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MASA Video Freaks out the Jews!

The video is pretty straightforward. Produced by MASA, an organization that brings diaspora Jewish youth to Israel and heavily subsidizes their participation in various long term programs, the video notes that 50% of Jewish diaspora youth are going to “assimilate” and will thus be lost to the Jewish world. It urges Israelis to contact any young Jews they know overseas and urge them to participate in a long term program in Israel with Masa so as to stem such assimilation.

Many have taken umbrage with the message of course. Esther notes that “If people are treated as if they’re lost to Judaism, they will be lost to Judaism.” Ed Case over at Interfaithfamily.com calls this “the most stupid, ill-conceived effort coming out of Israel in many years…” adding that “Israeli leaders simply do not understand that many intermarried couples, and the adult children of intermarried parents, are actively engaging in Jewish life.” Rabbi Laura Baum, founder of ourjewishcommunity.org, an online Jewish community, commented that “The reality is that intermarriage exists and can even enhance the Jewish community. Trying to prevent intermarriage is foolish. An ad campaign like Masa’s will only push people away from Judaism. Israel, like much of the organized Jewish community throughout the world, needs to embrace the present realities and figure out how to engage blended families.” Kung Fu Jew over at Jewschool stated “I am not lost. Fuck you very much, Masa, excuse my manners. The scary voices of Jewish continuity say that 50% of young Jews have only one Jewish parent. Which is great. It means my generation is twice as international, twice as multicultural, twice as diverse, and twice as blessed with mutt-like intelligence and fearlessness of boundary-straddling.”

Sigh. Never mind that the video never said anything at all about intermarriage, it’s telling that even the video’s critics see intermarriage as synonymous with assimilation. And why not? Here are some inconvenient truths. Most children of intermarriage have been found to not identify themselves as Jews: “38 percent of the teens identified as Jews if just their mother was Jewish, and only 15 percent if their father was Jewish.” Couple that with a large rate of intermarriage found amongst non-Orthodox diaspora Jews and it’s clear something is going on that is kind of scary. SimpleToRemember.com took the numbers and crunched them and found that if you start with 100 Conservative Jews today, after 4 generations you will be left with 29. 100 Reform Jews will shrink to just 10 and Unaffiliated Jews will be reduced to 7. these aren’t even necessarily halachic Jews. Just people who identify themselves as Jews.

Of course it is entirely possible that that those Jews that remain will be all wonderful and cosmopolitan and everything, like Kung Fu Jew, but there just won’t be that many of them. And of course as a community we ought not shun the children of intermarriage! there’s a lot we can do to reverse these numbers by being as welcoming and as inclusive as possible. But you still can’t deny the pernicious influence of diaspora assimilation on Jewish life.

Masa realized this when they launched this campaign. And as Dan Brown alluded to in his blog, the purpose of the campaign wasn’t really to actually get Israelis to call their coreligionists in Babylon and urge them to be better Jews. Most Israelis are puzzled by diaspora Jewish issues. The point was to spend $800,000 in the hopes of getting several times more that amount from the Israeli government so as to expand the program.

Me? I kind of agree with Dan. There was no real expectation that Israelis would beg Jews overseas to save their Jewish souls by coming to Israel. However, Israelis always know who is on MASA because of the neat-o backpacks and t-shirts Masa participants always wear. What the video is essentially telling Israelis to do is to uh… get with Masa participants as often as possible. For the sake of the future of the Jewish people of course. It’s one big national booty call to duty. Don’t let them fuck each other and go back to America like they usually do. Get with them and entangle them in an Israeli affair that will uh… last a lifetime.

Fucking genius.

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14 Comments

  1. Kung Fu Jew 18

    9/4/2009 at 12:09 pm

    CK, thanks for the linky, and just a point of clarification: the Masa staffer cited a 50% assimilation rate. While he never cited the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute directly, their statistic of 50% intermarriage is the only such number bandied about on this issue, and certainly the most well-known to Israeli Jews.

