But what those kids did pales in comparison to what their parents' generation is doing. "…Though it received virtually no criticism or even attention, a recent international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Judy Yudof, boasted of her past presidency in an extremely inappropriate forum: the wedding announcement her family submitted to The New York Times three weeks ago regarding the intermarriage of her daughter in a ceremony performed by a minister.…"
The Conservative Movement's United Synagogue Youth (USY) has dropped its requirement that USY leaders not date non-Jews.
If you're a traditionalist, this sounds like bad news – until you examine the facts, which David Benkof did in an opinion piece published by the Jewish Journal. Here are couple excerpts:
On Monday, the international board of United Synagogue Youth (USY) voted to junk the Conservative teen group’s requirement that its top leaders date only Jews. Instead, the leaders are supposed to “strive” to “model healthy Jewish dating choices” (whatever that means). A number of online reactions have lamented the move as evidence that the Conservative (sic) movement is furthering the decline of American Judaism in the direction of anything-goes.
But don’t blame the USY’ers.
It’s true that USY leadership has full control over its own leadership requirements. In fact, the rule about interdating was instigated in the 1990s by USY’s leadership on its own.…
In other words, high school students put the outright ban in place in the 1990s and now high school students have removed it and replaced it with a directive to make healthy Jewish dating choices. This is completely student driven, and it reflects the reality of the world those students live in – and, in fact, the world all people live in, except for fundamentalists who wall themselves off from it.
The fact is that outright bans no longer work outside of fundamentalist circles. Instead, people have to want to uphold particular religious beliefs and practices for them to be, in fact, believed and upheld.
That's because except for fundamentalist communities – like, for example, haredim – people can and will vote with their minds and their hearts. For most people, Bronze Age superstition and religion holds little sway over the science, technology and history that proves those Bronze Age religions literally false.
So when a boy loves a girl, and one is Jewish and one is not, that couple becomes like the vast majority of people in America or Canada (or, for that matter, Western Europe and Asia). They're two people who love each other, and society supports that love.
Fundamentalists deal with this problem by using shunning, threats of expulsion and, in the case of hasidim, by seriously limiting secular education so ex-hasidim most often find it very difficult to survive in the secular world.
All that said, Benkof makes another point that puts the USY'ers lifting of the ban in an even better light:
…Though it received virtually no criticism or even attention, a recent international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Judy Yudof, boasted of her past presidency in an extremely inappropriate forum: the wedding announcement her family submitted to The New York Times three weeks ago regarding the intermarriage of her daughter in a ceremony performed by a minister.…
I’m a past International President of USY. I remember murmurs and grumblings among some of the regional and international teen leadership in the 1980s about how we were expected to observe Shabbat and keep kosher when some of the most prominent adult leaders were flouting Jewish law in public on a regular basis. But the requirement to observe Jewish law as a prerequisite for holding respected leadership roles prompted a spiritual transformation in my life. Even if my initial observance of Shabbat, for example, was mostly driven by ambition for success in USY elections, mitzvot have their own power, and the benefits of USY’s leadership rules are still with me more than 25 years later.
I’m proud of the times when USY’ers have led the way in publicly modeling Jewish observance – despite frequent poor choices by adult Conservative Jews. But for how long can they be expected to do so?
So, yes, for traditionalists this is bad news. But the blame, so to speak, for that bad news falls on the Conservative Movement's lay leaders (and some of its rabbis).
Like in almost every other Jewish organization, those lay leaders are often chosen based on how rich and powerful they are, not on how religiously knowledgable and observant they are. And those lay leaders often model what traditionalists see as bad behavior.
The real message of USY's move to end the ban is that lay leaders should not be chosen primarily by their money and power. And that is a lesson all Jewish organizations, including haredi organizations, should learn.