As someone in an interfaith family, I eagerly read “Interfaith families study points way to increased engagement.” I appreciate that the Federation commissioned the study and is interested in the issue. But I would argue that the article misses one of the main reasons why Pittsburgh and the Jewish community nationally struggles with interfaith engagement: the framing of the issue as the “interfaith marriage problem.”
I am not a problem. My marriage and my family are not a problem. I am very active in Beth Samuel Jewish Center near Sewickley. I am on the board and serve on several committees. Both of my children are raised as Jews. I know there are things BSJC could do to better support our interfaith families, but just knowing that a large portion of the congregation is interfaith, that it recognizes patrilinial descent, and that non-Jewish members can vote and serve on committees was immediately welcoming.
One of the biggest turnoffs for being actively involved in the Jewish community for many interfaith families is the way we are judged, talked about, treated and approached — from refusal to marry us or consider our children Jewish to being excluded from participation or leadership roles. The end goal should not be to make us more Orthodox or to make sure our children marry someone Jewish. I want me and my non-Jewish spouse to both feel welcome and supported, to feel excited to be part of the Jewish community and to pass that pride on to our children.
Engaging interfaith families is a challenge … and an opportunity. Interfaith families have been a vital part of the Jewish nation since Moses and Tziporah/Jethro and Naomi and Ruth. Approaching today’s interfaith families as a vibrant and positive part of the community (as opposed to a problem that threatens the future of the Jewish people) is the first step in engaging interfaith families.