Community looks to welcome intermarrieds

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Children with two Jewish parents are raised as Jews 96 percent of the time, according the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001. That number drops to 33 percent for children of intermarriages. But these are only numbers. The real issues of intermarriage are the stories of the couples, their children and their extended families. After all, a marriage isn’t just about two people alone. It is about family and how extended families are created.

“When your child marries, you gain a son-in-law or a daughter-in-law and their parents and families,” said Congregation B’nai Amoona social action chair Phyllis Cantor. The family of a non-Jewish spouse, regardless of whether the spouse converts to Judaism, is still of another faith. Many Jewish parents are concerned about not alienating the non-Jewish parents and family of the person who married their son or daughter.

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Several parents whose children had intermarried, in some cases with the son or daughter-in-law converting to Judaism, approached Cantor to begin a group to hold discussions about their concerns. Some of the many issues they grapple with include: grandparents wanting their grandchildren to learn about Jewish values and traditions and Judaism itself; what to do during the holidays, and when the spouse has converted to Judaism, how they can be supportive without being intrusive.

“The issues are very complex and very sensitive,” said Cantor. “Some people are so upset they can hardly function. For others, there is a sense of shame because their child married out of the faith. For most, they are seeking a way to keep harmony in the family and keep their connections to their children and grandchildren.”

The first monthly meeting of the newly formed group attracted more than 20 people. “This is a real grass roots group,” said Dr. Neal Rose, a certified family counselor and the congregation’s rabbi in residence. Rose facilitates the group. “These folks came to us asking for our help to facilitate a discussion. We as Jews sometimes don’t appreciate how our responses impact our relationships in these situations. At our first meeting we looked at the issues, how did people feel about them and what might or might not be done. There was a wide spectrum of responses.”

While it isn’t a support group, many participants appreciate the opportunity to share their stories. “It was helpful to listen to other people and hear how they are dealing with their own situations,” said Sheila Shucart. “It was good to be able to talk with everyone and realize you’re not alone.” She was especially grateful the problem is being acknowledged in a synagogue setting by the rabbis.

“If your child intermarries, you’re not thrilled with it, let’s face it,” said Shucart. “But it does work. We’re thrilled with our son-in-law. This group gives the congregation a chance to let these kids know they are not being turned away. If we shut the door and turn them away, why should they come to the Jewish religion?”

Rose is hoping to do a series of varied programs including possibly an outreach to the children and the grandchildren of participants, or helping them reach out to each other. “Every branch of Judaism is concerned about the second generation of intermarried couples. We are trying to educate ourselves. While there is concern on the part of a lot of people, there isn’t despair,” Rose said.

The next meeting takes place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 11, at B’nai Amoona. There is no fee for the group, and it is open to the community. For more information contact Rabbi Dr. Neal Rose at 314-576-9990, extension 110.