People To People
Ann Arbor interfaith families say their community is especially welcoming.
Special to the Jewish News
hen Theresa McMahon
and her husband Barry
Fishman moved to Ann
Arbor in 1997, they
were delighted to find a warm and
welcoming Jewish community with a
variety of options for experiencing
McMahon, raised Catholic, feels
lucky she and her Jewish husband
live in a community where she does-
n't feel the pressure of categorical dis-
tinctions between interfaith families
and non-interfaith families. As a
writer for InterfaithFamily.com , a
Web resource for interfaith families
on Jewish life, she knows it isn't as
"I think that Ann Arbor does
afford a more welcoming communi-
ty," she said, attributing the environ-
ment both to the liberal university
atmosphere and the openness exhib-
ited by individuals around her.
"Our neighbors are from New
York City — Jews who keep a kosher
house — and yet they were com-
pletely welcoming and accepting of
us as an interfaith family," she said.
"They always invite us to dinner one
of the nights of Passover. They're
very inclusive, which made us feel
like we could go ahead and be part
of this community."
Fishman and McMahon are rais-
ing their two daughters Jewish.
Claire, 6 and Emily, 4, attend
Temple Beth Emeth's religious
school. The family takes part in the
Reform temple's services and pro-
McMahon finds support within
the community from other families
in similar situations. She often shares
holiday celebrations with families she
connected with by chance through a
book club. Its core members are
women in interfaith families raising
their children Jewish.
"We got to know each other
through our kids, and when we
looked around the table we realized
that was something we all had in
common," she said. "That core
group still meets, and the families
still get together."
While there's still more work to be
done, the Ann Arbor community at
want to be a part of it," he said.
No statistics are available for Ann
Arbor's rate of Jewish intermarriage.
The 2000-2001 National Jewish
Population Survey shows the nation-
al intermarriage rate for Jews who
have married since 1996 is 47 per-
cent, a rise of 4 percent from a
decade ago. The study counted 5.2
million Jews in the United States.
Intermarriage often leads to assim-
ilation. Only a minority of interfaith
couples — 33 percent — are raising
their children as Jews, up 2 percent
from a decade earlier, according to
Interfaith Connection to welcome
interfaith families through a variety
of programs. Reform,
Reconstructionist and Humanistic
synagogues, in general, are welcom-
ing to interfaith families.
Conservative congregations are
beginning to look into outreach pro-
grams (see accompanying story).
Like Jewish community centers
nationwide, the JCC of Washtenaw
County is trying to respond to the
needs of its interfaith community.
Noreen DeYoung, JCC Early
Childhood Center director, is work-
ing with Temple Beth Emeth Rabbi
Robert Levy to develop an outreach
"We're going to start by polling
people we know are in interfaith
families to get them to tell us what
they'd like to have happening so we
can gear it more towards exactly
what they want," she said.
DeYoung said there has been talk
of a need for this kind of program,
which would work to help families
sort out how they want to incorpo-
rate Judaism in their families and
"I think each family is unique in
how they handle it and what they .
choose to do," she said. "You have to
work with the families, wherever
their comfort level is."
Claire Fishman, Barry Fishman, Teresa McMahon and Emily Fishman
People To People
large embraces diversity and shared
experience, said Jeff Levin, Jewish
Federation of Washtenaw County
executive director. The Jewish com-
munity is no different.
"This is not a community that
tends to talk about intermarriage as
`the problem' — we focus rather on
how to create a community and a
culture so compelling, so enveloping,
that both Jews and non-Jews will
Rabbi Levy said the secret to work-
ing with intermarried couples is the
same as working with anybody else
— it's about putting statistics aside
and working with people.
"You just treat them as decent
human beings, not as objects to be
captured into the orbit of Jewish life
or statistics to be won over, or victo-
ries for the grandparents or the
grandchildren — just decent human
beings trying to put together their
More than a decade ago, "Jewish
continuity" became a national con-
cern. A great many federations,
Jewish community centers and syna-
gogues began outreach programs
then. A resurgence of such programs
can be seen today.
In Detroit, for example, the
Jewish Federation operates the