Thursday, October 25, 2007

Jewish Continuity

After reading the comments to this post, and being encouraged by Ezzie to actually read the full text of Psycho Toddler's post about NCSY, I was troubled by the thought of public school students being written off as gone from the Jewish map.

Despite his apologies for thinking this way, in Psycho Toddler's post, he mentions having written off the girl "as another casualty of the American Jewish Holocaust," due to the fact that she attended public school. And that he was SO impressed, because she is now attending Stern College for Women.

I understand that a LOT of Jews are intermarrying, and that an intermarriage does lead the path for the loss of Jewish identity, especially when it comes to raising children and the difficulties that exist in a dual-religion home, especially given the dominant religion in this country not being Judaism. But I don't feel like the only path to secure a Jewish identity for future generations is a frum one.

Growing up, I was one of a very small handful of Jews in my public schools. Through my four years of high school, there was one other Jewish student one year. And yet, I had a very strong Jewish identity even then, and so do my brothers, who are not now frum.

I have quite a few non-frum friends who are very active in their Jewish communities and are quite affiliated, despite not being the targets of kiruv organizations. Several of these friends have chosen careers in the Jewish communal services field, dedicating their lives towards furthering the Jewish people. I have friends who don't go that far, but absolutely know that they are Jewish and will not even considering dating someone who isn't, because it is such a large part of their identity.

I think the key in Jewish continuity is not necessarily an observance level and adherence to halacha. I think it is being proud of your Jewish heritage, and making it an important part of your life. And that is something that can be done without necessarily keeping strictly kosher and not driving in a car on Shabbos. I think we need to be working on imbuing all Jews with pride for who they are and an appreciation for their Jewish heritage.


  1. hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii Shoshana

  2. Shoshana- I fully agree, and I'd also like to add the following point:

    My parents are Jewishly committed, educated, and active. But they aren't shomer shabbat. Comments like those from PsychoToddler completely ignore the contributions that they, and people like him (ie most of the organized Jewish community, and big donors) make, both to Jewish continuity and Jewish life.

  3. HH - What's up with Zelda?!

    Annie - I don't think that's how PT meant that at all.

  4. Reprising my role as the insensitive jerk from the original post (still taking other volunteers, anyone...anyone...Beuller...):

    First, the discussion would seem to center around intermarriage. Everything you write about involvment in the community, connection to organizations and the like are all well and good. However, the issue is whether all of these things are part and parcel of something bigger.
    The upshot is this, what do you do when your son/daughter comes home one day and introduces you to the nice, level headed, well spoken non-jew that they are in a serious relationship with?

  5. Obviously you are missing the point. To be Jewish you need to be intimately involved with the JCC. Shoshana, contact me if you are interested, I know someone with connections.

  6. G -
    My non-frum parents always emphasized the importance of marrying other Jews. I was told from a very young age that I wouldn't be disowned for bringing home a non-Jew, but it would NOT be a good thing. Maybe those who are Orthodox go further, and would disown their children, but honestly, I don't see the value in that. And I don't think that public school necessitates the inevitability of intermarriage happening.

    Diana -
    You do??? That would be great!

  7. Your particular history is not the issue.

    Again, it would seem that the issue was intermarriage.
    It may sound nice to say that "I don't think that public school necessitates the inevitability of intermarriage happening." Is it correct to assume that it happens at a 100% clip, no it is not as has been stipulated by the original author. However, what do you think the numbers look like?

  8. The drawback of having an only child who's male is that you have only a 50-50 chance of having halachically-Jewish grandchildren. "what do you do when your son/daughter comes home one day and introduces you to the nice, level headed, well spoken non-jew that they are in a serious relationship with?" Cry, probably.

    The two options that Mark/PT discussed in his post about NCSY--day school and/or a Jewish youth group--weren't even available to us. How do you give a decent Jewish education to a kid with disabilities (who was denied admission to Solomon Schechter Day School) and iffy social skills (we tried USY [the Conservative Movement's United Synagogue Youth] twice, but he just couldn't handle groups at the time)? We did the best we could, given the limited support of the broader Jewish community for kids with disabilities, but was it enough to keep him Jewish? The jury's still out.

  9. Shoshana: I'm sorry, I don't mean to offend.

    I don't know which PS you went to or what part of the country it was in.

    Here in Milwaukee, if you are Jewish and go to an urban public school there is a good chance you will be lost to the Jewish community.

    There is one public school here that has a fair concentration of Jewish students and has some programming geared towards their needs, but the vast majority do not.

    Thank G-d for organizations like NCSY that put the effort into trying to reach these kids and keep them involved in their yiddishkeit.

    You may not be seeing "the american Jewish Holocaust", but from where I sit, the burners are going full steam.

