Much has been made over the past week, that a prominent Conservative rabbi has decided to officiate at interfaith marriages. He and some of his colleagues have gone so far as to break with Jewish law, as the Reform movement did decades ago, and call for acceptance of patrilineal descent. So we are once again deluged with articles about the dire straights of Jewish America, the dilution of what it means to be a Jew, and the political calumny that this ultimately means for Israel.
I wrote last time that the Kids Are OK…they really are. Jewish American kids are happy, healthy, out-gong, educated and progressing way above the average of their peers. They are a highly energetic, fun loving, artistic, serious, politically motivated, socially conscious group of young people planning on making their mark in the world. It’s not that our Jewish American children aren’t proud of being Jewish-they are. The majority of them are even attached to Israel on some level. We should kvell. The problem though, according to all the doom sayers, is that the non-Orthodox are marrying out at a rate of 65%.
So the Reform movement recognizing this trend, decades ago decided to accept reality and try to embrace these interfaith couples. The Conservative movement is catching on to what is happening in our world. Whether we like it or not, our children, exposed to the wider world, are falling in love with non-Jews. They are finding that gentiles can be, and are wonderful people. And in many cases much better people than many of their fellow Jews. (I had two Jewish girlfriends whose ” nice Jewish husbands” used to hit them.So the old adage if you want a good husband find a Jewish one doesn’t always hold true.)
Back when my parents were growing up, they knew if they married a non-Jew, they would be disowned. I knew growing up that if I married a non-Jew (I did not) my parents would not disown me, but they would not celebrate my marriage. I accepted that and lived with that knowledge.
But then something happened along the way. When I went to marry, my Jewish husband’s parents despised me. They did everything they could to stop my marriage, and continued to be dismissive of who we were as a couple even after the wedding. I am not going to go into specific details about the ins and outs of my fraught relationship with my in-laws, but I will admit I went for family counseling trying to figure out what to do about this situation. I know it hurt my husband terribly.
I still remember my first conversation with the therapist when he tried to explain to me why Jewish parents don’t like when their sons marry non-Jews and I needed to try to understand it from their point of view.
“But I am Jewish,” I replied,” Jewish all the way back to Avraham Avinu. Not even a convert. But 100% Jewish girl.”
Well he sat up stock straight. Mouth agape. Hands brushing through his hair and said to me, “Your in-laws are selfish, horrible people to treat you that way. As long as your husband sides with you, you have no marital problems.”
So there I had it. Straight from the therapists mouth. I was good to go. A shana maidel.
But I have always been bothered by the initial fact that the therapist thought it was just fine that they had treated me so badly thinking I was a gentile. Well, maybe he didn’t really think it was okay, but he did try to explain it away. Try to make it as if it was my fault, that as a “gentile” I really wasn’t good enough for a Jewish boy. Nothing really changed in his calculations except that I was Jewish, not gentile. I was still being mistreated by my Jewish in-laws.
So I asked myself, why was it okay to treat poorly someone who had promised to love, honor and cherish their son simply because I might not be a daughter of Israel? Why was it okay, that they disrespect me, if I was gentile, after I promised to be bear their son his children? Why was it okay that they mistreated me, if I were gentile, for the crime of falling in love with their son?
This event, over 35 years ago began a process of understanding for me and a realization that many of the truths that we hold dear in the Jewish world are not so right all the time. That sometimes even Jewish law needs to grow, evolve and change with the times. Jewish law was always forward thinking. It needs to remain that way.
In truth — do I want my sons to marry Jewish women? Yes. Do I want my grandchildren to be Jewish? Yes. Have my sons been raised with an understanding of, a love of Judaism, and the knowledge of their people’s heritage? Yes. Does this guarantee that they will marry within our faith? No. Does it mean that I will not welcome into my home a gentile daughter-in-law of good character who is full of love, if that is my sons’ choice? No. I have learned, through my own experiences, that whom ever my boys choose to marry, will be embraced, and loved in our home. I will gladly welcome her.
I want her to feel wanted and respected. I want her to know that she will always be part of our family. I want her to know she will be loved. I want them to know that I will adore any grandchild that they would give me. I will fight for them and hold them above and beyond all life.
For as the Reform movement learned long ago, and the Conservative movement may be learning now, when you show love, when you welcome them into your embrace, the chances are greater that they will stay. The chances are greater that they will know that Judaism and the Jewish people are places of love, compassion and understanding. They will learn that the Jewish world is an accepting and wonderful place. They will know joy in the Jewish world if we welcome them, and they are more likely to stay.
I do not know what the future holds for my sons. I do not know if they will ever fall in love and marry. But the one thing I know, is that if I do not accept their choice of partner, there will be no way that they will ever want to be a part of the Jewish people. In truth, considering the growth in interfaith marriage, turning away these couples is the real way in which we doom our Jewish future.