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Losing My Religion

How becoming a father drove me away from Judaism—and my daughters into the Episcopal Church

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Illustration by Leela Corman
CREDIT: Leela Corman

For lunch today I ate a pastrami sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise, and it was delicious. I can already hear you—and my dead grandmother—groaning: oy, what a goyishe deli sandwich. To be honest, it wasn’t my fault. I did it in solidarity with my kids.

Children can do that to a person. One day you’re a nice Jewish boy who knows the proper place of mustard and the next you’re saying “That’s nice, honey,” when one of your kids comes home from her touchy-feely, multi-denominational school and announces, “Poppy, I love Jesus.” Sorry to throw Jesus on top of the mayo-induced indigestion. I guess I’m just used to having him (Him?) around now.

Most people move closer to religion when they have children. Ground them in something solid, you think. Or: carry on the family tradition. And perhaps: make them suffer like I did. At least that’s what I expected to do when my husband and I became parents almost seven years ago. He comes from an Irish Catholic family, and mine is conservative Jewish. On paper, at least, my faith seemed like the way to go for gay parents, seeing how the boys in Vatican City don’t like our type much. I was never super-observant, but I was bar mitzvahed, I went to Jewish summer camp, and I make a mean matzoh ball soup. So the kids would be Jewish.

Then, like Lot’s wife, my faith dissolved. It started slowly, as I discovered that the rituals I’d always wanted to share with my children—seders, Hanukkah, and so on—left me surprisingly empty. As time went on, I found myself feeling, well, kind of hostile. Instead of pulling me back to my roots, becoming a dad actually yanked me away.

I imagine that part of it was my rebelling against my parents and they way they raised me. Also, being a non-traditional father, maybe I didn’t want my kids to be beholden to an ancient set of tenets designed to hand down the values of past rather than embracing new ways of looking at the world.

What happened most, I think, is that my “dad” reflexes kicked in. More than anything else, I felt compelled to protect my babies from a potentially dangerous influence. There is something about Judaism that, after 40-plus years of unquestioning loyalty, now rubs me the wrong way. How could I tell my children to accept the idea that the Jewish God is the only god when I want them to grow up with friends who worship different deities—or none at all? If you go around insisting that your god is better than Mary Catherine’s or Patel’s, it’s a short leap to the whole “my dad can beat up your dad” thing, which I’m pretty sure will never be true. And then “my dress is prettier than yours,” which is in fact true (one advantage to having gay dads) but isn’t something I want them to start gloating about until they’re at least in middle school. Add to that the notion of the “Chosen People,” and Judaism started to seem to me like a terribly arrogant belief system.

What bothers me most about Judaism isn’t anything written the in Bible. It’s the whole Member of the Tribe syndrome, or what I unkindly call The Clan. I know it’s an ugly stereotype, but to me there’s some truth to the fact that Jews band together in exclusionary, even unhealthy, ways. Back in the days when I still had faith in my faith, my husband and I applied to a nice, conservative, Jewish school for our older daughter’s kindergarten. The headmaster was very warm and open and said that gay dads wouldn’t be a big deal on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But by chance, she asked, was our surrogate Jewish? No, she wasn’t, we told her. Now we had a problem. Even though we were raising our daughters Jewish (at the time), and even though our girls don’t really have what you (or they) would call a “mother,” if the woman who gave birth to them wasn’t Jewish, then some parents would not consider them to be Jewish either. That might lead to “social” issues, the headmaster told us—perhaps fewer friends, and certainly later, fewer (if any) dates. In other words, our baby would be treyf.

I can’t say that I was entirely shocked. When I was about 14 and my sister 10, our parents sat us down and explained that we were special, that no matter how much lox they eat, the goyim will never understand Jews or Judaism. (Proof: the cinnamon-raisin bagel.) Some of them actually hate us. Therefore, we were told, we were never to even date anyone who isn’t Jewish, because dating leads to love which leads to marriage, and a mixed marriage is a one-way ticket to disaster. My parents didn’t come right out and warn that if you put a Christmas tree and a menorah in your house the Hanukkah candles will set the pine needles on fire and burn the whole place down, but that was the implication.

(By the way, at that time this mixed-marriage fatwa was issued, our next-door neighbors were a black woman married to a white man. Of course, my liberal Jewish parents would never have a problem with that. People have the right to marry whomever they want! Except Jews.)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not exactly thrilled with Christianity, either. My husband, the lapsed Catholic who didn’t seem interested in religion before we had kids, has discovered it again, only now as an Episcopalian. He takes the girls to church every Sunday, which even in my un-Jewish mode hurts a little. It’s hard to unlearn all those years when my parents, in their tireless efforts to promote Judaism, made Jesus out to be a no-goodnik. In fact, they made him out to be the original “not good for the Jews” no-goodnik. I’d never realized how hostile I’d felt toward Christianity until it joined my own family.

And it’s not that I don’t consider myself to be Jewish in most ways. We still celebrate Hanukkah and Passover at home, and I still fast and go to shul on Yom Kippur. Why? I’m not sure, other than that Judaism is part of who I am, as immutable as my race or my sexuality. I know I still think like a Jew, whatever that means. A few weeks ago when my husband was asked to do a reading at church, I called my mother to tell her about his aliyah. The sermon that day was about Luke 23, the part where Pontius Pilate is trying to figure out what to do with Jesus. “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks. Call me crazy, but I couldn’t help feeling a little bit of nakhes at how the king of the Christians was once a Member of the Tribe.

