Lecture discerns a Jewish marriage takes dedication
By Anne Koppel Conway
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The reasons for "marrying Jewish have little to do with the Jewish people or Judaism," said author and teacher Doron Kornbluth, who teaches Jewish philosophy and ethics at Neve Yerushalayim College, a women's Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He spoke to about 40 people, mostly 30-somethings, at Multnomah Arts Center in Multnomah Village, June 14.
Sponsored by Congregation Kesser Israel, his two lectures about finding your beshert (soul mate) and the "Five Secrets of Great Jewish Families" morphed into one.
Kornbluth started by saying the lecture "is not about interracial relationships," which he called beautiful if the couple is Jewish. "When I grew up in Montreal, I thought being Jewish meant white, Eastern European," he said.
"We're not being negative against anyone. We're not here to judge anyone who is dating or has married a non-Jew. And we're not talking about converts. If someone becomes Jewish; they are Jewish," he said.
The problem, said Kornbuth, is that many Jews are in the wrong place on their Jewish timeline when choosing life partners. Synagogue demographics show that parents bring their children to synagogues but from ages 15-30 there is "a plummeting interest in Judaism." The conundrum: "just when Judaism means the least to them, Jews choose spouses."
In their '30s, with life cycle events such as having children and parents dying, Jews start looking for meaning in their lives and Judaism becomes important again.
The challenges of interfaith relationships apply to all religious groups, he said. "Love is not all there is. You need practicality for a marriage to work."
"It would have been nice to hear this 20 years ago," said Aviva Groner of Kesser. She is raising her children Jewish but says her kids are feeling some "ambiguity" since their father is not Jewish.
Kornbluth, a married father of five, is a rabbi but chooses not to mention it when giving his talks. He doesn't want his position to interfere with his message, which is wrapped up in his book, "Why Marry Jewish?" published by Targum Press.
But marrying someone Jewish is not a full-proof recipe for a successful marriage. Audience member Greg Capen is getting a divorce from his Jewish wife but is not discouraged. Kornbluth's talk inspired him "to look for another Jewish person" and he hopes to have children one day.
Kornbluth said there are a lot of options for meeting other Jews, including JDate, available through the Jewish Review Web site at www.jewishreview.org, which "assists Jewish singles with finding love and meaningful relationships." But he urged people to be cautious when using such services, noting that JDate has about 500,000 members but more than 20 percent of those cruising the site are not Jewish.
"All I see are 50-year-old men ?there's nobody here in Portland," lamented one woman in her 30s.
Another young woman next to her suggested, "You could move and try someplace else."
"If you don't make [finding a Jewish mate] your top priority," Kornbluth said, "it won't happen. He suggests putting as much effort into finding a spouse as you would finding a job.
Ok, even if a beshert is found and the process is starting all over again with little kids, how do you get them to stay Jewish?
You need to give them a framework, Kornbluth said. For the most part, people—young and old—are visual, so what children see has a bigger impact over what they hear.
"You have to walk the walk—be a Jewish role model," he said. "Let your kids see you doing Jewish things. It doesn't mean you have to be perfect. It's the effort for Jewishness that counts."
One suggestion: have Friday night dinners "with a Jewish theme. Get into it step by step. It will have a huge impact."
If you study Talmud during your work lunch hours, that will not make an impression on your children, he said: "If they can't see you learning, it will have no effect on them at all."
Kornbluth tries to study at home for at least an hour a day so the image of him caring about Jewish learning will imprint on his little ones, ages 8 and younger. His five children often chime in with Abba this and Abba that. Sometimes, he said, he has to read the same sentence 18 times, but "it's worth it."
Another part of Jewish visuals is making sure your home looks Jewish, "has a Jewish flavor," with Jewish calendars, mezuzahs and books.
Kornbluth said the second prime goal is to get kids to be actively Jewish.
Children need to develop a sense of belonging. If you don't "foster a connection to the Jewish community they will find a community on the Internet, in school" or elsewhere.
"Little kids are looking for an identity," said Kornbluth, "two religions in the home make it very hard for them. The universal reason ? more challenges." Kornbluth said it is not unsusual for him to have audience members tell him it was difficult growing up in an inter-religious home.
His fifth point: "If your top family priority is for your kids to stay Jewish, they are more likely to do so." Openly encourage your kids to marry Jews. "Make it one of those lines in the sand. You have to pick your battles."
Even parents with rocky relationships with grown children can make inroads, he said.
"Show them love and understanding and show them that you are getting a lot out of Judaism, it will affect them," he said.
After the lectures Erin Weinstock, 28, whose husband Dan is studying to become a chiropractor, said she is used to going to marriage courses and was thrilled to have Kornbluth come to Portland. "Good talk?" she responded, "Of course!"