Jeffrey Goldberg, the Atlantic correspondent (and Tablet magazine contributing editor), and J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami had a long conversation yesterday about all kinds of controversial issues: the nature of Zionism, the political orientation of the American Jewish community, and the arguments of Stephen Walt, the academic who has argued the Israeli lobby hurts American interests. Goldberg, as is his wont, has posted the whole transcript, in honor of this weekend’s big J Street conference in Washington. Most of the conversation simply elaborates on points that both sides have made elsewhere—Goldberg voices the concerns of American Jews who are nervous that J Street is too soft on Israel, Ben-Ami argues that it’s a question of political disagreement and not a litmus test for being a good or bad Jew—but we were surprised to discover, about halfway in, that the two men actually agree on something. Well, sort of agree. The something, however, is intermarriage—a subject outside J Street’s core competence area, as a consultant might say. Goldberg asked about a recent New York Times Magazine story in which Ben-Ami was quoted—inaccurately—as saying his whole staff was intermarried. (It’s definitely not true; at least one is married to a rabbinical student.) Here’s what they said:
JB: An inaccurate quotation. Our staff is not intermarried. Not that that’s a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with being intermarried.
JG: This is getting Seinfeldian here.
JB: There’s nothing wrong with intermarriage. What’s wrong with intermarriage?
JG: We’re a small people—
JB: Right, but you know what I find? I find that most of my friends, and we’re talking mid-to-late forties at this point, most of my friends who intermarried, their spouses either converted, or their kids are being raised Jewish. What I find so fascinating about my intermarried friends is that they’re searching for welcoming Jewish communities. So let’s make ourselves a welcoming community.
JG: Look, I have that sadness of ‘Oh, why are you leaving?’ but I also recognize that you may as well just open up the door and say, ‘Come on in.’
JB: The fastest answer to the shrinking Jewish population is to welcome in all of these spouses.
JG: It’s good for the gene pool, too.
J Street’s Ben-Ami on Zionism and Military Aid to Israel [The Atlantic]
Earlier: J Street Debuts in ‘Times Magazine’