    Also, I really, really take issue with this quote of yours:

    But you still can’t deny the pernicious influence of diaspora assimilation on Jewish life.

    You cannot, cannot expect Jews who you consider lesser to you to be kind to you or your views if you categorize them negatively. To borrow a comment I made on Jewschool:

    Assimilation is not a scourge. Identity is not fixed, it ebbs and flows. On 9/11 we felt vulnerably American. Then when we went to war in Iraq, many of us wanted to disown our country. It is not constant. Assimilation, as defined by those who “aren’t” assimilated, will peak and trough throughout life.

    It is wrong to suggest that when someone assimilates, they are no longer part of the Jewish family. They still have parents, siblings, grandparents and cousins. They have friends and work colleagues, many of whom are both more and less Jewish than they. Their Jewishness will surface at odd times, even if it is in passing, just once, or temporarily. I am descendent of Spanish Conquistadors, and while I’m not Catholic or Spanish or much of a Californian anymore, those historical roots inform swaths of my life. How less for those who know they have a Jewish forebearer?

    “Jewishness” is not leaving the world, it is becoming less concentrated, less hoarded. It is infusing other families and informing new people’s lives in small ways. The sheer influence of Jewish principles, values, humor, language, attitudes, food and faith is widening.

    I believe Judaism and Jewish culture has great contributions to keep making. And its broadening reach is breathtaking to behold. No matter where I go, I am more likely to encounter something familiar and share the most serendipitous connections with new people. It’s a globalized world, people. Your connections and commonalities with others are your strength. Intermarriage strengthens the Jewish people.

  2. J. D. Edelman

    9/4/2009 at 1:21 pm

    I have been carrying around this odd notion that whether or not Jews (of any ilk) will be “lost” depends a great deal on their fluency in Torah, talmud and related teachings. After all, there’s just so much identity that one can get from bagels and lox.

    So here’s a question: when you read the Torah or the Talmud in its original language, do you know what you’re reading?

    I don’t. Those of use who don’t, need to change that. Otherwise, in a few generations (at the most), we’ll be “lost.”

    Ahhh, look at the time….of to mincha….

  3. Jorge

    9/4/2009 at 3:30 pm

    My experience is this:

    I’ve friends from intermarriage parents. Their first problem is to feel Jew, their Jewish parent side didn’t teach them Jewishness or sometimes they aren’t recognized by he some persons of the Jewish community.

    Then, When they go thru this and start to feel like a Jew, they start practicing some traditions and cultures. the Jewish souls is always looking, hoping find the right path.

  4. Ephraim

    9/4/2009 at 4:37 pm

    Sorry, KFJ, intermarriage definitely weakens the Jewish people. The intermarriage and assimilation rate in America is, on the whole, a disaster. You seem to think that active assimilation will strengthen the Jewish people by making everybody a teensy-weensy bit Jewish. I doubt this very seriously, but even if we accept your position for the sake of argument, it also has the effect of making the Jews more and more goyish. A few drops of milk in coffee is not too noticeable at first. But if you keep adding milk, eventually you won’t be able to tell the coffee is there. At some point it’s bittuled, or halachically no longer considered to be there at all.

    My family is a perfect example. My mother is Jewish and my father is not. I have three siblings and four first cousins from my mother’s sister, who also married a non-Jew. Out of those eight children, only one of my sisters and I have any connection whatsoever to organized Jewish life. I’m Orthodox and my sister is sort-of observant and goes to a Reconstructionist “shul”. Her son had a bar mitzvah but is otherwise completely unobservant, probably taking after his father who stopped keeping mitzvot and now “observes” Shabbat by playing baseball and giving platelets dafka on Shabbat since he says it’s pikuach nefesh and therefore OK. Not sound halachic reasoning, but whatever.

    None of my other cousins married Jews and none of their children, the few that there are, identify as Jews. Some are not even circumcised.

    I’m sorry, but these people are lost to the Jewish community and people. There is no other way to understand this. Telling a Jewish joke or supporting what one believes to be the proper political cause because it is supposedly in line with Jewish “values” just doesn’t cut it.