Faith is truly important to my husband, and having agreed to give our children a religious upbringing when I thought they’d be playing for my team, I can’t rightfully deny him that now that I’ve dropped out of the game. So I put the girls in their Sunday-best dresses every week, and I kvell over the colorful wooden crosses they bring home. I’ve even learned to bite my tongue and smile when it’s their turn to bring the stuffed Jesus doll to live with us for the week. Though I must admit I enjoy finding him left in odd corners of the apartment so I can yell things like “Who left Jesus in the bathroom?” I like to think it’s a sign that my girls are already losing their religion, too.

Marc Peyser is a senior editor at Newsweek.

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Mulligan says:

Ugh, that was depressing. You should submit it for the Modern Love column in the New York Times.

What troubles me about your piece is how apathetic you seem. It doesn’t seem like you care much to figure out how either Judaism or Christianity fits your life for yourself, let alone with your husband and your daughters. We can only pass along to our children those traditions that we really inhabit. I certainly couldn’t teach my kid to change a flat tire or gut a fish – admirable skills but not ones that I possess.

Ayelet says:

An interesting perspective for me, having been raised Episcopalian and now an observant Jew. Did you not consider having the girls converted as young children to solve your issue with the school (which was to have come up at some point)? My extended Jewish family includes many adopted children who were converted at a young age so that they would be halachakly Jewish and give them the most solid standing as Members of the Tribe…it is more traditionally Christian than Jewish to say that it isn’t important for the rest of the community to recognize the Jewisishness of your kids. The Episcopal Church can be a good place, though, albeit with its own passed-down baggage for those brought up in it.

He writes, in part, “… maybe I didn’t want my kids to be beholden to an ancient set of tenets designed to hand down the values of past rather than embracing new ways of looking at the world.”

What arrogant ignorance this man displays. And why did Tablet consider it worth printing? There’s nothing new about Jews (or those of other religions) straying from and despising the faith of their ancestors.

I really doubt that Peyser penetrated deeply into the tenets of our faith, the eternal meaning of our teachings, the profound lessons of our yom toviim. As for the “new ways,” not a clue here as to his reference. In human behavior, there’s really little that has not been tried before, under various names and dress. Materialism, paganism, barbarity/savagery, you name it, the Tanach and the prophets rejected those paths and showed a better, yes, Godlier path.

So what Peyser’s real problem? The realization that Torah Judaism rejects (as does traditional Christianiy and all streams of Islam) the practice of male homosexuality? Then come out with it! And what’s new about homosexuality, is that one of the so-called “new ways”!?

“I was never super-observant…” he notes. Understatement! One wonders whether he ever had any significant grounding in Judaism to lose? What trash he wrote.

This was a sad story. This guy does not see that Judaism is open and accepting and multi faceted, especially for Gays. We are tribal and clannish at times, but that is where the source of Judaism’s strength arises, and helped Jews survive for thousands of years like his family. His family remained Jewish for thousands of years in and he tosses it out like an old shoe. With this guy its the end of the road, Christianity like Islam are mere offshoots, sequels to a much greater movie. Judaism which should be revered instead of reviled.

This is a very big paradigm shift. More and more people are actually thinking about “why” they believe things handed down over thousands of years. When they do, they discover that a lot of old beliefs are just plain wrong. God is not either or. God simply is.

don
editor
spiritnewsdaily.com

Far be it for me to be critical of how others choose to live their lives but I would comment that on the simple basis of taste alone, Pastromi works much much better on good rye bread, and white bread and mayo is
adding to future heart problems (nutritonally)..Woody Allen has a scene in one of his films when someone orders corned beef on white bread and he
nearly passes out.

And no one seems to notice the role that this unnamed school played in alienating the whole family. For want of a Jewish surrogate (who can’t even properly be called a moth), a whole family gets pushed away. That seems to have lost the forest for the trees when it comes to the question of being a community…

Sprite1_1 says:

Mr. Peyser’s essay was superficially amusing but when the reader realizes that his story is about real people, real children, it morphs into a sad and disturbing tale. It sounds to me that Peyser isn’t the thoughtful person he claims to be – if he were he wouldn’t have “gone with the flow” and taken the easy path. He would have done research into the Judaism he rejected, the religion which sustained his ancestors (even if that religion was poorly taught and propogated by his parents).

While individuals are the same all over the world, systems of belief are not the same, and not equivalent, not equally defensible.

Judaism teaches us to be fair to one another. Judaism is the source of the so-called Golden Rule. Judaism brings a moral and ethical component to all of life’s decisions.

Too bad Judaism won’t be the guidepost for Peyser’s daughters.

Samantha says:

Regarding the author’s comment:
“How could I tell my children to accept the idea that the Jewish God is the only god when I want them to grow up with friends who worship different deities—or none at all?”

I learned from my Rabbi just a few days ago, that there are indeed other “gods”, which HaShem tells us not to worship in the 10 Commandments. They aren’t actual gods on par with the Creator, but zels- power flows (i.e. how the Greeks had differnt deities for the ocean, sky, etc.). HaShem wants us, as Jews, to worship him, and not the things he created. Why does He say that He is a Jealous G-d and wants us to worship only him? Because, think of how insulted a wife would get if her husband was checking out a very ugly woman right in front of her – why waste your time on something so inferior?

No one is saying the Goyim can’t be spiritual or worship their own deities, it’s just not what the Jews are supposed to do. Why do people have such a problem with that?

