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Jewish Culture: Enough For Our Teens?

what will keep Jews marrying Jews?

What Will Keep Jews marrying Jews?

At a recent holiday party, I had been speaking with a Pastor of  the Calvary Full Gospel Church.  He introduced me to his wife who comes from a Greek Orthodox background.

Her choice, to be in a relationship with this person who practiced differently and lived outside her cultural community, set off a flurry of shunning behavior.

Why?

Similar to the themes in the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding“, her parents felt she was going outside the fold and giving up her Greek culture to marry this man. She would become part of his church. To them and her community, she was assimilating.

Who would continue the cultural traditions? Historical traditions would be lost. Future generations would not know their ways.

Sound familiar? Unfortunately, to many it does.

Here’s just one tiny example, from an article in the New York Times wedding section. Make your own decision about the relevance Judaism has for this couple:

“For Mitch, brought up Protestant, and his wife, Emma (nee Weise, of Jewish descent), religion is best practiced through matzo balls and pickled herring from Zabar’s.”

Here’s what the Pastor told me when he explained that his wife’s parents shouldn’t have been surprised by her choice:

“Culture will never be enough of a pull to keep someone connected to their traditions. There has to be more.”

Becoming very interested in the direction this conversation was taking, I asked:

“Can you describe ‘more’? “

As he elaborated, his words resonated with me and my work with Jewish teens.

“If you’re not reaching people deeply, through a spiritual and God connection, commitment will never be there.”

His wife joined in at that point. “Sure, I went to church, but it never really touched me. It was so mechanical. I didn’t feel a reason to be there.”

So, what are the reasons we want our teens to ‘stay Jewish’?

I think every Jewish parent and educator needs to answer this question.

Are the primary reasons cultural?

We all know that ‘bagels and lox’ Judaism doesn’t mean a poppy-seed for the long haul. Epitomizing the height of cultural fluff, has Chanukah been enough of an attraction to stave off assimilation and help young adults stay connected?

Luscious latkes and games of dreidel can easily exist within other frameworks as cultural add-ons.

I’ve read about weddings (between two non-Jewish partners) that have incorporated marriage canopies and glass-breaking ceremonies because it’s a nice touch.

Cultural-isms migrate very nicely. Deeper connections are harder to give up.

We do know this. It’s why the assimilation rate of Orthodox Jews is so much less. Community pulls. So does a belief system.

So, where are we with what we’re providing our Jewish teens? When will we decide that in order to increase their long-term connection we have to go deep?

What spiritual connections are we building that will sustain them through adulthood? What will keep Jews marrying Jews?

What is your feedback? I’ll share your comments and add my own in future posts.

Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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