November 20, 2013
I wish all of you a “Happy Thanksgivukkah” — Thanksgiving and Hanukkah both fall on Thanksgiving (Thursday, November 28) of this year. Hanukkah starts on the previous evening (Wednesday, November 27).
I also wish everyone a Merry Christmas (Wednesday, December 25).
Belated greetings to all Shiite Muslims on the Day of ‘Ashura ( November 13 on this year’s Christian calendar), the anniversary of the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and his followers at Karbala in Iraq in 680 A.D., the founding day of Shiite Islam.
Here are some news items that I hope will interest all of you:
Pew Report on American Jewish Population
1. The respected, non-partisan Pew Research Center has done a study of the American Jewish population, and the results have been explosive. Here is a link to the study and some of the responses:
You will be especially interested in their analysis of the adult children of intermarriage:
2. Among the findings which shocked the Jewish community:
a. The Conservative (Masorti in America) Judaism movement is declining very rapidly in numbers. Unless this trend is halted, it may cease to exist in any real way within two decades.
(Robin notes: I’ve repeatedly had half-Jewish people ask me to contact the Conservative Judaism movement over the last decade and offer to help them recruit half-Jewish people. I sympathize with this goal, as I admire many aspects of the Conservative movement’s achievements. I have tried to offer modest suggestions to the Conservative movement, but at the moment, they’re not really listening.)
b. Jewish-identified adult children of intermarriage are now half of all Millenial generation Jews. Most of them are not affiliated with the Jewish community, confining their involvement to identifying as Jewish and reading Jewish books and websites.
(Robin notes: Now this was no surprise to me, as I have been predicting for several decades that Jewish-identified half-Jewish people would be half of all U.S. Jewish young people by 2020. I have also pointed out repeatedly that Jewish institutions were so unresponsive to them that their involvement was largely on the edges of the Jewish community.)
c. Approximately 25 percent of all interfaith parents raising young children with some Jewish identity today report that they are raising them as “both.”
3. The mainstream Jewish community has tried to “spin” these and other findings in the Pew report in several ways, mostly contradicting each other.
Commentary on the Pew Report in the Jewish media has stated:
a. Some Jewish communal leaders have said: These statistics on Millenial Jewish-identified half-Jewish people prove that Judaism must be getting better at retaining adult half-Jewish people! Even if they don’t join Jewish institutions and confine their involvement to Jewish websites and books!
(Robin notes: I know many of you will laugh heartily, given that they do little or no outreach to us, and sometimes actively rebuff us. The welcoming synagogues and Jewish institutions don’t make up for the blank indifference — when it is no worse — of many of the other Jewish institutions.)
b. Some Jewish communal leaders have said: The reluctance of half-Jewish people to become involved with Jewish institutions is proof that intermarriage is “bad for the Jews,” and the Jewish community should stop investing efforts in outreach to interfaith couples.
(Robin notes: In other words, make our intermarried parents and grandparents feel even less welcome! They are certainly not doing any real outreach to half-Jewish people, so there’s nothing to cut back on there.)
c. Some Jewish communal leaders have said: Some interfaith couples are raising their children as “both”? The Jewish community should drop — literally overnight — its decades-long opposition to this option and begin embracing these families!
(Robin notes: Few things can be more startling than to see than these statements.)
d. Some Jewish communal leaders have said: Greater efforts should be made to involve half-Jewish people with Israel trips! The Israeli government has announced it will be funneling more money to American Jewish groups to involve American Jews more deeply with Israel!
(Robin notes: Israel has negative laws and policies against half-Jewish people. Greater exposure to Israel for most half-Jewish people is not likely to increase their involvement with Judaism, quite the contrary.)
e. Some Jewish communal leaders have said: The Pew Report shows that the intermarriage rate has stabilized at 50 percent! Nothing to worry about! The intermarriage rate is stable!
(Robin notes: If 50 percent of all Jews marry people who aren’t Jewish each year — what will happen to the Jewish community? That’s one of the highest intermarriage rates in Jewish history!)
4. If you’d like to see more Jewish communal responses, just input “Pew report Judaism America” into your Google search engine.
5. What should our response to the Pew Report be as members of the Half-Jewish Network? Let’s wait and see.
A 1990 American Jewish population survey foreshadowed many of these findings, as did a 2000 Jewish population survey, which contained similar alerts.
After both surveys were released, the Jewish community went into panics similar to their responses to the Pew study. I became hopeful for outreach to half-Jewish people. My hopes proved erroneous.