I almost stopped reading this when the author was explaining how Judaism is more triumphalist than other religions (which is such a stark misunderstanding of Judaism that it made me mistrust much of anything the author had to say). Then I got to the section that resonated — the fatwa against mixed marriages, and the attitude that some Jewish institutions have about patrilineal descent.

I have said for years (before I married my own goyishe husband) that the dire statistics related to interfaith marriage (most kids in such marriages aren’t raised as Jews, they say) are mostly a self-fulfilling prophecy. What’s the best way to make sure an interfaith couple won’t raise their kids as Jews? Refuse to marry them, telling them they’re all wrong; or later, refuse to educate their kids, telling them *they’re* all wrong.

That’s the part of this essay that resonates. It should be a wakeup call to the Jewish community at large.

I agree this article is sad. The author’s experience with Judaism is completely different than mine. At the synagogue I attend, as long as either parent is Jewish and the child is raised Jewish (or converts) the child is considered to be Jewish. Just last year we had a bar mitzvah for a boy who was the only Jew in his family. Neither parent was Jewish, but this boy embraced Judasim and converted. Nobody treats him any differently than anyone else.

In addition, I find Judaism to be very relevant to the current world, not just based on old out-moded ideas.

I also don’t see it rejecting other religions. You can be any religion you like; if you’re not Jewish then as long as you follow the Noahide laws you’re doing fine.

I wish the author would come spend some time at our synagogue and see what Judaism truly has to offer.

Richard says:

Marc Peyser is forgetting one fundamental fact; He is a Jew, and has a responsibility to every Jew that ever lived to continue the tradition and beliefs of Judaism. Now, that responsibility will die with him. A clan? Yes, but not the Klu Klux Klan! In fact, as the rest of the world has watched, Jews have shown compassion and understanding to all people (even to their determent). Show me another religion that hasn’t proselytized itself into the systematic death of “non-believers”? Every family that I have seen divide by their religious beliefs, resulted in those children growing into non-Jewish adults…and who could blame them? It is the path of least resistance. I think Mr. Peyser has a problem with himself. He shouldn’t blame Judaism for being what it is, and he, for what he is not.

Regarding the authors comment:
“When I was about 14 and my sister 10, our parents sat us down and explained that we were special, that no matter how much lox they eat, the goyim will never understand Jews or Judaism. (Proof: the cinnamon-raisin bagel.) Some of them actually hate us. Therefore, we were told, we were never to even date anyone who isn’t Jewish, because dating leads to love which leads to marriage, and a mixed marriage is a one-way ticket to disaster.”
IT LOOKS LIKE YOUR PARENTS WERE CORRECT!!! The line of Jews stretching back 1000s of years to you is now broken. Mazel tov.

The author already rejected central beliefs in Judaism when he decided to preclude the possibility of marrying a woman because of his urges and longing toward other men. Marrying a Jewish woman and raising Jewish children is at the core of what Jews are expected to do. The author did not even find a Jewish partner (not that it would be acceptable in that case, but it would show some real dedication to some identification with Judaism on his part). His need to blame his people and his religion when he has already done everything he could to remove himself from the Jewish people is immature at best, spiteful at worst. Judaism is not simply eating deli food and pretending to celebrate Hanukkah. It is a covenant between God and a people, based on ritual practice, family life, and ethical observance. The Jewish people have survived for thousand of years, and will continue to do so long after Peyser’s descendants forget they had Jewish ancestors who fought to keep their identity until one self-centered individual decided to toss it all away.

Eric Weis says:

This reminds me of George McGovern and his glass of milk chaser. I love mayo with turkey. I love PB&J. But pastami with mayo? OY. Recently I saw an ad for a new kind of bagel,with ham and CREAM CHEESE. My gut reacts the same way. The tastebuds just don’t want to endure these combinations. Now, does this really relate to interfaith marriage, or to cultural choice? To me, the whole thing is an apologia for taking the easy way out…bowing to the masses (pun intended). Marc, for heaven’s sake, try to get it – your birth religion is just as rich, welcoming, authentic and God-related as the younger sects (Christianity, Islam etc). Don’t serve up drivel related to food choices. Welcome your kids into your tradition. Lox and bagels. Kugel. Hummus. Schwarma. And beyond food, Chanukah is eight times longer than Christmas. Sukkot is the basis of Thanksgiving and the weather is better. Passover is the basis of all free societies. Singing Halleluyah is OUR thing. Celebrate. Enjoy a kiddush and invite others to share in your food and ritual. Stop apologizing, stop defending and get off the guilt trip!

When we say “our G-d is one,” I don’t hear this as saying the creator as named in other faiths is always a different one — and the writer could use a moment of thinking this through. One mountain, many paths? Sometimes “empty rituals” are empty because the person performing them hasn’t chosen to fill them with personal meaning, earned through both study and experience. Peyser’s piece is provocative and I’m glad TABLET chose to print it.

Judith says:

I don’t understand why he didn’t go to a Reform Temple or Reconstructionist?
I can hardly read the whole piece, very disgusted by his attitude. I’ve always
felt more comfortable relating to my people. It doesn’t necessarily mean
religious but there is a comfort I could never imagine with Episcopalians. Maybe
shared ethical values, beyond food choices even. Tradition is more than good food
and it is open to non Jews. Moses married a non-Jew. Ruth became a Jew. You need to study the religion with your partner and your children. There are 613 Mitzvot to
perform, you don’t have to marry and have children of your own. There are 612
other mitzvot to do. Drop that guilt and live up to your Birthright as Jew instead of a fake Episcopalian.