    However, it is not just intermarriage that has this corrosive effect. Illustrating J.D. Edelman’s point, I have 5 2nd cousins both of whose parents were strong “cultural Jews”. However, they were anti-religious, and as a result, their children are as well. They had no Jewish grandchildren, not a single one. All their children married out, and two even converted to Christianity. One eventually got a divorce and is now seeing a Jewish woman, but they are too old to have children. The Jewish line in that family is completely extinguished.

    That being said, I know a lot of “intermarried” families in our shul, but they’re not really “intermarried” since the non-Jewish partner converted, as in my case, for example. The result? I have three kids, all shomer mitzvot, my two oldest sons married Jewish women, one of my sons is an ordained Orthodox rabbi, and I have three Jewish grandchildren with certainly more to come. I don’;t know what rad the youngest will take, but I’m hopeful.

    So, what can we learn from this?

    1. Intermarriage and assimilation lead to fewer Jews and the ones who are left are less observant, making increased assimilation and intermarriage more likely. This means even fewer Jews (unless you cheat like the Reform and just wave your hand and say everybody’s Jewish). If you really care about the Jewish people, there is no way you can put a positive spin on this. Any attempt to do so is just whistling past the graveyard.

    2. Lack of Torah and mitzvot leads to assimilation and intermarriage even if the parents and children start out all Jewish.

    3. Very occasionally, like in my case, the pintele Yid wakes up in time and you can save your family and children for the Jewish people. But it’s not a good idea at all to count on something like this.

    So, yeah, assimilation, intermarriage, and the loss of Torah are bad. The best way to keep the Jewish people strong is to teach people to stay true to Torah and to marry other Jews, converts or otherwise, who live a Torah life.

    And what Jorge said. That’s pretty much what happened with me and a lot of other mixed-background people I know. But it makes it very hard. better not to start out with two strikes against you.

  5. J.Miller

    9/5/2009 at 10:20 am

    I dont know if this applys here but it is a good thought.

  6. Yael

    9/5/2009 at 5:39 pm

    Well…I was born into an Irish Catholic family. I married a non-practicing, non-denominational Christian. We had two boys and then adopted a girl from China. I converted to Reform Judaism…and contrary to what Ephraim wrote, they did not just “waive their hand” and I was Jewish. I studied hard and I worked even harder. My children converted of their own free will (except the girl she was 3.5 so she didn’t get a choice.) I am president of my local shul, in a very Evangelical part of the country.

    Of the 43 families we have all but 2 are intermarried. The 2 who are both Jews are in their 70s. Of the remaining families, some are converts for marriage (which I don’t agree with) and some are not. Of the active Jews, those who live Jewishly…ALL are converts save 2. And those two are in their 60s.

    It’s the “born Jews” who sit around at the table slurping down raw oysters. I keep kosher. I am active at Temple. I teach Sunday Shul. I hope my children marry Jewish but I hope they live Jewishly. There are a lot of Jews who do not.

    Intermarriage isn’t the issue…it’s secular assimilation and a lack of duty to purpose. That is a FAMILY problem. If you born Jews don’t live Jewishly and don’t make it important but not stifling for your kids then you will see them fall away.

    And in the event you didn’t know this…there is an entire generation of Chinese children, mostly girls, who are growing up Jewish. At least some of them will be looking to marry Jewish men. Their Asian heritage isn’t a detraction to the Jew…it adds. You know hybrid-vigor and all that.

    But anyway, we, the converts are not the enemy and we are not less Jewish than you. We are in many cases the lifeblood of the Jewish people at least in America. And I don’t appreciate the idea that somehow I’m a stain or mistake.

  7. ck

    9/5/2009 at 7:48 pm

    Yael! No one said you were a stain or an enemy. I appreciate your hard work and good intentions in your Reform Jewish conversion. I quoted Ed Case who said “Israeli leaders simply do not understand that many intermarried couples, and the adult children of intermarried parents, are actively engaging in Jewish life.” And indeed, he is probably right. Many intermarried couples and their children are indeed actively engaging in Jewish life. People like Kung Fu Jew for instance, who I also quoted. But in Reform Judaism, one is not obligated to keep kosher. The “born Jews” who sit around at the table slurping down raw oysters are not at all violating the norms of Reform Judaism.

