Our next Gaynor Lecture will take place at the JCC at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 19. This FREE lecture, which brings a variety of speakers to the JCC each May, will feature author Naomi Schaefer Riley and her book, Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America. This year’s lecture will follow the Gallery Players production of Other Desert Cities. Both events reflect how marriage and family relationships can affect identity and pose challenges to those relationships. A dessert reception and author book signing will follow the discussion.
Moses Gaynor, who helped to create the lecture series, is one of Rabbi Nathan and Sylvia Gaynor’s four children. He explained why Til Faith Do Us Part was selected as the 2014 lecture topic. “Our family takes great pride in annually bringing to Columbus top speakers who address issues of historical, cultural, and contemporary interest to the Jewish community. Intermarriage has been a major and growing concern for many years and the recent Pew Report takes up this issue with fresh data and analysis. Naomi Schaefer Riley’s book is one of the most recent contributions to this discussion. She is a gifted author who places specific concerns for Jewish survival within the wider cultural context,” he said.
Til Faith Do Us Part draws on both in-depth interviews with couples, clergy, sociologists and others, from a diverse range of faiths and backgrounds, along with data collected in a nationally representative survey of 2,500 people conducted by polling firm, YouGov. During her visit this month, Schaefer Riley will share the results of that survey and some of the more interesting findings of her research, including that half of the interfaith couples she surveyed did not discuss how to raise children prior to marriage.
“I think that is a big deal,” said Schaefer Riley. “It seems so obvious that you should really talk about these issues before marriage, but a lot of people don’t. So, in the book and in my discussion, I go into why it is that we’re reluctant to talk about these things and the cultural pressures against talking about them.”
Schaefer Riley informs readers that many enter into interfaith marriages without considering the fundamental spiritual, doctrinal, and practical issues that divide them. Couples tend to marry in their 20s and 30s, a time when romantic ideals are high, and often as a result, religious differences are overlooked. Those differences can pose real challenges when major life changes occur, such as when couples have children.
Her work opens up the topic of this growing cultural trend to audiences and to the larger community beyond Jewish institutions. Schaefer Riley was interested to learn more about how interfaith marriage was perceived both within and outside the Jewish community, and how different religious communities addressed the challenges presented by interfaith marriage.
“It seemed to be percolating under the surface in a lot of the other religious communities that I did interviews in. I think that it’s useful for the Jewish community to think about the ways that other communities are looking at this. We definitely have something to learn from those approaches,” Schaefer Riley noted.
She hopes her visit will help spark interesting discussion for the Columbus Jewish community. “I think what people appreciate about the research I’ve done is that it puts the interfaith marriage discussion into a larger American context and says that this is not just a Jewish issue. Other religious communities have been thinking about this, too. There’s been no other nationally representative survey on intermarriage. I think we can draw some new insights when we look at the country more broadly,” she added.
Rather than viewing interfaith marriage as something to be avoided or resolved, her work looks at the way interfaith marriage can benefit the Jewish community, help it grow, and help build religious tolerance. By gaining a better understanding of why interfaith marriage is such a growing phenomenon, she hopes that Jewish communal leaders will be able to use that insight to attract non-Jews in interfaith marriages to the conversion process or simply have a better understanding of Judaism.
“Interfaith marriage certainly is this mixed blessing. It does have a lot of downsides for communities and families and marriages I think, but it has a very positive message about tolerance and the greater possibilities of tolerance and assimilation in America. I don’t want to lose sight of that in this discussion because I think it’s very important and very uniquely American in the way that people can maintain their religion and still be totally accepted and experience that kind of tolerance.”
For the Jewish community, Schaefer Riley hopes her work will offer value and insight into how interfaith marriage across America impacts our understanding of ourselves as Jews. “This book offers a balanced view of what the difficulties and the causes of intermarriage are. It asks what this tells us about the Jewish community, and also what does it tell us positively about the country that we live in?”
A former Wall Street Journal editor, Schaefer Riley has been a journalist for 15 years, covering topics on religion, education and culture for a variety of publications. She has written three books. Til Faith Do Us Part, her latest work, was named Editor’s Pick by the New York Times Book Review. She drew on her own experience in writing the book as a Conservative Jew in an intermarriage with an ex-Jehovah’s Witness. She and her husband are raising their three children in the Jewish faith.
The Rabbi Nathan and Sylvia Gaynor Lecture is a Jewish educational program made possible through the Gaynor Memorial Fund, which was generously created in their memory by their children. The annual series, established 21 years ago by the Gaynors’ children— Jeremy and Moses Gaynor, Rachel Temple, and Rena Vesler— honors the memory of their parents, Rabbi Nathan and Mrs. Sylvia Gaynor.
For more information or to RSVP to this illuminating, educational event, please contact Melanie Butter at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus is located at 1125 College Avenue, Columbus, OH 43209.