Alicia says:

Maybe they need to get outside of insular New York City & somewhere that being Jewish is not something you can take for granted.

My husband and I also felt the need to be connected to a Jewish community when we had our children. At that point we were living in Lexington, KY and began attending a warm welcoming conservative synagogue.

We moved further south down I-75 to Gainesville, FL & again found a warm welcoming community – I think our Rabbi’s only comment about the author’s daughters would be suggesting (and not pushing) an official conversion.

Just my experience.

Dear Marc:

I’m the adult child of an intermarriage — my mother was a disillusioned Orthodox Jew, who like you, lost her faith in Judaism, married my WASP father and converted to his sincerely-held Episcopal faith. I was raised as a Christian, and never told that she was a Jew. I didn’t learn the truth until I was in my middle 30s.

I now live as a Jew, but I and the other children of intermarriage — like your daughters — have sometimes been greeted in a very cold manner by our fellow Jews. But that is not true of every Jewish institution. Some have the common sense to reach out to people like myself and your daughters.

I would urge you to maybe give Judaism a second chance. Reading your essay, I totally understand why you and your partner would decide to raise your daughters as Episcopalians. Being rejected by a Conservative Jewish institution — the denomination that you were raised in — must have been excruciatingly painful. By contrast, the Episcopalians are very warm and accepting.

Consider, however, that not all Jewish institutions are as unpleasant as the Conservative Jewish institution that you encountered. There are shuls and schools in various Jewish denominations that do welcome gay couples and their children, many of whom are interfaith couples.

You do not mention whether is you or your spouse who is the biological father of your daughters. But if you are the biological father, your daughters would be recognized as Jews by a GLBT-friendly Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal or Humanistic shul. And if your partner is their father, so your daughters have no Jewish ancestry, many shuls would be more than willing to convert them.

My own group, Inclusivist Judaism, would be happy to extend a free membership to your family, even if you decide that you would still rather raise your children as Episcopalians.

We believe that all Jewish and partly-Jewish families should be treated with respect, and have a “mishpachah” membership for Jewish and partly-Jewish families where there is a preference for another faith:

http://inclusivistjudaism.wordpress.com/who-is-a-jew/

With regard to your distaste for the Jewish beliefs that you grew up with — our G-d is better than the G-ds of others; don’t intermarry; all Jews should stick together, etc. — not every Jewish group follows those beliefs — you may wish to have a look at groups that have a very different Jewish theology.

Inclusivist Judaism, for example, and I am know that there are many other non-Orthodox groups that feel the same way, does not follow the exclusionary belief system that you believe is held by the majority of Jews. It’s not even Torah — many of us hold by Maimonides, that the pious of all the nations will inherit olam haba (the afterlife).

The theology that you were taught as a child is actually not Torah in many respects.

I know you are trying to do the right thing by your partner and your daughters. May you experience many blessings on your spiritual and ethnic journey.

If at any time you’d like to explore a Judaism that is welcoming, please contact me:

binarystar@aol.com

To the commenters who berated Marc for ending the chain of Jewish descent, or for doubting the Conservative Jewish beliefs he grew up with, or for not converting his daughters at birth, or for intermarrying (or interpartnering with an Episcopalian man), or for being gay, or for not having — in their view — sufficient Jewish knowledge –

Marc’s distress and doubt are not the problem. He told you that he still observes some Jewish rituals. He was reaching out to you.

The negative approach that you are taking with Marc is exactly what is driving thousands of Jews out of Judaism. Remeber Hillel’s admonition: “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures, and bringing them near to the Torah.” {Pirke Avot, 1:12, Chabad siddur, Tehillat Hashem).

I strongly suggest that you offer Marc and his partner a membership in your Jewish institutions and Jewish books and CDs for him and his family. Invite them for a Shabbat dinner. Show him the side of Judaism that he has not yet experienced.

Robin Margolis
http://www.half-jewish.net
http://www.inclusivistjudaism.wordpress.com

I guess my concern with the author’s comments is that as opposed to owning what is right about Judaism as it is practiced today, he is, in classic Jewish tradition, whining about what is wrong and passively accepting it. Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of truth in his comments. However, as Jews we will never move past this mentality until we own what is right and work for change rather than passsively whining and walking away. Judaism has lasted for thousands of year precisely because we can choose to own the change that is appropriate for the era, rather than abandoning a rich heritage because of what was wrong with it. As we wrestle with God, we wrestle with how our faith must evolve. We must be brave and lead that evolution, balancing change with tradition through careful reflection on what the right path should be.

This was a depressing and unenlightening piece – one I would not expect to see in The Tablet.

Why not consider raising your kids as Secular Jews? We at Sholem in LA have gay families and teachers and we don’t preach that our god is better than your god — what we do say is that EVERYONE HAS ROOTS AND THESE ROOTS ARE YOURS. there are a number of Secular Jewish groups that you and/or your family might check out.

We have a Sunday school for kids–many of whom are the children of inter-faith couples (as one of our leaders has said– “All marriages are inter-cultural”, and inter-ethnic and many other varieties of couples–and adult activities.

There are similar groups of secular Jews (Jewish by ethnicity, not necessarily religious) all over the world.