    You said “Intermarriage isn’t the issue…it’s secular assimilation and a lack of duty to purpose. That is a FAMILY problem. If you born Jews don’t live Jewishly and don’t make it important but not stifling for your kids then you will see them fall away.” And yet… they do fall away. Please look at the numbers cited at SimpleToRemember. How do you as a committed Jew, deal with that denominational reality?

    Like I said, you are not a stain or a mistake. A mixed marriage that produces children merely identifying as Jews is an exception. Such Jews, wonderful as I am sure they all are, are in the minority. And despite the existence of these otherwise committed Jews, as a society, advocating mixed marriage is not a good idea if what we want to do is thrive and survive.

    Again, this ought not be seen as a reason to shun or marginalize anyone. Once an individual Jew makes the decision to marry outside the faith, we as a community have every interest in being as welcoming as possible so as not to drive them further away.

    Finally, I don’t think this video said anything negative about converts! Am I missing something here?

  8. Ephraim

    9/5/2009 at 11:16 pm

    Yael, I’m a bit confused.

    I have nothing against converts, as I think my post made clear. My wife is one, and so are my children. I’m Orthodox, that’s all, so for me, non-Orthodox conversions are a problem. It is foolish to deny this. I’m sorry if that offends you.

    Just so you know, my wife is Japanese. While they were looking for wives, both my older sons had occasion to meet and date a number of Asian (Orthodox) converts. As it turned out, they didn’t go that way but it certainly wouldn’t have been a problem if they did.

    Yes, I know plenty of born Jews who aren’t worth the fingernail of a ger tzedek. Did I not say in my post that it was the loss of Torah that leads to “born Jews slurping down oysters”?

    I am all for “hybrid vigor” and race-mixing, since I am the product of such mixing myself. And I would certainly prefer that my as yet unmarried youngest son, when he is faced with a choice between marrying a born Jew who is not shomer mitzvot and a convert who is, will choose the convert, so long as the conversion was Orthodox.

  9. mike darnell

    9/6/2009 at 6:44 am

    If I were the poor shmo who forked out the 800,000 greenbacks for this campaign I’d be looking to hire a couple of goons with proven skills in the kneecapping business in order to see whether a little physical persuasion might get me some of money back…

    Unrelated:
    Here’s a cause you know you can trust – http://www.renderedred.net/feed_mike

    cheers,
    Mike

  10. Dan

    9/7/2009 at 8:13 am

    Then again, maybe not.

  11. Pingback: Neal Ungerleider - Falafel Mafia – Israeli government-funded advertisement: Diaspora Jews are ‘lost’ - True/Slant

  12. chaya

    12/23/2009 at 1:17 am

    Yes, Masa Israel did spend a lot of money on the campaign (thought not as much as originally reported), but that is what a large scale ad campaign costs. Would be curious to know how much the Jewish Federations of North America spent on their Jewish Community Heroes campaign (not to mention how much was spent on rebranding the organization from UJC). I hear Blue State Digital costs a pretty penny.

  13. JOO -ish

    3/29/2010 at 4:59 am

    They forgot Moses, Solomon, Boaz (David’s grandfather) and many others who could’ve been classified as ‘lost’.

    Unlike what is written, more than 30% of patrilineal Jews (aka non halakhic for rabbinics) identify towards Yahadut (like myself).

    This video is a waste of money, insulting, irrelevant and a good indicator on the way Israel’s been fucked up by rabbinical Talmmudic filters for their ‘traditionnal’ halakhah…

    The result?
    I contacted Masa for my Aliyah about a month ago…And I’m thinking about organizing my Aliyah with another organization (O’ Vey! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: One less mischlinge for Masa!).

    Fuck you very much masa3.

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