An American Jewish politician backtracked on Wednesday on condemnations of assimilation and intermarriage after a recording of her statements was leaked online.
“We have the problem of assimilation. We have the problem of intermarriage. We have that problem that too many generations of Jews don’t realize the importance of our institutions strengthening our community,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) said.
The recording of her address to a Miami Jewish Federation gathering in Florida on January 16 was obtained and published by political blog Shark Tank.
In a statement released through the Democratic National Committee, the politician stated that she is not against exogamy (marrying out).
“At an annual Jewish community event in my congressional district, I spoke about my personal connection to Judaism and in a larger context about the loss of Jewish identity and the importance of connecting younger generations to the institutions and values that make up our community.
“I do not oppose intermarriage; in fact, members of my family, including my husband, are a product of it,” NBC reported her as saying.
Intermarriage is a heated topic of debate in the American Jewish community, and was a major focus of the 2013 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America that was held shortly after the Pew Research Center published a study showing that marriage outside of the Jewish community has been rising dramatically.
“We have to learn how to reconcile seemingly opposing impulses,” American Jewish sociologist Dr. Steven Cohen said of Wasserman Schultz’s statement.
“One is to speak honestly about the adverse impact of intermarriage upon Jewish continuity. The other is to engage the intermarried – a term far more accurate than ‘interfaith’ – in Jewish life so as to maximize the chances that the non-Jewish spouses will convert or come to seem themselves as Jews, as well as the chances that the children will be raised as Jews and educated as Jews.”
On the other hand, Leonard Matanky of the Rabbinical Council of America said that “While we cherish every member of the Jewish people, throughout our history intermarriage was anathema to our people, so much so that it was considered a betrayal of our heritage and our future. It is truly unfortunate that we live at a time when Jewish leaders are criticized for opposing intermarriage and feel obligated to issue clarification.”
“It’s very hard to be in politics and take views on religious issues. She needs to appeal to a broad group of people,” noted Martin Oliner, the chairman of the Religious Zionists of America.
“I think that for Jewish public figures, not from Jewish organizations but in politics, it’s very hard for them to say they oppose intermarriage so even if that’s their view,” agreed Farley Weiss, the president of the National Council of Young Israel, a modern-Orthodox synagogue network.
“Intermarriage is clearly having a detrimental effect on the future of the Jewish community in America,” he said.
Wasserman Schultz’s statement on assimilation was not the most significant of her comments, he added, citing another part of her speech in which she accused several news networks of harboring an anti-Israel bias.
She recounted an MSNBC segment she had just seen, filmed in Gaza in the aftermath of Operation Protective Edge. “Clearly they were highlighting what Israel had done and the plight of the Palestinians, and my first thought was, ‘where is the balance, where is the spotlight on what Jewish children in Israel go through, from being victims of rocket attacks in Sderot and southern Israel.’” “Not just MSNBC, I see it on CNN and the broadcast media as well,” she said.Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.