For students in United States, being Halakhically Jewish is `old-fashioned'
Mishan Araujl, a student of public policy at Stanford University in California, was born 19 years ago to an unusual couple - her mother is Jewish and her father is a Native American Apache.
"Mom used to tell me I was born to the two most persecuted nations in the world," Araujl says. Although growing up her family celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas, Araujl says, "I felt a lot more connected to Judaism because of the common history and because people who came from so many different places could sit together at Passover around the Seder table."
Hillel, The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life says Araujl's story is typical of many of the millennials, as her age group is known in the the United States. A recent study commissioned by Hillel among American Jewish college students revealed a complex picture: Students are prouder of their Judaism than ever before and want to preserve their Jewish identity, but they find nothing wrong with intermarriage.
Araujl was in Israel last week with a group of students who advocate for Israel on their campuses. Another group member, Romina Ruiz, 20, from Miami, is the daughter of a non-Jewish Cuban father and a Sephardic Jewish mother.
"Thirty percent of kids I go to school with are Jewish, but for most of them it doesn't mean anything," she says. "Some Jews head Palestinian rights groups, and when I ask them how that jives with their background, they say they were only born Jewish by chance."
Ruiz and Araujl are most worried about the attitude of Israel and the Jewish establishment on the question of who is a Jew.
"A lot of people consider themselves Jewish but they aren't recognized as such," says Araujl.
"I think the attitude of Jewish law that Judaism is through the mother is old-fashioned. Anybody who was Jewish enough for Hitler, is Jewish enough for me," says Ruiz.
Araujl, who defines herself as religious and regularly goes to a Reform synagogue at home, says her Jewish identity is stronger than her mother's, even though she has only one Jewish parent.
"I'm not for intermarriage, because I think it will increase the chances that the children won't want to be Jewish. But if I have to choose between a non-Jewish partner who will agree for our kids to be raised Jewish and a Jewish partner who's against it, I'll choose the non-Jewish partner."
Some 4.5 million to 6 million Jews now live in the U.S., according to various counts. According to Hillel, only about half of the 350,000 young people who define themselves as Jewish in American colleges have two Jewish parents. The number of students with one non-Jewish parent is about 47 percent, much higher than could be expected according to previous studies.
Hillel says its study shows that Jewish background is a source of pride on U.S. campuses. And it is not just the children of mixed marriages who are choosing Judaism. One surprising statistic is that 3 percent of the students who consider themselves Jewish have no Jewish parent.
"It used to be the case that Jews were not welcome at Ivy League schools," Hillel Executive Vice President Wayne Firestone says. "Then, when the gates opened, Jews poured in to prove they were as good as everybody else. Today we're at the third stage. Jews are over-represented at colleges, and even non-Jews want to be Jewish.
Hillel President Avraham Infeld says the most recent studies show a blurring of the differences between Jews and non-Jews on American campuses.
"The millennium-generation students are first and foremost good kids who want to excel and make their parents happy. A quarter of them pay consultants to recommend which unversity will be good for them. They are high achievers, conformists and stressed out - all the characteristics that used to define Jews only."
Infeld believes Jewish organizations should conclude from the findings that there is no point fighting intermarriage.
"It's unrealistic to talk to young Jews today against intermarriage. Not only do half of them come from intermarried parents, but these are people who love and esteem their parents, and any organization that takes a negative stand against intermarriage will only push them away."