Brother, Where Art Thou?

The origins and development of the interfaith movement in America

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The Movement Regains Momentum: The Postwar Period

Interfaith activities expanded in pluralistic postwar America. The civil rights movement provided opportunities to actualize interfaith goals of social justice. The NCCJ broadened its agenda to include race in the 1950s. By the 1960s, the group had implemented a national campaign--in conjunction with the Urban League, the American Jewish Committee, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People--to counter anti-Semitism and racism.

In the 1970s, the NCCJ led a nationwide series of interfaith institutes on the Holocaust. These institutes were instrumental in promoting national discussion of the Holocaust, a discussion that contributed to President Jimmy Carter's decision to establish the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in 1978.

Rising rates of intermarriage have provided American religious communities a whole new class of interfaith issues, posing challenges of amity, peace, and justice on local and personal levels. Both families and synagogues face the challenges implicit in nurturing Jewish identity within the context of interfaith marriage. What is fair? welcoming? alienating? How do community leaders and families address the fear, guilt, and anxiety that interfaith relationships can cause in their extended families and communities? What about those who believe that intermarriage is a triumph of American tolerance and equality?

Navigating the issues of fairness, friendliness, and fraternity have been goals for the larger interfaith movement since its inception. With the rise of intermarriage, this quest is just as likely to play out in living rooms as it is in lecture halls. 

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Joellyn Wallen Zollman holds a PhD in Jewish History from Brandeis University. She was the History and Community editor of MyJewishLearning.com.