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Intertwined

Boy met girl. Boy married girl. But girl is Jewish, and boy is not. Now I’m a goy, part of a growing community of non-Jews with Jewish spouses, Jewish children, and a special connection to Judaism

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When I was very young, I fell in love with a Jew. We eloped in the aftermath of September 11—a terror marriage, according to various magazines—and five years later, had a Jewish son, requiring initially a bris and now Hebrew school. Somewhere in the middle of all these decisions and accidents, the half-noticed flurry of quotidian life, I have acquired a pseudo-identity, one that is both nebulous and omnipresent: I am a goy.

My wife is a Jew. My son is a Jew. I am not. Nearly all of my closest friends live in various states of mixed marriages, and if you know any Jews—any urban-dwelling non-Orthodox Jews, that is—it’s nearly impossible that you don’t know at least a few mixed couples. My mother-in-law can recall going to classes in her small-town Ontario synagogue in the 1950s where “Intermarriage is the Second Holocaust” was written on the chalkboard. The attempt to prevent Jewish intermarriage may be the most epically failed social-engineering experiment of all time. The most recent National Jewish Population Survey set the mixed-marriage rate for Jewish newlyweds in North America at 47 percent, but that was 2002, and the rate was accelerating. It is likely that more than half of Jewish newlyweds in North America today are marrying non-Jews. The response from institutional Judaism varies from outright horror to sighing acceptance, but the sighs and the horror don’t matter. Fearing intermarriage is like fearing weather, equally pointless and silly. It is much better to prepare. We are seeing the emergence of a category of gentile that is historically unique: millions of non-Jews who are attached to Jews but not affiliated with Jews. The emergence of a large group of these attached goys (goyim, to be precise) is a highly significant social development, an unprecedented development even, and it raises obvious questions: Who are the goys? What do we mean? And, of course, are we good for the Jews?

I am not going to pretend that I can give a precise definition of a goy. In biblical Hebrew, the word means “nation,” and in Yiddish it is simply “gentile.” Even if the term does have a faint pejorative sense, we don’t have to go very far to reclaim “goy.” It’s a word that Jews use to describe non-Jews, and that’s the sense I mean: non-Jews in a Jewish context. Converts don’t count, obviously. I have resisted conversion because I cannot say that I believe in God, but several atheistic friends have converted without this quibble of mine, spurred by the robust atheism of many Jews who dutifully attend synagogue. A rabbi I once knew told me that Catholics make the best converts to Judaism: They are already used to lighting candles for reasons they only dimly understand. But the converts have put their money where their mouths are, and who am I to doubt their full inclusion among the Chosen People?

Goyishness may at first seem like a variety of philo-Semitism, but it isn’t really. You occasionally meet goys who fall in love with everything Jewish, particularly early in their relationships with Jews. I myself definitely fell into this category, reading Rashi and Pirkei Avot, going to klezmer concerts, and so on. But it soon passed. A certain brand of clichéd philo-Semitism is well-established in North America, of course: Woody Allen and matzo-ball soup and mother-in-law jokes and the rest of it. Pop culture revels in these stereotypes. Political and religious leaders indulge them. Among literary types, they’re commonplace. The clichés are mostly harmless, if sometimes strikingly inaccurate. (Anyone with a Jamaican, Chinese, WASP, or Italian mother can attest that Jewish mothers have no monopoly on the deployment of guilt, for example.) But philo-Semitism can be dangerous, too, particularly in Europeans. Philo-Semites tend to believe that Jews, because of their unique history, are better or should be better than other people, which is a hideous idea; it explains why Israel is held to a completely different standard of conduct than any other country in the world. (Even as a write this, I realize how much it reveals the peculiar position I am in as a goy: I consider myself so intertwined with the Jews, though I am not in any way Jewish, that I distrust Jew-lovers.)

