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Can intermarriage achieve what anti-Semitism couldn't?
By GISELA DÉS
30/03/2014
With intermarriage rates in the Diaspora on the rise, will the Jewish community outside of Israel eventually vanish completely?
 
If God didn't choose us then the world certainly did, says a Yiddish proverb.

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2013 alarmed Jews around the world. According to the survey, the Jewish intermarriage rate in the United States is 58 percent and 71% among non-Orthodox Jews, reaching record numbers.

Not only in the USA is the intermarriage rate alarmingly high but in Russia and the Ukraine intermarriage among non-Orthodox Jews reached 80% and in countries like France and the United Kingdom the percentage is between 40-45%. This stands in contrast with Israel where intermarriage is practically non-existent, at five%. The Diaspora Jews are assimilating to a secular national culture and, according to the study, if intermarriage rates continue rising, the Jewish communities in the Diaspora will vanish. What then, is the future for Diaspora Jews?

Diaspora Jews today live fully assimilated lives in mostly secular/gentile societies, so it’s part of the natural course that they meet gentiles and marry them.

In spite of the fact that today Jews have full rights in Western countries, anti-Semitism in not over. It has only changed its face. One of the most characteristic forms of this post-modern anti-Semitism is the delegitimization of Israel. Moreover, many theorists believe that Jews need enemies to remain together and are terrified of assimilation, ignoring the fact that it has been a constant in Jewish history. 

It's estimated that 200,000 Jews saved their lives by converting to Christianity in the wake of persecution in the period of the Spanish Inquisition. During the creation of the nation states in Europe, Jews were the first ones to assimilate in order to fight for their ‘host nations’ and in the 19th century were prominent among thinkers who rebelled against religion. Nowadays, the process has evolved to no longer converting in order to survive but assimilating in order to adapt.

But we shouldn't give in to apocalyptical interpretations of these phenomena. Judaism is not likely to vanish in the Diaspora for several reasons. First of all, intermarriage is practically nonexistent within Orthodox communities, where 98% of married Jews have a Jewish spouse. In addition, Orthodox couples have an average number of 4.1 children, according to the Pew study. Second, ‘Jewish identity’ is a much more complex concept - not reducible to a label in a poll; after all, where there are two Jews there are three opinions, right? That Jewish identity is changing does not imply that it will disappear. For instance, one could argue an American identity is perfectly compatible with a Jewish identity.

Indeed, Jews tend to marry later and have lower birthrates, but that’s because they are largely more educated and wealthier than the average. According to the Pew study, 58% of Jews are college graduates; in comparison, only 29% of US adults say they graduated from college.

The more educated women are, the fewer children they tend to have, in order to provide their family with a higher standard of living. The Pew study also found out that Jewish adults between the ages of 40-49 had an average of 1.9 children each, compared with an average of 2.2 children per adult in the same age bracket of the general public. This applies mostly to secular, reform and on a large scale conservative Jews, and doesn’t represent the Orthodox and ultra- Orthodox communities which will continue growing in number and flourishing.

The Pew study also concluded that people with one Jewish parent ‘often feel excluded by the Jewish community’, particularly if their mother is not Jewish. Judaism defines anyone born to a Jewish mother as being a Jew; some interpret this Jewish law as being based on the fact that we always can be sure who the mother is. Nowadays, with modern scientific advances, we can also determine who the father is. There’s a chance that Jewish communities could expand their numbers and become stronger if they make an effort to reach out to the children of Jewish fathers as well; with time, they may want to convert and become active members of their Jewish communities.

From what I have experienced, children with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers feel a need to compensate, and often feel excluded. One of the most active families in my community in Barcelona is the Herzog family from Argentina. The mother was from a Christian family and she converted. All of her children are leaders in Jewish youth movements and spent at least a year in Israel. The eldest is now one of the leaders of their Jewish community.

It's the same story with the Hungarian Kajtár family; the children were also born from a mixed marriage, where the wife hadn't converted, but the children did later on because they developed a Jewish identity after attending a Jewish School.

Jews wish to preserve our existence as a people, because of our uniqueness, our shared history, our culture and religion.

Despite everything, reports such as the Pew are merely interpretations of data that might say something at a macro level but not much at a micro level. What we need now is to learn how to flourish in our new environment.

Let me ask you to have faith in the Jewish people; neither God nor the world will let them disappear, and they won't - after all, they are the chosen people.

Gisela Dés is an International Business student from Barcelona, Spain. Gisela is currently living in Jerusalem where she is interning for the World Zionist Organization in the Department of Encountering anti-Semitism. After spending a year doing research on Holocaust history in Budapest, Hungary as well as studying at the Lauder Jewish School she decided to spend a Gap Year in Israel, where she also lived in Tel Aviv interning for the Jerusalem Post and studying Middle East Politics and Business.
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