Alarms sound for British Jewry as the young abandon the flock flock

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The Independent Online
The future for Britain's Jews does not look bright. Unless rabbis start welcoming non-Jewish partners, their fears of Anglo-Jewry vanishing within two generations could be fulfilled.

A report published next week reveals that more than two-thirds of young unmarried Jewish adults have had a relationship with a non-Jewish partner and more than one-third favours intermarriage. More than half said Jewish partners were hard to find.

More than half of the respondents believe that rabbis should be more helpful in welcoming non-Jewish partners into the community; sixty-eight per cent agreed with the statement: "The people who run synagogues sometimes make others feel like outsiders."

Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain is a rare exception. He was so frustrated by the attitude that Jews who marry non- Jews were "doing Hitler's work for him" that he holds seminars for interfaith couples at Maidenhead Synagogue, in Berkshire.

"We already have a crisis of assimilation, loss of numbers and low birth rate," he said yesterday. "If we carry on this policy of ostracising inter-faith couples then we're just going to cut off 50 per cent of our community and it's not going to achieve anything.

"Something like 44 per cent of Jews are marrying out of the faith. It is almost inevitable that mixed marriages will increase as tolerance increases in society. In one way it's a wonderful compliment to the way society is going but the flip side is that there is a danger of loss of identity."

Dr Romain still believes that same-faith marriages are best. "Marriage itself is pretty explosive. When you've got mixed faith it's even more of a minefield. Even though a lot of people do not consider themselves religious, they often under- estimate how much they are affected by religious culture - whether to baptise, circumcise, neither or both."

Of the193 unmarried adults aged 22-39 who were surveyed, only 15 per cent strongly agree that a Jew should marry a Jew, 25 per cent agree, 24 per cent are unsure, 26 per cent disagree and 10 per cent disagree strongly.

Despite the preponderance of mixed marriages, 86 per cent felt that it was important for Jews to survive as a people, 65 per cent felt there was an unbreakable bond uniting Jews all over the world and 83 per cent felt Jewish "inside".

Thirty-four per cent of those surveyed regarded themselves as "Non-practising" [secular] Jews, 27 per cent were "Just Jewish", 9 per cent were Progressive, 24 per cent were Traditional and 6 per cent were "Strictly Orthodox". Although most value their Jewish identity, only 24 per cent consider that belief in God central to being Jewish.

The picture painted in the report, published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in association with the Joint Israel Appeal/Jewish Continuity, rings true for Dr Paulo Nadanovsky, 34. He married "out" despite a strong Jewish upbringing. "I had my bar mitzvah, I had my circumcision," he said. "I went to a Jewish school and my parents - who could speak Yiddish - made me go with them to the synagogue for every major festival when I was young. I was brought up to marry a Jew."

But, to his parent's distress, nine years ago, he married Silvia Britto, 33, a Catholic whom he met at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Last week they had their first child, Julia.

"It's something my mother lives with, but something she is unhappy with. My father is the same," he said. "If Silvia was Jewish, I think sometimes it would be easier."

The report found that Jewish awareness was not strictly connected to levels of observance although, for many, the two could not be separated.

Only 3 per cent said that although they were born Jewish they did not think of themselves as Jewish. A further 24 per cent were aware of their Jewishness but did not think about it often. Forty-eight per cent felt quite strongly Jewish, while 22 per cent felt extremely strongly about being Jewish.

Despite marrying out, Dr Nadanovsky, who lectures in Dentistry at University College London, says he feels "very much Jewish". It is a feeling he wants to imbue in Julia. "It's important to me that she feels what it is to be Jewish - not to reject that, and even to cherish some of the values."

Keepers of the faith?

23 per cent were actively seeking a partner at the time of the survey.

68 per cent had been in a relationship with a non-Jewish person.

56 per cent felt rabbis should be more helpful in welcoming non-Jewish partners into the community.

24 per cent consider belief in God central to being Jewish.

12 per cent go to synagogue weekly, 7 per cent once a month and 30 per cent never attend.

38 per cent have Jewish friends.

32 per cent have few or no Jewish friends.