Goyishness is a kind of belonging, with separation—actually a rather pleasant position to be in. Goys are a hyphenated identity in a world of hyphenated identities, pioneers of epiphyte culture. In my son’s kindergarten at a good public school in a nice area of Toronto, almost every kid is half-something; if his class is anything to go by, the world is filling up with black girls with green eyes and blonde hair and rambunctious half-Korean, half-Italian boys. Jews are at the forefront of this hyphenation. There’s a tendency, in the wider discussion of intermarriage, to assume that the phenomenon is something that has happened or is happening to Judaism, an outside force requiring evasive maneuvers. The truth is that the rise of goys in Jewish life over the past 50 years has emerged out of realities within Judaism and not outside them. Partly, the Jewish tendency to exogamy has emerged naturally from the cosmopolitanism of people who have made their homes in the biggest, and most mixed, cities of the late 20th and early 21st century. The institutional incoherency of Judaism has also done its bit. Goys fall between the cracks, and Judaism is full of cracks (“that’s how the light gets in,” according to Leonard Cohen). In Rome, in the year 1555, Pope Paul IV decreed that the Jews of the city could have only one synagogue. Instead of banding together under the impetus of the political nightmare and coming to a theological compromise, the Jews of Rome set up six different spaces for worship within the same synagogue. That magnificent fractiousness means that the disapproval of any given rabbi is more or less irrelevant; if you want a rabbi who approves, just walk a little farther down the counter. When my mother-in-law heard “Intermarriage is the Second Holocaust,” the message failed to sink in, at least in part, because the rabbi who wrote it down was not an authority the way, say, a Catholic priest is a conduit to God.

My experience of rabbis has been like my experience of priests of all types and kinds: I find their presumption of spiritual and moral authority hilarious and somewhat grotesque. Most rabbis—not all—have tended to look at me, when we’re introduced, rather the way a vegetarian looks at a fat man eating a bacon double-cheeseburger—with a mixture of beleaguered tolerance and suppressed abjection. There have been several who have spoken to my wife and not to me. But who cares? Where intermarriage is concerned, they don’t matter anyway. If they mattered, would the majority of Jews be marrying non-Jews? No. For day-to-day affairs, Jewish society is run by the bubbes. And while the rabbis disapprove of intermarriage, for the most part the bubbes have made peace with it. And they are who matter.

The lack of institutional structure—the cracks in the system that have allowed intermarriage to blossom—have another consequence for the lives of goys; our households necessarily work idiosyncratically. This may seem like a minor point, but its consequences are vast. In general the idiosyncrasy of the contemporary marriage is one of the least understood and most powerful forces shaping the future. The fact that your family doesn’t have to be like other people’s families, that in a sense you can’t be like other people, is transforming private life, and for everybody, not just those of us in mixed marriages. The plethora of magazine and newspaper articles about trends in family life doesn’t establish any pattern other than the constant shifting of the patterns—family life has become an always-turning kaleidoscope. The mixed Jewish family is at the center of that transformation: We are among the clearest examples of how identity has become a choice, rather than an irreducible substance.

When my son’s Sunday school classes are finished, we go out and eat bacon for lunch—my son and I but not my wife. When my wife and son go out for Yom Kippur services, I stay home to bake the lasagnas for the break fast. (This is a side benefit to having a goy around.) We have decided, for reasons that are more or less unrelated to Judaism, to have a digital Shabbat in our house—no screens of any kind for one day a week. And when we decided to take this step we chose to block off Friday night to Saturday night for the holiday, without giving it much thought. We even do 25 hours, not 24, following the principle of building a fence around the law. We build a fence around the law, which we violate simply by the existence of our family.

I know that some will find these choices distasteful—shallow playacting, reducing religious matters to mere lifestyle questions. Perhaps so. My point is that when I look around the mixed households that I know, I am amazed not by the evidence of the dissolution of Judaism but by the way Jewish practices continue to exert themselves in the lives of people whom they should properly exclude. Goys necessarily have a fluid relationship to ethnic identity. Like Barack Obama, they are going to choose who they are, whom they belong to, and who belongs to them. One consequence of the destabilization of ethnic identity is that some Jews will decide to have nothing to do with Judaism. Another consequence is that some non-Jews will decide to act like Jews. The bris for my son was the most moving event of my life. Because the man who holds the baby for the ceremony has to be a Jew, my dad couldn’t do it, so we got my wife’s grandfather’s friend, a Holocaust survivor. The ceremony combined the nonsensical with the eminently reasonable: The circumcision itself a relic from Middle Eastern shepherds dead for 5,000 years contained within a small party eight days after the birth to recognize and to celebrate the existence of a new human being. I was just happy my son was alive and that there were people around who cared.