Jan Goodman
Co-Chair of The Sholem Community
Los Angeles, California
Sholem.org

Barbara says:

In the end, I feel sorry for this guy. He sounds so confused and conflicted. Kind of a self-hating Jew, he left Judaism to embrace a religion he’s “not exactly thrilled about.” Too bad that he will probably pass on his identity confusion to his kids.

this makes me ill…and to think that the author may actually believe that his “conversion” will be accommodated by another faith….naive and silly article..what a dope

It is unfortunate that Marc has accepted every negative stereotype of Judaism as gospel (clannish, intolerant,inflexible) when modern Judaism could not be further from that. I am sure that if he had tried attending a Conservative or Reform congregation he would have found it open and welcoming. Would there have been issues? Of course there would, but there are issues with any denomination, Jewish or non-Jewish. His focus on the problems he perceived with Judaism has forced him out of Judaism into the netherworld of intermarriage ( Church on Sunday, fasting on Yom Kippur.) That will prove more confusing and difficult for his children than any of the “issues” he has with Judaism.

You are lazy and pathetic in your sickening apathy. It’s easier for your children to be carted off to church than for you to lift a finger and find other synagogues and Jewish schools that accept your children. How humorous that your children bring home graven images (Jesus) and leave them in the bathroom. I am so glad that you are not educating them in our faith because of your self-loathing outlook on your Jewish heritage. Blaming your parents is so petty. We Jews are better off without you and it has absolutely nothing to do with your sexual orientation.

I actually found this article quite inspiring. In spite of everything that has happened to Marc, in spite of everything he thinks is wrong with Judaism, he still feels a connection, still values that connection enough to fast on Yom Kippur. The Jewish soul is an amazing thing. His story is not finished, his childrens’ stories are not finished. One never knows the future and when that Jewish spark might come to life again, or in what generation. If Marc chooses to sever his remaining ties to his Jewish heritage himself, that is his prerogative, but no one else, especially not people commenting online, should be hacking away at those ties or insisting they don’t even exist.

I’m glad the Tablet chose to print this story of a Jewish man trying to live his life. An endless stream of “my wonderful Jewish life” stories wouldn’t be very realistic, nor particularly thought provoking. Marc’s story reminds me of something my rabbi told me years ago, in Judaism we don’t do fairy tales. Torah is filled with stories of living life through ups and downs, triumphs and failures. Interesting to think about what it would be like if Torah had been given today as an online magazine. Imagine the comments it would inspire! Perhaps it is best not to.

This is a complicated story, as always, but one part is just a “bum rap”, and that is the whole “clan,” or exclusivity complaint. Christianity traditionally sends all those who don’t adhere to hell, which is not exactly a more tolerant or inclusive view. The chosen people was always chosen to live up to a higher standard, not any claim of innate superiority. (There are a couple of exclusivists, but this is not the main stream.)

In Judaism traditionally the “righteous of all nations” have a place in the world to come, which is a lot more inclusive and tolerant than the traditional Christian view.

So in reality your problem is with being in a minority group, and not the exclusivity or lack of it.

I am always sad that people don’t know more the beauties of Jewish tradition and religion, but this is hardly the place to convey that.

S. Michael says:

“How could I tell my children to accept the idea that the Jewish God is the only god when I want them to grow up with friends who worship different deities—or none at all?

What a lazy fool. A little research would show that Judaism does not legitimize other forms of worship (that do not fall afoul of the Noahide laws, seven of pillars of modern, enlightened civilization), but just sets forth a way Jews should honor mankind’s creator, both ion worship and lifestyle.

Spare us this tripe in the future. respect the intelligence of your readers.

redfield says:

pathetic old fart.

As I read this, my first thought was “how sad, Jew who’s left the tribe.” But as I let it sink in a bit, I was left thinking something more along the lines of “how sad, that we are so few, and here’s a story of a guy and his family that are making us one family less…” Not only that, but I’m thinking about how sad it is that we–being so few–are still wrapped around the halachic arguments of who is a Jew. Here we are, less than 1% of 1% of the world’s population, and here’s a Jew deciding to raise his kids ‘other’ because of the inability of Jewish law to make a place at the table… How sad.

David Bar-Dov says:

I fail to understand why a Jewish magazine would publish an article glorifying people who have assimilated to the point that it no longer bothers them to eat pastrami on white or become goyim. Halachic arguments are important, but this individual doesn’t need halacha to tell him that Judaism has no meaning for him. I don’t know why we need to read about it.

elaygee says:

So you exchanged one mental illness for another. Not much progress.

Judy BF says:

Dear Marc:

Don’t go. We need you! We want you back! There are so many ways to be an interfaith family.

Chery G. says:

I was born and raised as a Christian. My family was comprised of many different religions that all said they were the only true religion. I learned at an early age that if someone said over and over, loudly, forcefully, that they were “born again” to stand with my back against the wall when they were near.
I was a searcher for answers. I went to every religion’s preacher that I had access to to ask for answers. All of them just patted me on the head, told me I had to have faith and dismissed me. After a while, I became less depressed by this attitude and more angry.
The only one that gave me the courtesy of trying to answer me was a Rabbi. I spoke to him regularly and decided to convert. At last, I felt at home. I did convert and am a member of a synagogue. I know that a few will not accept me because I’m not a “real Jew”, but who cares? I know how I feel in my mind and heart and I know that I am a real Jew.
To Marc Peyser: Stop worrying about what others think, decide what you think and abide by it.

“Every blade of grass has its own angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘grow, grow’” Talmud

My gut reaction to this piece is that Marc is lonely – separated from his spiritual self and trying to hang onto the evocative moments of his childhood with food and empty rituals.

