Jewish Federation sponsors intermarriage workshop

February 02, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

In an attempt to address concerns in the local Jewish community about the number of Jews marrying non-Jews, the Jewish Federation of Howard County is co-sponsoring a six-week workshop on intermarriage.

The workshop, which begins tonight, offers a chance for dialogue on the sensitive issue, said Beth Land Hecht, a licensed social worker with the Jewish Family Services in Baltimore.

"Our role isn't necessarily to tell them the right way to do anything," said Ms. Hecht, who will act as co-leader of the workshop, along with Rabbi Robert Saks of the Columbia Jewish Congregation.

The two will help intermarried and engaged couples find ways to communicate better, identify potential religious and ethnic differences, and give tips on child-rearing.

They also will discuss implications of intermarriage on the extended family, and concerns about weddings and funerals.

"Obviously, it's a benefit, and that's why we support it," Steve Shaw, executive director for the Jewish Federation of Howard County said of the workshop. There are about 11,000 Jews living in Howard County.

Nationally, 52 percent of American Jews marry non-Jews, mainly Roman Catholics, because of similarities in the two religions, said Ms. Hecht.

Only 28 percent of the children of interfaith couples grow up to identify with being Jewish.

The 90-minute workshops, sponsored by Jewish Family Services and the Baltimore Board of Rabbis, began six years ago when Reform congregations in Baltimore wanted to help couples who intermarry, Ms. Hecht said.

"There's a lot of concern in the Jewish community because the Jewish community is such a small community to begin with," Ms. Hecht said.

In past workshops, most questions have revolved around children, Ms. Hecht said.

"We talk about all the options: having one religious identity, no identity or having two religious identities" in the family, she said.

Beth Shalom Conservative Congregation Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen, who co-led the intermarriage workshop last year, said Orthodox, Conservative and most Reform rabbis won't perform intermarriages, because they violate Jewish laws.

He added that some in the Jewish community who vehemently disagree with intermarriage think the money on the workshop could be better spent on Jewish education.

"We are a people of only 14 million," he said. "The fear of assimilation is paramount. We have survived centuries of persecution and hatred, and what they haven't been able to do to us, love may do to us."

But Rabbi Cohen said he wouldn't turn his back on someone who came to him "looking for a spiritual home."

"The workshop is an attempt to reach out to individuals and let them know we care and let them be a part of our community," he said.

The $180-per-couple workshop begins 7:30 p.m. today at The Meeting House in Oakland Mills.

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