The traditional way of viewing mixed marriage is as a threat to Jewish life, akin to the explosion of ultra-Orthodox births or the continued existential crisis of Israel. I’m not sure this view is altogether healthy. Some of us are good friends to have. Chelsea Clinton’s a goy. Mark Kelly’s one. In my experience, and I admit my evidence is entirely anecdotal, goys are much more hawkish than their partners on the question of Israel. I remember returning home from a summer job working at a children’s camp one year, and an ancient relative asked me, entirely unselfconsciously, “So, I heard last summer you were working for Jews.” Every time Israel comes on the news I hear again that tone of casual anti-Semitism she assumed we shared. Even in multicultural, boring, agreeable Toronto, the Hebrew school has security guards and computerized entry passes. Somebody wants to blow the children up. Goys know that this is not normal.

Goys, it seems obvious to me, are potentially an immense strength. They are exactly the kind of people you want for friends. God agrees with me, or at least the Torah does. It’s always Ruth who gets the attention in the wedding ceremonies between Jews and non-Jews; “Your God will be my God, your people my people” is the Corinthians 1:13 of mixed marriages. Moses’ wife, Zipporah, a goy, never gets her due. She saves his life when, in a confusing twist, God briefly decides to kill him on his way home to Egypt out of Midian; she saves him by circumcising their sons Gershom and Eliezer and placing the foreskins at his feet. Later when Aaron and Miriam complain that Moses has married a non-Jew, God punishes them by giving Miriam leprosy. Why shouldn’t contemporary goys, as invested as Zipporah, not be just as useful?

Recently, my wife and I were toying with the idea of having another baby, contemplating different kids’ names. For a boy, I suggested Simcha, which I absolutely love; it means “joy.” “A kid deserves a name his father can pronounce,” my wife countered. After Sunday school the other day, my son described the rules of building a sukkah to me. “You have to be able to see three stars through the roof,” he said. I had that feeling I so often have when new facts about Judaism are communicated to me: That is crazy and beautiful.

When my son started attending Sunday school, at first I didn’t want to go to the parent meetings and school holiday celebrations. I didn’t want that goy-meets-a-rabbi feeling. But one day, around Hanukkah, I went to pick him up and saw my folly. I realized instantly, looking over the classroom, that there’s not much difference between his Jewish class and his regular kindergarten class. My son’s best friend there is a kid whose dad is a 6-foot-6 Indonesian engineer. Another dad is a professional DJ with shoulder-length dreads. My son’s experience of learning about Judaism will not be homogenous. This is the future: a kid with ice-blue eyes and blonde hair makes friends with a couple of black sisters, and they’re all Jews.

I had another reaction, too, looking over that room of the mixed and the mixed-up. These are my people, I thought. It’s like what Bernard Malamud said at the end of “Angel Levine:” “There are Jews everywhere.” There are goys everywhere, too.

Stephen Marche is a novelist and a columnist for Esquire. His latest book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything, will be published this spring. Follow him on Twitter @StephenMarche.

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Pesele says:

Stephen, you are not a goy. You are a ger toshav; here is a link to a good discussion of a modern redefinition: http://www.clal.org/ss43.html. And you and other gerei toshav (including my own husband) do, I believe, help maintain and strengthen Judaism of the future.

Steph F. says:

As a “product of intermarriage” (a phrase I always found detestably dehumanizing) who served 6 years on a synagogue board, keeps kosher, and sends my kid to Jewish day school, I say to folks who think “intermarriage is the second Holocaust”: pppllllppppttt.

prince says:

Read the book of Ezra. The trend is not new. The matriarch Sarah foresaw the possibilities.

If only all Jews would marry goyim, we’d be one goy.

Oh, boy.

michelle says:

Dear Stephen,
As an Israeli immigrant– orig. from NY, I have to say that was a very sweet article. We are really all ONE. God is ONE — however we define it.

