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Letters week of Dec. 14, 2006
The Correct Approach? Accept Jews as They Are!
Every landmark Jewish demographic study seems to reignite an inreach-outreach debate, and the recent Boston study is no exception. Showing that 60 percent of intermarried households are raising Jewish children, the study has caused a predictable backlash, questioning policy rather than facts, with several articles in the Jewish Exponent, including Jonathan Tobin's Nov. 30 column.
Advocates are only saying that if we want to secure the Jewish future of the largest and fasting-growing segment of the Jewish community -- the intermarried and their children -- then we should open doors and our hearts to mixed-faith families.
We may all agree about this, though we disagree with the approaches. Boston's federation is engaging its intermarried population using less than 1.5 percent of its total budget.
That hardly "values outreach over day schools and camps," as Tobin wrote.
To suggest that our call for inclusion of intermarried households "denigrates those who encourage in-marriage" is a bizarre claim of reverse discrimination. In fact, it is the historic denigration of intermarried households that have pushed so many Jews away from our community, which our outreach work must now try to counteract.
That's because the encouragement of in-marriage has rarely been handled with sensitivity and understanding by the organized Jewish community.
We believe the community should model Jewish life by accepting and serving Jews as they are -- and not try to tell people who they should marry.
Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky
Jewish Outreach Institute
Once-a-Week Schools: Not Enough to Instill Religion
Jonathan Tobin indicates that many people involved in the question of "Jewish continuity" were surprised and impressed that nearly 60 percent of children raised in interfaith families in the Boston area are being raised as Jews (A Matter of Opinion: "What Price Outreach Funding?" Nov. 30).
As he points out, the Boston study is far from conclusive, since it seems to be based to a large extent on the rise of attendance at once-a-week Hebrew schools. You could argue that to really determine the outcome, we should wait and interview these youngsters in five, 10 or 15 years.
With all due respect, this is not a significant "marker." It does not foretell future involvement by these kids as Jews in the Jewish community.
I made aliyah in 1983 from Montreal in order to feel at home in a Jewish state where we Jews are the majority. But I am the exception that proves the rule. Most of my classmates are generally not involved in Jewish life.
Given this fact, how can we assume that attendance at a once-a-week Hebrew school will really have any bearing on their involvement as Jews in their own lives -- and in the community?
Outreach Spending Still Only a Fraction of Outlays
As the "outreach activist" responsible for linking Boston's 60 percent rate of interfaith families raising their children as Jews to the fact that Boston allocates a little more than 1 percent of its total annual spending to outreach to the intermarried, more than any other community, I appreciated Jonathan Tobin's suggestion that the rest of the Jewish world would do well to study where success can be emulated (A Matter of Opinion: "What Price Outreach Funding?" Nov. 30).
It's important to note, however, that no one in the "outreach lobby" is against communal spending on day schools, Jewish summer camps or trips to Israel, and there is hardly a danger that spending on outreach to the intermarried, currently attracting less than one-tenth of 1 percent of communal funding in the United States, will overtake those worthy efforts.
Even more important, Tobin's claim that there is an "inherent contradiction" between welcoming the intermarried and encouraging in-marriage is a false one.
Young adults can be encouraged to in-marry because it will maximize their chances of having Jewish families, and make it easier to do so.
What's insulting to the intermarried is when young adults are encouraged to in-marry because intermarriage is deemed "bad" or "wrong."
President and publisher
Eruv: It's Constitutional, and a Source of Pride
As a practicing attorney and a longtime member of the Lower Merion Synagogue, I'm afraid your readers may be misled by a letter to the editor by Burton Caine (Letters: "Inherent Problem Rests on Legality of Eruv," Nov. 30).
Caine incorrectly asserted that an eruv transgresses the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Contrary to his statement, there is nothing unconstitutional about an eruv.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Tenafly Eruv Association v. Borough of Tenafly, 309 F. 3d 144 (3d Cir. 2002) has clearly opined that an eruv, a functional boundary demarcation, is not a religious symbol or expression.
Moreover, the Lower Merion eruv was placed, and is maintained, through private monies, so there is no impermissible governmental endorsement and financing of any religious activity.
While an eruv benefits the observant Jewish community, it does not impose any religion or religious practice on any other resident and, thus, courts have not considered nor will they consider an eruv to violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.
One of the most precious rights granted by our Constitution is the free exercise of religion. Indeed, an eruv, which allows Orthodox individuals -- particularly the young and the old, who cannot walk -- to attend a synagogue on Shabbat is something of value that should be protected by all Jews, regardless of affiliation.
Finally, and significantly, thanks to Jonathan Tobin for his efforts to bring achdus -- or "unity" -- to the Jewish community with his column that provoked Caine's response.