  10. This post is simple, to the point, clear, and nicely put. I
    wholeheartedly agree. There were many many years when I thought this was incomprehensible. I could not understand the validity of Jews who were not religious, nor right wing, no less. I considered some parts of Modern Orthodoxy "half-baked" and could not understand how people would be happy or observant with such a "limited" outlook on Torah. Thankfully, Rav Binny Friedman and the people at Isralite helped me get that out of my head, and the judgemental boundaries I used to hold sacred have since been blasted to dust. I am happier, more appreciative and less stressed Jewishly because of this knowledge. We are all people, with different needs, different levels of tolerance and abilities, and only G-d knows where our feet have travelled. After all, He made the shoes we walk in. Thanks for a great post.

  11. From my experience, I think it's very different depending on what the Jews are like in the public schools. In an area like where you grew up, where there aren't many Jews, being Jewish is something to be proud of and protected. In areas where there is a big Jewish population, there are two main types of Judaism in the public schools. There are those who are conservative or reform, who are involved with their community, and are unlikely to intermarry. Then there are those who are totally secular, and who don't really know what it is to be Jewish.

  12. I agree Shoshana. I attended public high school, public college, and a private law school nominally affiliated with a Christian denomination. I have always identified as a Jew, am married to a fellow Jew, and had a Jewish wedding. All of that happened before I knew the faintest thing about kashrut or how to be shomer shabbos or any other hallmark of frum life.

  13. Also, I'd like to add that (1) my dad is not Jewish, and (2) they always stressed how important it was for me to marry a Jew because it was the best way to ensure my children and grandchildren would be raised Jewishly. Even though my parents didn't follow their advice to me, they stressed that they were the exception, not the rule. Somehow I came out okay. Obviously, I want better for my kids (who doesn't?) but kids raised in public school with non-frum parents are most definitely not "lost causes."

  14. Not being offensive to anyone else or insulting, PT is right in calling it a Holocaust. though it is gr8 that some ppl hu arent religious etc have connections and are active etc... that's not the point. Judaism isnt belonging or affiliating or even being proud of the identity - and though that is extremely important it's not enough. Those that expect their children to marry Jews - it's gr8, but if they only 'belong' to Judaism and no more who is to say their Grandkids will even KNOW they're Jewish??

  15. I agree that it's important for us to take pleasure in who we are and be involved in the community.
    I also think though that a Jewish education is very imperative so Jewish individuals learn the importance of Judaism and
    following Hashem and the mitzvos.

    When they don't get educated, their heritage becomes just a culture to them and they grow to be very laxed about it. This causes Some to intermarry. They don't understand that if the wife is not Jewish, the children are not. Or in another case where the wife is Jewish, but the husband is not, he might take her and the kids aways from Judaism or maybe not, depending.
    And so a Jewish education is very much needed inorder to understand the importance of Judaism and help with continuity.

  16. Shoshana,

    Psychotoddler is right, and my question to you is -- as a public school graduate...that is to say, as a Holocaust survivor, do you feel that we should build separate museums to the public school American Jewish Holocaust, or should we survivors cooperate with the existing ones do include our story so future generations don't forget?

  17. Note: I was holding off on commenting to let others speak up first... and after reading the comments here and elsewhere, I think there's a lot of confusion, so I'm going to try and organize this a bit.

    I think there are at least three separate issues here:

    1) Intermarriage
    2) Religious vs. not
    3) Use of the term "Holocaust"

    Firstly, I think PT was saying that intermarriage is a huge problem (an "American Jewish Holocaust"), caused by lack of Jewish identity. He feels that a good way to promote Jewish identity is kiruv organizations such as NCSY. That's the simple version.

    I don't think anyone was arguing that non-religious people can't have a good sense of Jewish identity, won't marry Jewish, etc. If anything, kol hakavod to those who do - like* my grandparents, my uncle, my bro-in-law's father. They do more for the Jewish future than most frum people I know. I also think that you'll find that those people also are affiliated, while most of the people intermarrying are either unaffiliated or very loosely affiliated.

    The question becomes if there is a significant statistical gap between Orthodox and others, particularly unaffiliated Jews (which is what most kiruv organizations tend to target). I think it's pretty clear that there is. The intermarriage rate among those who attended a day school or yeshiva is just 7%.

    I do find it interesting that my perception of intermarriage being a problem was similar to PT's, as we're both from the Midwest, which has a higher rate than the South or Northeast, where Shoshana has lived. Of course, odds are it shouldn't make much of a difference, but it's interesting anyway.

    As for the Holocaust reference, it's meant (I think) in regards to the loss of the Jewish aspect. Not that they're dead or that it's the "same", but that from a Jewish standpoint, we're losing millions of people. Estimates are that from 1990-2010, well over 6 million Jews will have intermarried. While some would try and argue that this doesn't mean they can't raise their kids to have a strong identity, it's hard to back that up when 3/4 of people who have just one Jewish parent go on to marry a Jew themselves.

    * My grandparents I've discussed in the past on this blog. Search for Friedenreich. My great-uncle was Irving I Stone of the Stone Chumash and Tanach. My BIL's father ran a Jewish day school down south; he also would walk my BIL and his brother to an Orthodox shul on occasion though it was miles away for Friday night prayers.

  18. Losing people because of their choice is not a Holocaust. Such language belongs to hardliners who forbid attending family intermarriages, and even writing off those who do.

