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Marrying out but keeping the next generation in

Ruby Kraner-Tucci
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Published: 16 June 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Young Australians are proving they can have a strong connection to Judaism regardless of whether they have two Jewish parents. RUBY KRANER-TUCCI reports.

Intermarriage – or “marrying out” – has long been viewed as a threat to the continuity of Jewish life and culture.

But intermarriage is increasing, and bringing with it a new generation of young Australians who are challenging the assumption that without two Jewish parents, a child is lost to the Jewish community.

Some children of intermarriage have bnei mitzvah, participate in Israel programs, are active in Jewish student politics, and go on to bring their own children up as Jews.

Jonathan Iadarola, a 22-year-old university student from Adelaide, grew up in an interfaith household but with no question about where he belonged. “We were very much raised Jewish, but with a sprinkling of Christian upbringing,” he said.

Each year, Iadarola celebrates Chanukah festivities with his Israeli mum and the local Jewish community but also has what he calls “Chrismukkah” – a family meal to mark Christmas with his Italian-Australian dad.

While both cultures play a role in his life, Iadarola identifies more strongly as Jewish. “My mum enforced in myself and my sister a very strong sense of Jewish identity and pride. Whenever we have events that are more Christian, we go out of respect for my dad and for family, [but] there isn’t a religious connection. It never feels to me that I’m not Jewish.”

The Australian Jewish intermarriage rate has steadily risen from 17% in the 1990s to 33% in 2017 and is continuing to increase, according to Gen17: Australia’s Jewish Community Survey.

Perhaps predictably, intermarriage is higher among secular Jews (62%) than progressive (49%) or traditional Jews (13%) and rare in the observant Orthodox community. In Australia it is still well below the US rate of 58%.

Jonathan Iadarola with his Jewish mother, Christian father and sister (supplied)
Jonathan Iadarola with his Jewish mother, Christian father and sister (supplied)

Even for those committed to a Jewish life, it can be a difficult balance. While Iadarola’s dad was “welcomed and very much involved” in the local community, he says it was difficult having him excluded from his bar mitzvah service because he is not Jewish.

“One place I definitely noticed it was in the process of my bar mitzvah, where it was hard for my dad to help me. He was extremely supportive, but he couldn't do everything that other people who had a Jewish dad could. That was quite different for me.”

It’s an experience that resonates with 21-year-old Max, who recalls being required to use a generic Hebrew name instead of his non-Jewish dad’s name while at the bimah. “I didn’t particularly like that because my dad is my dad. I knew it wasn’t malicious, it was protocol in the community [but] it rubbed me the wrong way. It felt like they weren’t acknowledging him as my dad,” he said.

Max (who didn't want his family name used) grew up in a household with a strong Jewish identity, attending Bialik College, youth movements Netzer and Habonim Dror and progressive synagogue Kedem, and participating in the Ohrsome Israel program. His father is white South African, not religious and does not celebrate many cultural traditions – factors which Max says are helpful in supporting the family's Jewish identity.

“[Having multicultural parents] helped me grow culturally closer to Judaism, because I can step back and analyse what I want inside and outside of Judaism,” he explained. “A lot of my friends with two Jewish or Israeli parents often have a very one-sided world view, while I have a more diverse perspective.”

'I definitely do want to raise a Jewish family. There is also a sense of responsibility or obligation to continue Jewish culture and life for the sake of our community.'

Jonathan Iadarola

Zoe Heinrichs credits her Anglo-Australian dad for supporting her Polish-Jewish mum to instil Jewish values throughout her childhood.

“My dad describes himself as “Jew-ish”. He was very involved in the community and really embraced Jewish culture in such a full-on way that I was almost not conscious of him not [technically] being part of it,” she said.

Heinrichs, a 35-year-old government relations manager, was brought up in a “very traditional Jewish household” in Melbourne’s Elsternwick, observing Shabbat and holidays in a secular way as well as carrying the stories of her Holocaust survivor grandparents. She received an extensive Jewish education, speaking Yiddish at home, attending Sholem Aleichem College, Beth Rivkah College and the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, as well as completing a seminary in Israel.

Zoe Heinrichs on her Israel gap year (supplied)
Zoe Heinrichs on her Israel gap year (supplied)

In her final year of university, Heinrichs married a Jewish man from a religious family – she had a big Jewish wedding, kept a kosher home and further devoted herself to Judaism. But when they divorced four years later, Heinrichs’ priorities shifted. In what she describes as her “chapter two”, she married Jason, a first-generation Australian who is “Greek through and through”, and together they are raising their 16-month-old son in a vibrant multicultural household.

“I think it's a wonderful thing for a kid growing up in Australia to have diversity in their family and to have a strong culture, whatever it is,” Heinrichs said. “There doesn’t have to be a trade-off. It's not one or the other. In our house, we embrace it all.”

Heinrichs’ son had a bris and attends a Jewish creche but he will be raised celebrating both Jewish and Christian holidays. Heinrichs believes creating a diverse home comes down to a deep respect and commitment from both partners to upholding each culture.

“I know that it takes more than having two Jewish parents to raise Jewish children. There has to be some kind of commitment to it. If you want to embed the culture and the love of Judaism, the love of tradition and Jewish languages, there's a lot of work involved,” she said.

While still in their early twenties, both Max and Iadarola also feel strongly about raising Jewish children, regardless of whether their future partners are Jewish.

“I don't like the idea of restricting myself to only marrying a Jewish person. It feels [like] a bit of a waste and it doesn’t sit right with me,” Max said. “But I want my kids to have a Jewish connection and the choice to find meaning in Judaism, because I know how important it is to me and how much it's shaped my life, morals and views.”

Iadarola agrees. “I definitely do want to raise a Jewish family. There is also a sense of responsibility or obligation to continue Jewish culture and life for the sake of our community. It is important.”

All those interviewed for this article have Jewish mothers, which means they are recognised as Jewish according to Jewish law by all streams of Judaism. For those with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, the situation is more complicated.

Reform Judaism accepts them provided they demonstrate "acts of identification with the Jewish people", Masorti Judaism requires both identification and a mikvah, which is effectively a conversion process, and Orthodox Judaism requires a complete conversion.

Top photo: Jonathan Iadarola reading Torah for his barmitzvah (supplied)

About the author

Ruby Kraner-Tucci

Ruby Kraner-Tucci is a journalist and assistant editor of TJI. Her writing has appeared in The Age, Time Out, Law Society Journal and Dumbo Feather Magazine. She previously reported on the charity sector as a journalist for Pro Bono News and undertook internships at The Australian Jewish News and Broadsheet Media.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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