In the decade following 1990, most Jewish institutions stuck by their anti-intermarriage policies. In the years following the 2000 survey, most of the American Jewish community responded by declaring the survey’s research to be inadequate and erroneous, and began increasing outreach to young Jews with two Jewish parents and trying to get them to marry each other.
So let’s wait and see if the 2013 Pew survey actually generates real outreach to adult half-Jewish people. Real outreach would be the same outreach interfaith couples and their parents currently receive: books, movies, DVDs, CDs, books, discussion groups, listserves, becoming a recognized, written priority of Jewish outreach groups and Jewish institutions, welcoming language in Jewish policy statements and synagogue websites, etc.
I’d like to see such outreach treat courteously half-Jewish people who are “undecided,” “other,” “both,” or who belong to Christian, Muslim and other faiths and secular cultures and listen to their stories, as well listening respectfully to Jewish-identified half-Jewish people.
We have asked for this for decades. We should accept nothing less.
Israel and Its Half-Jewish Population
1. Israel has dropped support to the remaining Ethiopian Jews in Ethiopia, most of whom are patrilineal — they have an Ethiopian Jewish father and an Ethiopian Christian mother or other patrilineal descent:
2. But Israel is importing the “B’nai Menashe” — group of people from India — whose Jewish history only goes back a century, when they switched from Christianity to Judaism on their own:
(Robin notes: I believe that the B’nai Menashe are being brought to Israel because they are lighter-skinned than the Ethiopian Jews and perceived as less bother to the Israelis than the deeply unhappy Ethiopian Jewish Israeli community.)
3. But Israel isn’t terribly nice to patrilineal white Jews — here’s what happened to some enrolled in the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Orthodox Judaism conversion class:
What the article does not mention is that the soldiers involved are most likely Russian patrilineal Jews with a Jewish father and a Christian mother. One way they can achieve status as “real” Jews in Israel is to convert via the IDF’s “Nativ” course, taught by the Orthodox.
The Nativ classes were intended by the IDF senior command as a friendly and respectful gesture to patrilineal half-Jewish soldiers, an effort that would help them get Orthodox conversions more easily than stringent classes for civilians taught by Orthodox rabbis outside of the IDF.
But the IDF has begun to fall increasingly under the control of the Orthodox, as the number of officers graduating from Orthodox schools increases and the Orthodox rabbis in the IDF — only Orthodox rabbis are allowed in the IDF — become increasingly conservative politically and religiously.
For more information on this, see our “Who Is A Jew” essay at:
and our “Israel” essay at:
4. Continuing harassment of Jewish-Arab interfaith couples in Israel:
The Freedom Theater, founded by Jewish-Arab activist Juliano Mer-Khamis, has continued to produce plays and follow its policy of peaceful “cultural resistance” to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank:
For those of you not familiar with Mer-Khamis — he was an Israeli citizen with an Arab father and a Jewish mother, who fought tirelessly for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He spoke often of being “100 percent Palestinian” and “100 percent Jewish.” There were segments of both the Israeli Jewish public and the Palestinian Muslim public who disliked him intensely.
He was assassinated by traditionalist Palestinians who objected to a modern play about teenagers and sex that his theater produced. I was only surprised by his death because I thought Israel’s Shin Bet would kill him first. I admired him greatly for his courage.
5. Continuing refusal to bury patrilineal Israeli Jewish IDF soldiers with other Jews:
(Robin notes: I have had a decades-long commitment to getting patrilineal Jewish-identified half-Jewish people buried with other Jews in all Jewish settings. The IDF has buried them in the “non-Jewish” sections of IDF cemeteries with Christian and Muslim soldiers. Well, in the future, patrilineal Jewish-identified half-Jewish soldiers will be buried in the “Jewish section” of the IDF cemeteries — which are run by the Orthodox Jews — but they will be buried in separate rows of their own. I am not satisfied with this ‘compromise,’ and I hope you will speak up against it also.)
1. Poetry by Aaron Samuels on growing up biracial (Jewish mother, African-American father):
2. Book by Susan Katz-Miller on raising children in both Judaism and Christianity:
Note: Katz-Miller is herself the child of an intermarriage. She’s been an activist on the “raise in both” front for many years and her book deserves respectful attention.
Half-Jewish People In The News
1. Media has confirmed — after years of rumors — that Muammar Gaddafi, the former dictator of Libya, who died in 2011, had a Sephardic Jewish mother and a Muslim Arab father:
2. Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, head of the Church of England and the Anglican communion, recently discovered that he had a German Jewish paternal grandfather:
3. Troubled half-Jewish baseball player, Ryan Braun, berated by Jewish fans:
Wishing you good holidays and many blessings,