    It is so easy for typical FFBs and others to advocate a hardline policy...they have such few family members whom this affects...but those of us from liberal/secular families, who have often been in the U.S. longer...we have so many family members we are told to hold in disdain for intermarrying...

    NCSY uses this "holocaust" language, and takes a correspondingly hardline, less charitable types than myself might say vicious, position against intermarriage.

    Absolutely irresponsible and over the top.

    For a change.

    They should not be in our schools, they should not be trusted with our teens, but should be restricted to websites like, where they encourage teens to not use condoms when they have sex, and where they warn that it is against halacha to shake hands with the opposite sex.

  19. Absolutely irresponsible and over the top.

    ...much like your attitude towards NCSY. Enough, DK. NCSY isn't anything close to what you make it out to be.

  20. Argh: it's hard to back that up when 3/4 of people who have just one Jewish parent go on to marry a Jew themselves

    should have a "don't" before go on.

  21. Ezzie, you can't fawn over posts that choose to such disturbingly hateful language of genocide towards unions with *others* and then act like Mr. Moderate.

    Doesn't work like that -- at least, not outside of a very small band of frummies.

    Which I guess means you can do it all you want. Just understand things change when you leave the Dror Yikra sung to Johnny B. Goode heimeshe table.

  22. Losing people because of their choice is not a Holocaust.

    --Why not?

    -also, you can wrapped up in semantics all you want (which is really all Holocaust is) but that does not change the reality.

  23. I just wanted to say, that anyone that is using the word "holocaust" to describe any issue of Jews and assimilation, is absolutly crazy. It really de-values that word. Its rather odd cause people that are using this word now, are usually the people against calling just "anyone" a hitler.

  24. Since the U.S. is clearly in many ways the "treifa medina" for so many of you -- right inline with your "Gedloylim" of three generations ago -- why don't you just go back to Poland?

    Or go to Israel.

    But you shouldn't stay here in Holocaust land.

  25. Wow, you sound like an anti-Semite at this point. "Go back to Poland" or "Go to Israel"? What's wrong with you?

    Who says the US is a "treif medina"?

    I have a feeling my families have been in the States as long as yours, DK. (4th generation.)

  26. Ezzie,

    I have one side that goes back to the 1860s. And you don't get to misappropriate words like "Holocaust" and then turn around and charge anti-semitic language. You have already compromised your position from the start.

    Since you have been here as long as your family has, you should refrain from the haredi narishkeit that influences such terms and words, and be more respectful towards this country.

    The contempt towards the freedom of this country including the byproduct of assimilation stems from a treifa medina mentality of the haredim. Absolutely.

    The "gedoylim" banned immigration to the U.S., and teh haredim continue to look at the U.S. and all her institutions and liberalisms with ambivalence and suspicion.

    This can be seen from banning the internet to bans on celebrating Thanksgiving.

    This can be seen in employing the term "Holocaust" as well.

    It reveals itself in all sorts of ways, and it is disgusting.

  27. LOL. You're not making any sense, DK. Your elitist snobbery towards charedim is disgusting; your mockery of anything relating to them is done in the same style as anti-Semitism. Throw in simply making stuff up or not knowing what you're talking about, and you've completely lost it.

    Banning immigration to the US? We host a Thanksgiving party for a large number of friends and family, and clearly, I'm online.

    You're being incredibly hypocritical - criticizing the usage of a term you find offensive, then bandying about a whole slew of them in the comments to this post and in your own post - and making a number of ridiculous assertions in the process.

    Good day, DK.

  28. "We host a Thanksgiving party for a large number of friends and family, and clearly, I'm online."

    I wasn't talking about you, Ezzie. I was talking about your haredi friends who clearly have not lost their contempt for the treifa medina over the decades.

  29. I think he's talking about me, Ezzie.

    I am one of "your haredi friends who clearly have not lost their contempt for the treifa medina over the decades" who clearly doesn't understand what a "holocaust" means.

    Obviously he gets this from his intense research into my blog.

  30. American Jewish Holocaust is a term that goes too far. I understand PT's position and appreciate his concern but Holocaust is not a term to be thrown around.

    There are plenty of good and bad stories floating through the JBlogosphere about people who have become BT and Charedim who have committed a Chillul Hashem against other Jews.

    All it does is prove that we are people.

    I am not Shomer Shabbos. I don't keep Kosher. I fell off of the derech a long time ago. Although some people would say I was never on it.

    But I have been active in the Jewish community in LA my entire life both as a layperson and a professional.

    I have more than one relative who intermarried. Many of my cousins grew up without any sort of Jewish education and later became BTs.

    Going back to my own history, I am a public school graduate. I dated who I wanted to date, but it was never a question that I would marry somebody Jewish. The same thing with my sisters.

    Could things be better? Sure, but at the same time they are no where near Holocaust. No one is being murdered. And we have seen a resurgence of Jews coming back to the fold.

    Hopefully this comment makes sense, I have a sleeping girl on my shoulder.