Students respond to recent Pew Research Survey on American Jews

posted in: National, News, November 2013 | 0
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By Marissa Laliberte

Intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews has risen over the past several decades, and parents in such intermarriages are less likely to raise their children Jewish, according to an Oct. 1 Pew Research Center study.

The study also showed that since 2000, 58 percent of Jews who got married took a non-Jewish spouse compared to the 17 percent of Jews who married non-Jews before 1970.

Rabbi Eli Backman of the University of Maryland Chabad said couples with different religious backgrounds might run into problems because spirituality is a major part of life.

“Spirituality should be part of the conversation,” he said. “It’s hard, but it gives a in-depth perspective.”

Senior Arabic and government and politics major Molly Bernstein said intermarriage is not an intrinsic problem, but it could have negative repercussions when parents decide how to raise their children.

“The issue isn’t intermarriage; it’s if mixed faith couples are raising their children Jewish, and those are not mutually exclusive,” Bernstein said.

While 99 percent of Jewish couples raise their children Jewish, 63 percent of Jews with non-Jewish spouses are raising their children Jewish, the study said.

Hillel Rabbi Ari Neuman said couples often do not realize how much they value raising their children to be Jewish until they are already married. He said children whose parents have different beliefs end up hearing an inconsistent message.

“A synergy between two religions isn’t necessarily the best of both worlds — it’s something different, a third thing,” he said.

Sophomore environmental sciences major Aaron Aber grew up in what he described as a secular Jewish household, with a Reform Jewish mother and a nonreligious father. He said his mother wanted to raise his family Jewish, and his father stayed involved by learning customs and prayers.

Celebrating religious holidays could be one area that reveals underlying differences if the partners had different experiences growing up, Backman said.

“Dec. 25 is stressful for intermarried families, even if the partner is not religious,” Backman said. “There are so many other stressors, so maybe it’s not the best to start a marriage with stressors.”

Aber said his family celebrated major Jewish holidays such as Hanukah and Passover, but they also had secular Christmas celebrations. He said going to church with his grandparents on his dad’s side made him uncomfortable, and the rest of his family would not go there for Christmas.

Bernstein added that non-Jewish parents might also feel uncomfortable in the Jewish community and therefore would not be inclined to raise their children Jewish.

“They might feel estranged from when they were young and not want to try including their kids in a community not accepting of them,” she said.

However, senior economics major Nadav Karasov said people shouldn’t assume a rise in intermarriage means Judaism is dying.

“[Intermarriage] is a reality, but Judaism is still able to thrive,” he said. “Judaism is still alive and well, just in different ways.”

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