MASA, the Jewish Agency-Israeli government program that gives scholarships to Diaspora Jews who take part in extended stay programs in Israel, ruffled quite a few non-Israeli feathers last month when it ran an advertisement campaign depicting assimilating Jews as missing persons.
The campaign, which was withdrawn after outcry from the Jewish public, highlighted some stark differences in opinions between Israeli and American Jews on the topic of assimilation.
Ed Case at Interfaithfamily.com, which works to help intermarried families create Jewish identity and lives for themselves, takes issue with MASA in an Op-Ed in the JPost:
In the wake of the MASA "Lost Jews" controversy last month, reports that Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky believes that Israeli Jews need to understand Jewish life in the Diaspora better are welcome. But what do Israelis need to know about intermarriage – and who is going to tell them?
By implicitly equating assimilation and intermarriage, the MASA ad expressed a misconception that appears frequently in the English-language Israeli press. All agree that assimilation – the loss of Jewish identity and connection – is terrible. But intermarriage does not necessarily result in loss of Jewish identity.
To the contrary, intermarriage is already enlarging American Jewish communities. The 2005 Boston Jewish Community Survey found that 60 percent of interfaith families are raising their children as Jews, and concluded that "although intermarriage is generally presumed to have a negative impact on the size of the Jewish population, in Boston it appears to have increased [it]."
In addition, more than 25% of the member families in Reform synagogues are intermarried; the Reform movement has been growing in both numbers and market share.
Moreover, the influx of non-Jewish partners has the potential to qualitatively enrich Jewish life. At InterfaithFamily.com, we’ve attracted thousands of personal narratives. Many Jewish partners express a very strong commitment to Jewish life and have very supportive non-Jewish partners; one intermarried man wrote to his father about his young daughter, "Dad, you won’t believe this, but she speaks Hebrew. She goes to synagogue and observes Shabbat. She almost knows more about our people and our religion than I do, probably because she pays more attention in services than I ever did. She is a Jew, Dad. I want you to know that."
MANY PEOPLE tell us that because they are in interfaith relationships, they work harder at their Jewish involvement. One inter-dating Jewish woman described her feelings as she brought her non-Jewish boyfriend to meet her Holocaust-survivor grandparents: "I desperately wanted my grandparents to know that dating Nathan had not made me any less Jewish and had, in many ways, strengthened my personal commitment to a faith that was easy to take for granted in a Jewish home, a Jewish grade school, and a largely Jewish community."
Read the rest of the piece in the JPost here.