Anon says:

This is one of the most beautiful and moving essays I’ve read on the topic. I have so much love and respect and hope for our mixed families. Oh, and my non-Jewish partner baked an exquisite noodle kugel for me while I fasted on Yom Kippur. And instead of eishet chayil, he reads Neruda love poems to me in Spanish on Friday night. We are the future.

My wife (non-Jewish) and I were married by a rabbi from one of Manhattan’s best known synagogues. She didn’t convert, and that wasn’t an issue.

There are all sorts of rabbis.

Naomi says:

Stephen,

Mazel tov. What an excellent, thoughtful and humourous article! Spot on!

Thanks,
N.

Therry Neilsen-Steinhardt says:

Stphen, I wrote a long and intricate paper about intermarriage when I was in (Protestant seminary) graduate school. My own family is interfaith: I’m Congregational, My sister is Jewish and our brother is a Quaker. But you’ve said it all in such a charming way! Keep doing it, and please name your son Simcha. You are a Simcha to me.

All the best,
Therry

Pesele says:

@Prince: For a different perspective, try the Book of Ruth (arguably written as a counter to Ezra-Nehemiah).

Forrest says:

awesome article! as an agnostic who is engaged to a Jew and will be having raising our daughter Jewish, I can really relate to this article!

Betty Miller says:

This is bubbe talking. My non-Jewish son-in-law & Jewish daughter have raised two beautiful children – both adopted from Korea. Their Bar & Bat Mitzvah pictures attest to the wonderful amalgam we Jews are. It is our strength to absorb whoever wants to enter our tents and we must make them welcome. We resist at our peril. Mazel tov.

Bubbe Basha

Elizabeth Ban says:

Thank you. I just understood why my son recently called me a ‘pioneer’ for having married his Nigerian/Muslim father in the 1970s. I thought it was just love at the time…..

Stephen, you are a, “mensch”, a beautiful essay on life, Judiaism, and love.

Ellis Jayus says:

You want to have your bacon and eat it, too. OK, but don’t force us to eat the bacon with you. My personal opinion is that “pick-and-choose” Judaism does not bode well for the future of the religion. It also creates a lot of confusion in children who are being raised as “neither fish nor fowl” or “both fish AND fowl” or “either fish OR fowl.” So if you decide that Judaism is for you, become the best Reform, Conservative, Orrthodx or “other” Jew you can be but spare the criticism of the rest of that is mired in your own hypocrisy. As we learn as early as the Ten Commandments, there are mitzvot between man and God and mitzvot between man and man; even though one type is more visible, both are equally important and should be taught to the next generation with equal platitude, heeding the words of Maimonides: Everything in moderation.

Yaakov Hillel says:

I would be happy if this was the story of most mixed marriages, it is not. Most mixed marriages the children do not recieve the information that oneof their parents were Jews. I very much respect those few like the man in our story, I very much respect the mother who keeps the Jewish flame lit. The Ones in my family were alot less fortunate. The hundreds of grandchildren of many of my second cousins will not know they carry a 3500 year old heritage, of heroes and heroins of very good people and some of the worst. We all sin if you do not believe me read trhe bible. You may sin and there is also forgiveness for those who really want to be forgiven. Sometimes we have to pay the price. Being Jewish is not a shame even though most Jews are shamed of their religion. This is one of the good points of non diaspora Jews-they are not ashamed of their Jewishness.

anti-intermarriage says:

Another ridicoulous pro-intermarriage article that is delusional. The fact is that intermarriage is bad for Judaism. 90% of children of intermarriages will marry non-Jews. Liberal Judiasm is becoming another branch of Christianity. There are probably more gentiles than Jews in many of these groups.
Anon;
If intermarried couples are the future of Judaism then Judaism will be extinct soon.
fw;
The so-called Rabbi who married you and your gentile wife was a fraud. There are two types of Rabbis; Real Torah-loving Rabbis and the shysters who would marry two nazis for the right amout of money.
Btw you must know that you did not have a real Jewish wedding. An authentic Jewish wedding can only happen when both individuals are JEWISH. Your wedding had nothing to do with Judaism. You will have gentile children born to a gentile mother. You obvioulsy don’t know anything about Judaism.

Dear Stephen Marche:

Many congratulations on your happy family! It is good that you and your wife are raising your child in at least one faith culture, so that your child will have a belief system and roots.

