Welcoming the Intermarried

Outreach: Breaking Barriers to Save Reform Judaism

Welcoming the Intermarried​​​​​​​

קבלת אלו שנישאו בנישואי תערובת

The Reform Movement immediately responded to Rabbi Schindler’s outreach proposal by unanimously resolving on December 2, 1978 to enhance formal and informal Jewish educational opportunities, develop programs to welcome and include converts to Judaism, develop an outreach program to seek out interfaith couples, and plan programming for “any and all who wish to examine or embrace [Judaism].” (Outreach Resolution) The UAHC Board also created a joint task force with the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) to study how to implement outreach efforts. In 1979, the UAHC called upon Reform synagogues to begin incorporating these principles into their programming. The task force continued working to elaborate upon an outreach program and develop programs and materials to further outreach efforts.

                    Reform Jews are more likley to intermarry than other movements.

Reform Rabbi Declares Fathers, Too, Should Transmit Jewishness, 1979,
​​​​​​​The New York Times

Intermarried partners and their children were the initial focus of outreach efforts. It was declared in 1983 that “the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This presumption [...] is to be established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people.” (The Status) Straying from strict maternal lineage introduced ambiguity with respect to non-observant children of Jewish mothers. Therefore, in 1986 a CCAR task force recommended that the determination instead be based on a conscious choice to be Jewish.

“It is high time that we say [to children of intermarriage]: By God, you are Jews. You are the sons and daughters of a Jewish parent. With the consent of both your parents, you were reared as Jews. You have resolved to share our fate. You are, therefore, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone. You are in all truth what you consider yourself to be: Jews as worthy as any who were born Jewish!” ~ Rabbi Alexander Schindler, 1986, Clal Confrence on Jewish Unity

        Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, 2015, Crowns of Torah: Re-Forming Judaism (Rosh HaShanah 5776)

[Outreach is Reform Judaism’s] “collective effort to convert a crisis into an opportunity, to turn the threat of a serious drain on our numeric strength into a vital source for our enlargement."
~ Rabbi Alexander Schindler, 1995, Address to the ULPS of Great Britian

Publication unknown, 2000, Schindler Family Archives

Today, synagogues, Jewish community centers, and Jewish organizations all have extensive outreach programs to encourage non-Jewish partners and their interfaith families to embrace Judaism and the Jewish community. For example, the UAHC launched programs for expectant and new parents to encourage them to raise their children Jewish (and part of the Jewish community), there are introduction to Judaism courses, support groups and affinity networks for interfaith families and the converted, and synagogues and local organizations regularly host recreational programs for this community.

Conversion remains the preferred outcome, but the focus is ensuring that intermarried families feel welcome. Although the rate of conversion has fallen behind the rate of intermarriage, a 2013 study found that more Jews in America identified as Reform than any other Jewish movement (Pew).

“[Outreach] is about the survival of Jewish family and, by extension the Jewish community.”
​​​​​​​~ Egon Mayer, 1995, The Outreach Movement: Making Judaism an Inclusive Religion

Jewish Denominational Identity, 2013, Pew Research Center

Top left: Chelesa Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, 2010, J Weekly; Top right: Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher, 2018, People Magazine; Bottom left: Ivanka Trump and family, 2017, Fast Foreward; Bottom Right: Mark Zuckerberg and family, 2017, The Times of Israel

Wedding of Jon Schindler and Clara Frieder, Date unknown, Schindler Famoly Archives
Clara converted to Judaism before marrying Jon Schindler, Rabbi Alexander Schindler's son.