In 2008, the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University held a competition inviting fresh ideas for Judaism. Among the 280 submissions was my own project, on the topic of intermarriage and growing the Jewish population.
I am not a scholar or even a writer. My grandparents were Israel Bond fund raisers in the Catskills, my mother was a Hadassah president in Staten Island and Lakewood. I am a graduate of Yeshiva Haichel Hatorah High School in New York, a past president of Monmouth College Hillel, a Rutgers graduate, a UJA volunteer for 35-plus years and a U.S. patent holding inventor. My wife Joanne lost much of her family in the Holocaust.
For this project, I was endorsed by what was then the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ and Montclair Hadassah. In the event that I won the contest, my wife and I were willing to make the sacrifice for me to relocate from New Jersey to Brandeis.
Many people do not want to discuss intermarriage because, at nearly 60 percent, it has already touched their lives and they understandably don’t want to seem disloyal to family members. But having a Jewish population with a strong sense of identity is crucial to maintaining our influence, affluence, the ability to shape and defend our destiny, and that of the Jewish State of Israel. We are a tiny American and global minority.Each intermarriage is a potentially deep loss to our population’s critical mass and survival.
Whether they are followed in varying degrees or not, the 613 Torah principles and scruples are the core of Judaism and what has bound us together through history. My project would have been to discover and recommend practical measures that would achieve significant improvements in Jewish family building — how to instill Jewish family values and bring marriage-minded Jews together. I outlined some initial thoughts, but the real ideas would have come from the two-year project’s interviews and research.
The core problem is, after college age, it becomes like a desert out there for finding a Jewish spouse. During the long, lonely years until marriageable Jews may find each other, there is little Jewish community assistance to facilitate this process. The Internet is a new spouse-finding tool, but since its inception, intermarriage has increased. Judaism needs a positive marketing direction.
A few months after submission, I received a thank-you letter and project rejection. The winner used the time to write a book on “personal narrative and collective memory.” I would be joyous if someone else had submitted a more articulate and cogent plan to preserve the Jewish people than mine. Preserving Jewry ought to be pretty close to a top priority and the winning project. If the high intermarriage rate isn’t effectively addressed, Jewry will evaporate and all the other issues will likewise go away.
Charles Hillel Rosendorf