition really want to do something of value, how about adopting a family and offering to plan the menu, go to the market, fix dinner, and do cleanup for every Shabbat and all holidays for one year? Make sure that there is a sufficient supply of candles, that art projects are regularly scheduled to decorate for each holiday, that appropriate music is playing and that there is a unique costume ready for Purim.

On the other hand, perhaps shouting "Marry a Jew today" will be more effective. Well, it certainly would be easier.