If you would like to convert to Judaism as an atheist, consider joining the Society for Humanistic Judaism. They are an agnostic/atheist Jewish group and welcome interfaith couples. You might find them a good Jewish home.

Finally, as the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network for adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage, I should warn you that Israel has a huge web of negative laws and policies that directly harm interfaith couples and their children and fuel prejudice against them among Diaspora Jews. Your warm feelings towards Israel are commendable, but before you defend Israel, consider Israel’s long track record of discrimination against people such as you and your family.

By all means care for your Diaspora Jewish community, but you may want to reserve your love for Israel for an era in which the Knesset doesn’t hold hearings on how to prevent Israeli Jews from marrying Israeli Arabs.

surely you jest says:

“a threat to Jewish life, akin to the explosion of ultra-Orthodox births or the continued existential crisis of Israel”

?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?! the explosion of ultra-orthodox births a *threat* to Jewish life ?!?!?

Marvin says:

Stephen,
I applaud you for your effort in having a meaningful Jewish life in your household and caring about a quality Jewish life for your family. Neverthless, although intermarried ocuples are welcome in Reform Judaism, each Jew must be encouraged to marry exclusively other Jews, as most non-Jewish spouses are not as caring about being Jewish as you are.

shushan says:

read the book, hitlers jewish soldiers,authored by Bing to see what the offspring of intermarriages become

What a wonderful piece. Provocative in a thought provoking manner, poignant and well written. Kudos to Tablet for publishing this refreshing response to all “the end is nigh” gnashing of teeth that we usually hear.

And as the first reader comment points out, this phenomenon is as old as Judaism itself: read the story of Na’aman in 2 Kings, Chapter 5 which the Talmud explicates in Gittin 57b. There is also an interesting reference in Sanhedrin 96b that is suitable for the upcoming Purim:

תנו רבנן נעמן גר תושב היה נבוזר אדן גר צדק היה מבני בניו של סיסרא למדו תורה בירושלים מבני בניו של סנחריב לימדו תורה ברבים ומאן נינהו שמעיה ואבטליון מבני בניו של המן למדו תורה בבני ברק

Susann Codish says:

What a beautiful piece. As an Ortho-practicing Jew by birth, married to a Jew from birth, and living in Israel, I was very moved by the profound sense of shared community and destiny. When I was a kid, my Holocaust-survivor parents moved from Sweden to Canada to Israel, all in an attempt to prevent their children from intermarriage. Well, my sister never married, my brother married a French woman of Catholic ancestry, and I married an American Ashkenazi Jew. The older I get, the more convinced I am that the only thing that matters is one’s existential experience of identity. I’ve tried to feel bad about my brother’s choice and have failed. Thank you for helping me to see why.

Shalom says:

A Goy you are most definitely not. The funny thing is that in the past being Jewish was so difficult and so dangerous that many mixed marriages resulted in conversions away from Judaism. That would have proven to be the extinction of the Jews. I understand that view completely but times have changed.

Now such a union is as likely to be Jewish – or produce Jewish children – as not. So the “faith” is safe. Now we can look outside ourselves and engage with others. We need not be secretive or frightened anymore. Koolanua am achad. We are all one people. That used to apply just to Jews but now it works for the whole world.

You are no Goy. You are a member of the tribe and you don’t even realize it. Our house is your home too – Baruch ha shem it keeps changing and expanding. Many doors and windows- lots of cracks and holes in the walls, many new rooms. Somehow you found your way inside and we are happy you are here with us.

Gene says:

Stephen, I want to remind you about two things. First of all, Reform “Judaism” is not a Judaism (I don’t know why it uses such name, maybe because Jews, as a rule, represent majority in each congregation). Second. From the Jewish point of view (not Catholic, atheist, agnostic or whatever but Jewish) Jew is a person chosen by God. (not always for good, don’t be jealous). This is an ultimate and correct definition who is a Jew (from the Jewish point of view). God choose Jews and not the opposite. Therefore nobody: not person himself, not any rabbi could make him or convert him to a Jew – they just don’t have such power. There are Jews (not born to Jewish mothers) who never went through giyur and there “converts” who never became Jews. What i trying to say is this: you still could become a Jew even without your efforts and desires. However I am not sure if you will necessarily appreciate that

lamicofritz says:

This was a wonderfully personal essay about life’s experience of a “mensch”, thank you very much! The semi-hostile to completely crass comments are most deplorable! This is a far-cry from the acceptance and open-mindedness of people like Hillel, who- just to pass the information, in many ways didn’t have a half as tribal mindset as some of the replicants cited above ( and was barely an insignificant voice of Judaism)! Thank you for sharing your story in such a warmly self-ironic way, this was very touching.

