June 25, 2024
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Endogamy and You: A Primer

Do you practice endogamy? Are you and your spouse endogamous? Don’t worry, because before reading another local Jewish publication, I had no idea what it meant either. But consider me a friend who’s here to provide you with an important public service information session, free of charge.

The good old Merriam-Webster Dictionary (no Wikipedia here) defines endogamy as “marriage within a specific group as required by custom or law.” Besides being a great new Scrabble word, here are some more reasons why your familiarity with this word is critical to your family’s well-being.

In the post-Pew Survey Jewish world, scores of brilliant demographers and observers of Jewish life want you to abandon your belief in endogamy and instead support their push toward outreach. In other words: for God’s sake give up already on the idea that intermarriage is bad for the Jews and instead embrace the fact that intermarriage is here to stay. Accept that fact, and increase Jewish vibrancy by warmly embracing the concept of outreach to intermarried couples. I could give you an example, but one simply would not suffice. Go anywhere online and you will see countless, passionate appeals for practicing outreach and not endogamy.

OK, here’s one or two. An opinion piece, written by one Paul Golin, appeared recently in The Jewish Week and was entitled “In-Marriage Advocates are Living in the Past.” Golin refers to endogamists (I now lovingly refer to my wife as an “endogomista”—it sounds SO much more exotic) as an Old World group of cavemen and women, folks born complacently to two nice “Ashkenazi people in Brooklyn in the 1950’s.” I wonder what the Sephardi endogamists think about that. And if you know the Sephardim, they are more endogamous than any group I know.

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky is the long-time Executive Director of an organization called the Jewish Outreach Initiative (JOI). He recently told the Jewish Week that “programs sponsored to foster Jewish dating have ‘a hidden agenda’ and that singles should be reached to engage them as individuals, not in participating in a meet market, pun intended.” I met Rabbi Olitzky several times when I worked for Hillel International. Olitzky is a highly intelligent and good man who devotes his life to welcoming intermarried couples into the fold of Jewish life. But he and Golin are barking up an empty tree.

Notice that the pro-outreach group calls their cause outreach—a term many know as kiruv. Outreach is a word that is warm and fuzzy and all-welcoming. We, who prefer to practice endogamy, are labeled with a term that sounds more like a combination of polygamy and some infectious disease. Just for starters, wouldn’t ANYONE want to practice outreach rather than being caught practicing endogamy? I can see kindergarten children mocking other kids in their class—“ewwwww, your parents do endogamy??!!”

Any one of us is susceptible to the potential intermarriage of our children. Not one of us is above the other—more pure or more righteous, to the point where we can say “it will never happen to us.” Intermarriage is rampant and I am certain that in some way it affects many of you reading this column. It weighs heavily on the mind, causing serious sleepless nights.  But outreach as a lechatchila (for starters)?? Endogamy as passe? No way.

In his wonderful new book entitled Things That Matter, Charles Krauthammer defines naiveté

as “the stupidity of the good heart.” I have been told that I have a good heart. I have often been called naïve. I guess “stupidity” must be in there somewhere as well. Forgive me for being naïve, or stupid, or good-hearted, or all three at once, but we cannot accept outreach as a first option over endogamy. So what I am preaching to the choir is not “stick with endogamy.” What I am preaching to the choir is, who else but us? Who else but this choir to sing the praises of endogamy and to utilize our best and brightest educators and kiruv experts to get out there and fight the good fight, teach our children the beauty of endogamy, and carry the flag of Jewish ritual and custom as one family unit into the future, like a Judah Maccabee. We are blessed with many capable teachers who are creative, engaging and convincing who need a greater platform with which to spread their joy of Jewish tradition.

I know several mega-philanthropists who give only to such causes. For them, our kiruv—not the other outreach—is the end all and be all. I even had one tell me once that he refuses to donate to causes for the Jewishly disabled because “they have no impact whatsoever on the Jewish future.” A bit extreme, but I hear you, big guy. I call upon us all to become “endogamistas.” If that sounds like someone engaging in guerilla warfare…well, it is.

Robert Katz is a 26-year resident of Bergen County and has been a Jewish communal professional for nearly 30 years. When he grows up he wants to be a baseball player. His columns appear bi-weekly. Robert can be reached at: [email protected]

By Robert Katz

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