Editorials are posted and archived on JN Online:
ews are marrying non-Jews at a steady clip,
and the men's clubs of the Conservative
movement aren't standing pat. They're reach-
ing out to intermarried families in the hope
that synagogues will be welcoming and children will
be raised Jewish.
Time is of the essence. The latest National Jewish
Population Survey commissioned by United Jewish
Communities, the umbrella for Jewish federations in
North America, found that the rate of intermarriage
has climbed steadily since 1970, though at a slower
pace since 1990. The intermarriage rate for Jews who
have married since 1996 is 47 percent, almost triple
of what it was in the 1960s.
Spurred by this sobering trend, the
Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs, affiliated
with the Conservative movement, has pub-
lished the workbook Let's Talk About It: A
FoRMS6 PEOPLE •
CALL E D CONIC
intermarried couples or risk losing them
to the Reform movement or another
liberal stream of Judaism — if not to
the faith of the non-Jewish spouse.
The Federation of Jewish Men's
Clubs' ultimate hope is that the non-
Jewish spouse converts to Judaism. But
that isn't the norm.
So the challenge is integrating non-
Jewish congregants without violating
Jewish law or turning off not only
them, but also their Jewish spouse and
their children. Notably, kids from
mixed marriages are growing
in number and have the
potential to be future Jewish
Deciding what to do when
THE JeW5 OF
a major Jewish life-cycle event or a holi-
day or a new birth arrives can be espe-
cially difficult for interfaith families.
The workbook is lay driven and
focused so rabbis aren't solely on the
hot seat when interfaith issues arise. It
spans philosophical to domestic to the-
ological issues. It delves into the sticky
matter of how to raise children Jewish
in an interfaith family.
Still needed is a protocol for how syn-
agogues should respond when a non-
Jewish husband wants to join the men's
will help reverse the growing alienation of mixed
club or become a synagogue officer. This situation is
bound to come up.
These families, in whatever stream of Judaism they
The highest hurdle is the reality that two-thirds of
are, need our comfort and support. It's wrong to
children born to intermarried couples are not raised
shun them. ❑
Jewish. The FJMC workbook won't solve that, but it
Book of Support and Guidance for Families
Experiencing Intermarriage and for Synagogue
Leadership. The editor, FJMC Executive Director
Charles Simon, is a Conservative rabbi dialed in to
the issues confronting intermarried families.
The 96-page book reaches out through essays by
rabbis and lay leaders. It includes field-tested program
materials that open the door to inter-congregational
discussion. It offers ways to engage mixed families in
synagogue life and Jewish holidays.
It used to be that non Jews had little acceptance
and opportunity in Conservative shuls. Synagogue
members whose children intermarried were often
ignored or rejected. Now, many congregations are
developing programs and attitudes to make families
less self-conscious in synagogue. Intermarriage no
longer can be ignored in our inclusive, open society.
The Conservative movement must connect with
"P OGRE SS
From Baghdad? To Damascus?
f you need to understand how far the Arab
countries are away from the hope of the democ-
racy they would need to succeed in the 21st
century, a recent interview that the New York
Times conducted with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
makes useful reading.
Here is a 38-year-old Western-trained, English-
speaking professional, who sees no problem in throw-
ing dissidents in jail while claiming to protect freedom
of speech, who thinks it is perfectly normal to have his
relatives plunder national industries, who says it is up
to someone else — the United States, in this
instance — to accomplish a peace agreement
between his country and Israel. And he is
among the best of the lot.
President George W. Bush now justifies
the invasion and occupation of Iraq as an opportunity
to establish a democratic government that will be a
model for spreading those values of a government by
and for the people to other Arab states. The interview
with Assad available on the Times' Web site,
www.nytimes.com underlines how unlikely it is that
that vision can prevail.
It isn't just the deceptive speech, the evasions that
Assad uses when he says, for example, that Syria does-
n't directly support the Hezbollah terrorist organization
or that he doesn't know about Iraq's using Syria as a
base for negotiating with North Korea for longer-range
Rather it is his faulty understanding of how impor-
tant it is to create democratic institutions now —
before the rising tide of Islamic militancy sweeps away
the secular leaders and buries the Arab world deeper in
the muck of anachronistic theocracy. For every ques-
tion about why none of the changes he said he sup-
ported three years ago, when he succeeded
his father Hafez al-Assad, have come to pass,
he says "patience," change must be slow and
undramatic to be accepted.
He doesn't even get the fact that his only qualifica-
tion to lead Syria is that his father dictated the succes-
sion. He bemoans the absence of an administrative
"cadre" who can effect the modernization of institu-
tions with no sense that, lacking the consent of the
governed, he has neither political power nor moral
authority to summon change for the country.
It would be relatively simple for Assad to take the
lead in reopening a discussion with Israel that would
resolve the ownership of the Golan Heights. That par-
cel of land was of enormous strategic significance in
the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars, but its military
value to Israel has faded somewhat. A deal is more
than possible. But Assad says it is up to the United
States, not to him, to seize the initiative. That is the
standard, self-defeating posture of the Arab states,
immobilized by self-doubt even when they acknowl-
edge, as Assad does, that Israel is not going to go away.
The fates have given Assad a moment in which to
become a true leader, someone who can help his coun-
try emerge from backwardness toward the rest of the
non-Arab, non-Muslim world that would embrace it
with joy. He could leave Saudi Arabia and Egypt in the
dust and seize a future with both hands. Instead, he
says that America's attempt to build democracy in Iraq
is a futile exercise, and he retreats into sullen, self-
Perhaps he is right. If the rest of the Arab world is like
Assad, Bush will do better just to press for a stable, self-
governing Iraq rather than a democratized Mideast.