Marc, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Your girls can dress up like Queen Esther and spin their graggers on Purim, they can sing “Let my people Go!” and watch “The Prince of Egypt” on Pesach. You can have a schnapps or two at the Simchat Torah ceremony and your girls can be encircled by Torah – full of stories, ethics and morals for thousands of years. You can watch their gorgeous faces in the flickering of Chanukah candles on a quiet winter night.

You can make memories for your girls in more than one tradition.

“You need not complete the work but you are not free to desist from it.” Mishnah

Victoria says:

I disagree with the author on so many levels; however, it was an interesting read to me because I am gay, black, female, raising twin girls 2 1/2 years old and a 5 year old girl with my partner of 18 years. I am also a Jewish convert the only Jew in my family. I will formally convert on March 4 at which time I will go before the bet din and then onto the mikve where I AND my children will be converted. It is so strange to me that I would love Judaism, embrace fellow Jews as my community, adopt Israel as my homeland, and he who has all that Judaism was/is/and will be as his birthright, is willing to throw it away; and worse, deprive his children. Wow.

velvel in atlanta says:

Too cute for words, I say.
Flip and shallow, I say.
Marc, what is it that you are looking for? Acceptance in a swirling world? The mayo and pastrami comment as an example of acting in solidarity with your children shows me that as an adult there is much for you to learn, if you are willing.
Congratulations. By doing what you are doing you deprive your children of their history.

Folks — speaking to Marc as harshly as most of these comments do will just drive him further away from Judaism. You are confirming his worst fears of Judaism as a place full of rejecting, hostile, clannish people.

Why not reach out to him?

Marc, I hope you are reading these replies, as I’d like to address you directly. I’ve read your article several times, and the replies so far. I feel that many of the replies have taken you more seriously than you perhaps meant to be taken. Your article, if it appeared in the “Modern Love” section of the Times, would probably just be read as cute and flippant, rather than a sadly cavalier dismissal of your many-thousand-year heritage. But in the venue of Tablet, it rubbed many the wrong way, and certainly can be read as a dismissal of something that’s important to many, and a lament, perhaps unwitting, for something you’ve either lost or can’t quite find.

I greatly appreciate Robin Margolis’s plea for respondents to demonstrate the kind of Jewish welcome that you’ve found elusive instead of the hostility many displayed, and I’d like to reply in her vein. If, in addition to being charming and flippant, your essay did in fact reflect a serious alienation, and if you do in fact wish to find a door into a mature, modern Judaism that allows your and your family’s enjoyment and participation, I’d like to suggest that you already have what it takes. In order to arrive at the position of senior editor at Newsweek, you’ve had to manifest a number of traits that can serve you well in this search. In your job, you not only have to write well but also must show curiosity and the ability to get to the heart of issues, to do research, to distinguish trivial and false material from the important, factual, and enduring.

So if you didn’t just mean to write a cute article about pastrami and Jesus in the bathroom, but also seriously want to discover an alternative to your Jewish upbringing, I invite your taking your wonderful editorial traits into the domain of the search and struggle for your Jewish identity (a struggle from which none of your respondents are free, however certain they may sound.) Perhaps the first thing is to identify what you want. If it’s a welcoming community, in which inclusivity is emphasized over historical definitions, New York is the perfect place to find one. If you seek a community of gay families, there’s at least one such synagogue in New York. Do you seek a mentor or study partner? No dearth of good ones in your city. You will need to ask questions of people in various “denominations,” and to find out how and whom to ask.

Perhaps you’d like to explore Jewish culture (traditional and evolving) rather than focus on religious belief and practice. From what you say, it sounds as if you haven’t had the privilege of a rich education in aspects of a Judaism that may be quite different from what your family knew. Rebellion against your background could take the form of exploring cultural alternatives, rather than abandoning all interest. A Yiddish or Hebrew class, a Jewish choir, a course in Jewish history or literature (modern or 19th century or medieval Spain, rather than the same old Bible stories!) at an adult ed institute, or a book group, can bring you into warm, communal participation, with intellectually and culturally stimulating material that won’t make you feel that you have to leave your brain at the door, as many people’s Jewish upbringing did. Again, New York is full of these things, and you already have the background to research what may grab you. (Of course you must remember that sometimes you have to try something for a while before it catches your heart.)

If the rituals seem empty, you might explore places and people that make them come alive. And again, “alive,” will depend on your own values and preferences. Scholars who can explore the literary and historical relevance of the rituals, synagogues where the floor pounds with passionate singing and dancing, classes in modern Judaism (Reconstructionism, secular Judaism) in which liturgy has been re-cast for modern sensibilities and with new forms—a panoply of Jewish ritual is available to you. Look at the recent Reform and Reconstructionist haggadot—you’ll see a very different kind of seder from the one that leaves you cold. Do you like the idea of learning about Jewish practice in combination with elements of Eastern thought—meditation, yoga? Lots of opportunities for that in New York.

Does the appeal of ethics in Judaism call out to you more than ethnicity? No dearth of wonderful Jewish organizations dedicated to helping the poor or the old, to re-examining Israel’s role in the Middle East, to developing bridges to other faiths, traditions and cultures. The exclusive tribal Judaism you react against is not the Judaism that many of us appreciate; you can activate your curiosity and research ability to find alternatives to the model you understandably reject.

You started by saying that it was your kids who were taking you away from your roots. If that’s true, you obviously understand (especially noting the speed with which they’ve come to love that Jesus doll) that kids have preferences, but are also sponges waiting to pick things up from both their parents. Like putting on oxygen masks in a plane, attend to enriching your own Judaism first, in order to have something you’d like to transmit to your kids. You’re living in the perfect city to do it.