Robert w says:

Lenny Bruce said it best:

Dig: I’m Jewish. Count Basie’s Jewish. Ray Charles is Jewish. Eddie Cantor’s goyish. B’nai B’rith is goyish; Hadassah, Jewish.

If you live in New York or any other big city, you are Jewish. It doesn’t even matter if you’re Catholic; if you live in New York, you’re Jewish. If you live in Butte, Montana, you’re going to be goyish even if you’re Jewish.

Kool-Aid is goyish. Evaporated milk is goyish even if the Jews invented it. Chocolate is Jewish and fudge is goyish. Fruit salad is Jewish. Lime Jell-O is goyish. Lime soda is very goyish.

All Drake’s Cakes are goyish. Pumpernickel is Jewish and, as you know, white bread is very goyish. Instant potatoes, goyish. Black-cherry soda’s very Jewish, macaroons are very Jewish.

Negroes are all Jews, Italians are all Jews. Irishmen who have rejected their religion are Jews. Mouths are very Jewish. And bosoms. Baton-twirling is goyish.

Underwear is definitely goyish. Balls are goyish. Titties are Jewish.

Celebrate is a goyish word. Observe is a Jewish Word. Mr and Mrs Walsh are celebrating Christmas with Major Thomas Moreland, USAF (ret.), while Mr and Mrs Bromberg observed Hannukah with Goldie and Arthur Schindler from Kiamesha, New York.

Rose says:

Can you please stop using that slur “Goy”? That is a slur and pejorative to refer to non-Jews.

The term “Goy” is very offensive despite your intolerance.

Thank you.

Simcha Raphael says:

An honest and interesting. However, being a Canadian, and having lived in Toronto for a number of years, I believe the author is reflecting much more of a Canadian Jewish reality, than an American one. In many places in the US, there is much more of a welcoming attitude towards inter-marriage, and inter-married couples than you would find in Canada. While I recognize it is not ubiquitous, certainly in Orthodox communities in NY, Baltimore and Chicago, there may well feel less of a need to feel one’s otherness in American Jewish cities which have a larger and stronger liberal (Reform, Reconstructionist and Renewal) community that one finds in Canada.

Ruth says:

@Gene: Well, thank you, sir. If not for you, I wouldn’t know that my proud identification as a Jew for the past 50 years has been in error, due to my long-time affiliation at one of those no-good, “fake” Reform congregations! Of course, that might come as somewhat of a surprise to my (Jewish) parents, not to mention my (Jewish) spouse (and his [Jewish] parents and brothers) and our (Jewish) son.

Although, hmmm … my husband grew up attending and belonging to a Conservative shul; do his 25+ years as a member there inoculate him against the scourge of our Reform congregation, and entitle him to continue to “legitimately” identify as Jewish? Or have our 20+ years as members of our Reform congregation served to negate any Jewish brownie points he scored while belonging to his former congregation?

Because my husband was brought up “Conservative” while I have a “Reform” background, is our son, in essence, the product of a “mixed” marriage?

To complicate matters further, we were actually married in a Conservative synagogue, and belonged to that congregation for the first couple of years after we were married. Do we get to claim any residual Jewishness from that period of time, or is being a Jew more akin to a swimclub membership in your mind: valid only for the dates one pays to join that particular club?

I am, of course, being (more than) somewhat glib here, to make my point: We Jews have been excluded enough throughout history. Is it really in our best interest, as Jews, to create algorithms and metaphorical branding irons that serve to label any sub-group of our OWN people as “others”? Is there, truly, no room within our religion for any diversity of practice or belief? Is anyone actually well-served by those who insist upon labeling an entire branch of our religion as “fake”? Labeling those who fall outside of pre-determined narrow norms as “undesirable” is just a little too close to another “final solution” for my tastes.

