Intermarriage Makes a Better Jew and Jewish Professional

My name is Rachel Jurisz-Singh. Some of you know me by the name I use professionally – Jurisz – which is actually my maiden name. Yes, I am intermarried and my family is interracial too.

Growing up I never thought I would choose to marry outside of my faith. I was always involved in my synagogue and youth group. I went to Jewish summer camp and attended Hebrew school through my senior year of high school. I even chose my career path in the Jewish field, working at four major Jewish organizations in the last 14 years.

122012_Interfaith_RachelJurisz_ChuppahAs you know, “life happens,” and I met my non-Jewish besheret (soul mate) and wonderful life partner, Bruce. We became friends, fell in love, and got married. I often joke that Bruce is a “Jew by osmosis” since he’s learned so much about Judaism from me over the past 10 years we’ve been together.

I believe by marrying Bruce in many ways I’ve become a better Jew and Jewish professional. I have made Judaism a big priority for my family and have not taken it for granted in any way. It’s heightened my awareness and sensitivity as I interact with other intermarried individuals both professionally and personally. Finally, it’s opened up my eyes to the fact that intermarriage is a reality and is becoming more common each day.

Just last week I sat around a table at my synagogue (Temple Beth Shalom in Mahopac, NY) with a group of rising leaders. Suddenly we noticed that everyone sitting at the table had either become a Jew by choice or had a non-Jewish spouse. What does that say about the reality of our Jewish community and our future?

I’m very fortunate that I grew up with a solid Jewish foundation. I have found a place in the community which welcomes and accepts me and my family. I belong to a wonderful congregation which has many young families like mine and a rabbi who sees the value in welcoming and engaging individuals from all backgrounds. I am also very lucky to work at a place like WRJ/URJ, which has a rich history of outreach and inclusivity.

However, I realize that not all intermarried individuals are as lucky as me. Many don’t feel comfortable going to Jewish events or they have had comments made to them by other Jews that were less than appropriate. I believe that many of these individuals are hungry for Judaism and want to find their place within the Jewish community. It is our job, as progressive Jews, to provide safe, engaging, Judaism-rich outlets for them.

We need to continue to “widen the tent” and accept people wherever they are at regardless of the life decisions they make. If they express an interest in Judaism, terrific! Let’s go out and engage them! I don’t think this will dilute or threaten Judaism in any way. Rather, it will only enrich and grow our Jewish community.

What have we got to lose NOT by doing this? In my opinion…everything!

Finally, on a personal note, I would like to give a huge thank you to several individuals who have enriched and supported my interfaith family and has made us truly feel at home within the Jewish community.

  • Rabbi Joshua Goldstein of Temple Sha’arey Shalom in Springfield, NJ (who officiated at our Jewish wedding)
  • Rabbi Robin Nafshi (who taught a wonderful URJ Intro to Judaism class which Bruce and I took together)
  • Rabbi Eytan Hammerman of Temple Beth Shalom in Mahopac, NY (who warmly welcomed our family into his synagogue)
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Rachel Jurisz

About Rachel Jurisz

Rachel Jurisz is the Manager of WRJ's Department of Service to Sisterhoods and Districts.

14 Responses to “Intermarriage Makes a Better Jew and Jewish Professional”

  1. Shalom–I agree with the comments above of Steven Weiss. While many inter-married couples perhaps believe they are the exceptions in preserving Jewish life/Faith in the long term; my question would be what are the statistics for future generational preservation of the Jewish Faith. I don’t think it is very high.

    Yechiel B.

  2. Rachel,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I , too married a non Jew – A Southern Baptist at that. No one could believe that this very observant Jewish young woman raised in a conservative synagogue would marry out of her faith. We have brought two magnificent children into this world. A 15 year old son (2011 Bar Mitzvah) and a 12 1/2 year old daughter who will be called to the Torah this October. My brothers married Jewish women – none of them are carrying on the Jewish traditions. When my father walked me down the aisle to our “rented Rabbi” he said it would never work. Well in September of this year we celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. Even my Dad had to say how proud he is of us and this beautiful Jewish family we have created. It can be done. It just takes work, understanding and tolerance on everyone’s parts.

  3. Jodie Ofsowitz Billings Reply May 2, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    I’m in my 70s and when I was young and married a non-Jew I was no longer made to feel welcome although I had been very active in my Temple prior to that. It was the era of not being inclusive. As a result, it took me 30 years to return to Judaism. So, the lack of understanding by the leaders of Reform Judaism resulted in the loss of my dedication and leadership in the temple community. We can’t help who we fall in love with and even though one could argue that we keep to our own when dating, etc., it simply isn’t realistic. I had a lot to contribute over those 30 years that Judaism failed to enjoy! And, that I missed, too. My current congregation is over half inter-faith families/couples. And, we do everything we can to welcome them. Their children are certainly our children. Their spouses/partners are part of our family. My observation is the same as your experience. Those families work hard at doing Judaism and contributing. Thanks, Rachel.

  4. While Rachel seems like a lovely person and her husband accepting of Judaism, most interfaith families get diluted over a generation or 2 and Judaism seems to be getting lost. It seems clear that the Jewish numbers are diminishing in all categories except the traditionally observant.
    So while this is a feel good story, it does not seem to represent reality of the continuance of Judaism.
    Respectfully wondering what your opinion is.

  5. Thank you, Rachel, for saying aloud what many of us know intuitively – but many others are only beginning to realize.

    I am particularly glad to have you (and Bruce and Jakob) as members of this *Conservative* synagogue, a congregation that is a trendsetter in a Movement that was once not welcoming enough to “non-traditional” Jewish families.

    I’m delighted that we’re in this together. As we’ll say tomorrow morning at Shabbat services, “Hazak hazak v’nitchazek” – Be strong, be strong – and let us continue to strengthen one another.

  6. Rabbi Marla J. Feldman

    Well said Rachel! You inspire all of us with your dedication and commitment to serving the community. WRJ is blessed to have you on the team. May 2013 bring health, happiness and joy to you and your family. And for the larger WRJ family – it will be a year to remember!

  7. Jo Stamler Thompson Reply December 23, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    Beautifully said Rachel. And we at WRJ are lucky to have you!

  8. Rosanne M. Selfon

    Dear Rachel,Tthank you for this beautifully written, sensitive blog about your inter-faith family. I hope that everyone you meet hears your story and understands how important widening our tent truly is. Shabbat Shalom. Rosanne

  9. Sara Charney

    Rachel and Bruce–may you continue to have a beautiful and blessed life together with both of your extended families combined!

  10. Great article, Rachel. As another Jewess who married outside the faith, I wholeheartedly agree. The more we make both the Jewish partner and the non-Jewish partner feel welcome, the better for our movement.

  11. Beautiful, Rachel – very well said!!!

  12. Thank you Rachel for sharing your story,

  13. Kareen S. Hartwig

    I totally agree – the Jewish community will be strengthened by being welcoming and inclusive. Thanks for sharing your story.

  14. fredi Bleeker Franks
    fredi Bleeker Franks Reply December 21, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Yasher Koach, Rachel! What a lovely piece to begin Shabbat with.

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