Enjoy this search, Marc; don’t put up with things that don’t feel right to you, and do look beyond the surface of your essay to what seems to underly it: the desire for inclusion and meaning for yourself and your family under the aegis of Judaism or Jewishness.

I apologize for the lack of formatting in my long post above–it didn’t transfer to the Tablet form, so it looks like one long paragraph.

I don’t know about anyone else that read this piece, but I got only a small part into it and had to STOP. The disaster here is not Jewish or Not Jewish, its about a Gay couple that somehow have a daughter. One of the commenters actually asks if the daughter is biologically theirs. They are Gay! It may be bio of one of them, but not both.

Jews may claim that they “accept” everyone, but Judaism does not accept Gay as an answer.

Tamera says:

I liked this article very much. The vitriol unleashed upon the author by so many suggests that he pushed some buttons. I agree with a lot of the things he said, and share many of his feelings. Rather than attacking him, ask yourself, “Does he actually have a point!”

I’m a product of intermarriage too — I alway say, wryly, the wrong parent was the non-Jew — my mother — yet I married a Jew and have embraced — and been embraced by the more liberal arms Jewish faith. Yes, at some point, the idea of patriarchal connection to Judiasm needs to be taken up more fully by the more conservative branches of Judiasm, but for now seek out the more progressive, liberal arms. Look at the Workman’s Circle SHUL even if you want to give your daughters a taste of cultural Judiasm. But at the end of the day, my father, Jew, always said that I was “Jewish enough for…” you know who’s name to add it, I just don’t want to defile the post with it. He gave us a love of being Jewish and I am forever glad that he did. And on being gay, WHO CARES??? Be a good Jew and give your daughters a love for Judiasm… oy! Happy Purim and Passover… next year may we all be free …

Robt. Switzer says:

I don’t know which depressed me more, the superficiality of Mr. Peyser or the unthinking criticisms of many of the readers, especially the anti-gay comments.

When are we going to get around to accepting the fact that homosexuality is a fact of life and not a mental illness; that it has always existed and will continue to exist no matter how much some try to suppress it; and that nature has a reason for not having eliminated it through natural selection?

Do we think so little of women that we should demand that for the sake of appearance gay men enter into heterosexual marriages and condemn their brides to sexually-unfulfilled lives? It sure appears to me that this would be just fine with several of the Jewish men who derided Mr. Peyser. Having witnessed the emotionally-devastating impact on both sides of the family of such a marriage unwillingly entered into by a psychologically-conflicted gay cousin caught in the false dilemma imposed by religion, i.e., being forced to choose between being true to his sexuality or his Jewishness, when he should have been allowed to be true to both, I say it is time for all men, Jewish or otherwise, to respect equally, as they themselves demand to be respected, those men who do not share their sexual orientation and women of any sexual orientation.

I know that those who accept the Torah as the literal word of G-d will not agree with me. But gay people do have children, and all I see are ways in which intolerance denies these children the embrace of Judaism, not to mention the equal protection of civil laws. For those who still see this as a matter of sin, I hope, at the very least, you will think about how wrong it is to punish the innocent for what you deem to be the sin of their parents.

And they wonder why there are so many lapsed Jews. Good grief.

I’m giving you a virtual standing ovation, Mr. Switzer … The anti-gay rhetoric I’ve read in some of the above comments sickens me, and using Judaism as a justification for spouting this garbage only helps drive home Mr. Peyser’s point that too many within our ranks are exclusionist and closed-minded. Fred Friedman (and others who have posted homophobic comments), do you harbor similar feelings about the “propriety” of women reading Torah or worshipping at the Kotel?

Mr. Peyser, rest assured: Not all of us in the Jewish community feel as those intolerant, closed-minded individuals do. As someone who belongs to a synagogue that is warm and accepting of *all* Jews who wish to join our community, I suggest (as others have) that you renew and expand your search for a “soft place to land” Judaically before writing off our religion as a “poor fit”. Within my large, suburban congregation, we have families of all “stripes”, including those in which one partner is gay and/or not Jewish. ALL of these families are a part of the “patchwork cloth” that comprises our congregation, and all are accepted, and included, and appreciated. I would imagine that in your own neck of the big city “woods”, you should be able to find a similarly-accepting Jewish environment without too much difficulty. But it sounds as though your initial experiences of rejection and ambivalence may have dissuaded you from even wanting to find a place where you and your family could worship Jewishly … and now you are, in effect, sticking out your tongue at the religion as a whole and to those of us who practice it, saying “nyah, nyah, look what you’re losing and look what *I* can do to renounce you!” But by taking that stance, not only do you deny who YOU are, but you teach your kids that a few nasty people can determine who they are and what they believe in.

I hope that you will reconsider your stance, both for your children’s sake and for your own. One of the most amazing things about our religion is that it encompasses both religious tenets AND a unique culture. I believe that we all have the ability/latitude to carve out a brand of Judaism that is comfortable for us, and meaningful to us, while still remaining a part of a larger community. Jan, who posted above, had some excellent ideas for searching out Jewish venues depending upon what will “float” your intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and social “boat”.

