An eternal flame: What’s our responsibility?

Hanukkah 2002: At 33, I’m still sitting at the kids’ table.

I’m the second oldest “kid” – the youngest is 26. Diapers, rattles and strollers haven’t been part of our family celebrations for several years now.

But seven weeks ago, that all changed.

My oldest cousin – one year older than me – gave birth to a baby girl.

We had four generations seated around our Thanksgiving and Hanukkah tables this year – my grandfather celebrated his first Hanukkah in 1907, my grandmother in 1912. That’s a lot of candles burning throughout the years.

As my generation steps into the spotlight, it’s now up to us to perpetuate the next generation – and to keep the flames burning, so to speak.

It’s not an easy task.

It doesn’t seem like it should be so difficult. In our global world, we have the benefit of traveling internationally – both physically and online – and it shouldn’t be difficult to meet a member of the opposite sex who shares similar values and traditions.

However, according to the newly released Highlights of the 2002 Greater Phoenix Jewish Community Study, 40 percent of currently married couples in Greater Phoenix Jewish households are intermarried, up from 24 percent in 1984.

According to the survey, it’s recent marriages that have raised the intermarriage rate. Only 25 percent of couples who were married prior to 1980 were intermarried; it increased to 57 percent between 1980-1989 and then shifted to 55 percent between 1990-2001.

Of the 9,200 children currently being raised in these intermarried Jewish households, 50 percent are not being raised Jewish.

(Of the remainder, 26 percent are being raised Jewish, 18 percent are being raised as “Jewish and something else” and for 6 percent of the children, the families are “undecided.”)

What is our personal responsibility to make sure the next generation is raised as Jews? I would assume that most single Jews would prefer to marry somebody Jewish. But if they meet somebody not Jewish and get along really well, then that often supercedes the importance of whether the person is Jewish or not.

What is it about our generation that has caused this to happen? Assimilation? Lack of Jewish education? Political correctness? A greater widespread acceptance of intermarriage within the Jewish community? Too much idealism with finding “true love?”

Is it selfish for us to seek happiness, at whatever cost, instead of specifically seeking a Jewish mate? Do we tend to live in the moment rather than thinking about the repercussions?

To some people it seems to come so easy – even if they don’t only date Jews, they end up marrying one. Others travel a longer road – one of my aunts married three non-Jewish men, then the last one converted to Judaism and now they live an observant Jewish lifestyle in Israel.

Some intermarried couples observe a more traditional Jewish lifestyle than two Jewish partners. Each story is different.

I really can’t see the statistics improving. After all, if the national intermarriage rate is over 50 percent, it implies that there are fewer eligible Jews than ever before.

According to the study, there are 4,300 singles under age 40 living in Phoenix. If things continue at the current rate, 55 percent will intermarry, leaving 1,935 to marry Jewish. If it continues into the next generation, it follows that the numbers will dwindle even more because there will be fewer Jewish families.

In Hanukkah 2059, will my grandchildren be lighting a menorah?

This article first appeared in the Dec. 6, 2002 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

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