Mr. Peyser, I want to close this post by letting you know about something my own son is going through. He is 13 YO, a middle-schooler in an upper-middle class suburban community on the East Coast; while Jews are not a majority in our area, neither are we a minuscule group. My husband and I only found out by happenstance that our son is taunted virtually every day at school for being Jewish over the past couple of years, with the situation becoming worse this year. Tragically, the incidents have been so pervasive, and so much a part of my son’s school experience – and he was so sure that nothing that anyone could do would alter the situation – that he just never told us. Students at his school actually organized a “Kick a Jew” Day last Fall. (During the same week, there was also “Kick a Ginger” Day – bravo, South Park writers, bravo – and “Kick a Gay” Day, and Asian and African American kids are bullied as well.) Students routinely throw change in the hallways and then taunt the Jewish kids to pick it up; one student told my son not to touch the other student’s belongings because the student didn’t want my son’s “Jew germs”. My son’s been kicked, and he has had swastikas drawn in front of him in art class by students who say that Hitler was right. Other Jewish students at his school have had similar experiences. My husband and I are, of course, horrified and enraged, and we and other parents are taking action to change this situation now.

We are members of a reform congregation and, while we are a few steps above purely secular in our observance, we are not what I would consider very observant. We don’t keep kosher, nor do we attend services with extreme regularity (though we’ve been attending more frequently lately). However, we’ve always celebrated the “major” holidays, we’ve been fairly active at our synagogue and in the Tikkun Olam activities it sponsors. Our son (who attended kindergarten at the synagogue and who has attended Hebrew School since 1st grade) became Bar Mitzvah this year and we are targeting seeing him through to confirmation in 10th grade. He attended Jewish overnight camp last summer and loved it.

Now – finally – to make my point: NOT ONCE during all he has gone through at school with anti-Semitic issues over the past two years has my son resented or denied being Jewish. NOT ONCE has he wished to practice some other religion, or no religion at all. We’ve spoken about this candidly, and at great length several times, and I can assuredly tell you that it has simply not occurred to him. He has dug in his heels and rallied because he just IS Jewish; it’s a part of the totality of his identity. He has been studying the holocaust in both public school and Hebrew school this year, and he has really been affected by what he is learning; I also see in him a pride in those who have been persecuted for being Jewish throughout our history yet did not deny who they were, and a recognition of the horrors that have been enacted against our people. Just as I would imagine that there are times that it would have been “easier” for you overall to remain closeted and deny being gay, my son knows that it would be “easier” to be something other than a practicing Jew; just as you have likely been taunted (and worse) for being gay, my son has been taunted (and worse) for being a practicing Jew … and, yet he has no desire to change who or what he is. Instead, he is finding things within our religion to embrace, and he is carving out a way to be Jewish that is meaningful and rich for him.

I’ve written about my son not to garner sympathy, nor to celebrate his resilience and pride in who he is (though I am very proud of him). Mr. Peyser, if my 13 year-old son can find and maintain his place as a member of the Jewish community despite all of the crap he has faced – and remember what it’s like to be an adolescent and just want to be “normal” and fit in?? – then surely you can also find your own “place” in the community, along with your children. IF you truly want to be here, there’s a whole lot of us who’d love to have you (even if we don’t share your taste for pastrami and mayo on white bread!) Please reconsider, and please don’t judge – or dismiss – all of us on the basis of the stupidity of a relative few.

Elizabeth says:

The saddest aspect of this is the vitriol from some of the respondents -yes, I mean you Alan, Richard, EB, Barbara, R, S. Michael, Jane, Fed, elaygee: You seem unaware of the hyprocrisy of attacking a person (ad hominem abusive arguments). You are not G-d. Who are you to decide who is a “good Jew”? Stop and really think. What you wrote was unduly harsh, and frankly, just plain mean. It was not characteristic of a “good Jew”, or worthy of a decent human.

Shocking stuff…another member of the liberal elite lamenting his loss of “culinary Judaism” in a homosexual context. Look folks, let’s call a spade a spade, Marc is like a “kidnapped baby” when it comes to Judaism. He received a lame Jewish education filled with liberal B.S. posing as relevant Jewish ideas.

He was just as likely to marry a non Jewish girl than “marry” a non Jewish man.
And clannish? Are any more clannish than the gays? Please.

Wow — I have rarely read a more insular, self-obsessed article. Has the author truly never before met a member of any ethnic minority save Jews? Bengalis? Armenians? Taiwanese? Anyone? The traits he ascribes to Jews are virtually universal. It is fine for him to want to destroy cultural particularism in favour of the Euro-Christian ideal of secularism. It is incorrect for him to equate its opposite with the only ethnic group he has, apparently, ever bothered to engage with.

Jan wrote:

“Like putting on oxygen masks in a plane, attend to enriching your own Judaism first, in order to have something you’d like to transmit to your kids.”

As a Jewish educator, I feel these are words worthy of engraving in the heart of every Jew. After all, v’shinantam l’vanekha (teach them dillgently to your children) cannot occur in the absence of “v’dibarta bam b’shivtekha b’veitekha, uv’lekht’kha vaderekh, uv’shokb’kha uv’kumekha.” (speak of them when you sit in your house, walk down the road, lie down and rise up.)

Tht being said, this is a thought-provoking article, and it’s author deserves from every Jew (and yes, every human being) to be judged charitably, as Talmud teaches us. Those who seek to trivialize the author’s angst are part of the problem and not the solution. Yes, others may be tribal and clannish. That’s no license for us to be the same, especially when the effects of this are now, most clearly, no longer to our benefit to survive as a people.

neal says:

typical conflicts of modern secular jews in contemporary america. oh well cant we all just get along?

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