Ruth says:

Vis à vis inclusiveness: @Gene, if inclusiveness of any stripe is anathema to your brand of Judaism, then I’m proud to be a pseudo-Jew, or however else you choose to label me. Please note that “inclusiveness” within my Reform congregation is not just a matter of welcoming non-Jewish family members. We extend that welcome to all groups, including those that may be marginalized in other types of congregations: young/old, traditional/liberal, more/less proficient in Hebrew, men/women, gay/straight, differently-abled/able-bodied. I’m proud to say that no one with a Jewish connection is “other”. Everyone who wants to worship and be involved is welcome to do so. I’m honestly trying to see the downside of that, but I can’t.

How does this translate to everyday practice? Well, as a congregation, we are encouraged to learn, to think, to discuss, to question. And, we are tasked with the responsibility of respecting one another and building bridges that encompass our various bonds to Judaism. So, Thover the course of a typical month, our Shabbat services – which are conducted in a mix of Hebrew and English – span from the traditional, to “Klezmer” services, to “blue jeans” services that are run by our youth group members. There are services and programs for families who have special needs (such as autism or Down Syndrome) and – yes – for families who are “mixed” with regard to their religious composition.

Our synagogue provides scholarships for students to attend Camp Harlam, and for older students who wish to participate in advanced ed. programs at Gratz College. We have a very active “continuing education” program that spans myriad topics, for all who want to continue to learn, explore, and discuss different facets of our religion. There is a wheelchair lift that allows those who are unable to climb steps to be present on our bima, and mezuzot throughout the building are mounted so that those who are wheelchair bound are also able to reach them. (cont’d)

Ruth says:

(cont’d from above)I’m also proud that we “fake” Jews within my shul are abundantly involved in a wide range of social action programs – and those who participate in these programs span across all of the groups represented within the tapestry of our membership. We work closely with a local food bank year-round, and have recently opened a food bank within our own synagogue. We clean up local roads, spend time at centers for the aged, collect books and supplies for Katrina flood victims, volunteer to paint/repair women’s shelters, and cook for Meals on Wheels. We have embraced “tikkun olam” and we do our best to repair our physical and of spiritual world … to benefit the WHOLE world, not just the Jewish portions of it.

For those of us unwilling to cloister ourselves in the shadows of a shtetl, there is a need for those within our Jewish minority to get along and interface with those in the gentile majority. As the world becomes increasingly “smaller”, our kids are also likely to meet people from more different backgrounds and cultures than those of us from previous generations ever met. Just from a sheer numbers standpoint, there are far more of “them” than there are of “us”. And if “they” are more willing to embrace my son if he meets a non-Jewish mate, versus our willingness to welcome that same non-Jewish mate to our own table … is it any wonder that those within our Jewish minority find it tempting to “choose the side” that is more accepting?

Thus, in my own synagogue, the goal is not to water down our beliefs or “recruit” converts; our objective is to find common ground that will allow the non-Jewish family member to be comfortable and participate to the greatest extent possible. In fact, welcoming the non-Jewish family member often translates into the entire family being more active in our temple and the chidren being raised Jewish.

Please look beyond whether we’re shomer Shabbat or keep kosher. We’re more alike than not. All Jews are “real” Jews.

anon says:

I agree with your conclusions but not your description of reality.
My sister married a non-Jewish man, and they have had too many doors slammed in their faces, too many snide comments and looks… They were a philo-Semitic household. The Jewish community in this city pushed them away. How mean and how short-sighted.

@Ruth, well said! I am married to an agnostic born Congregationalist. We are members of a reform synagogue that was founded by a group of couples who (all but one) are intermarried. I have two sons, 12 and 14, who have strong Jewish identities (I could kvell for hours about my older son’s bar mitzvah!). I am the cantorial soloist for our congregation as well. My husband behaves and is welcomed as a full participating member in our temple, as are all non-Jewish family members, regardless of whether they practice another religion or not. As a small synagogue our members wear many hats and roll up our sleeves to get things done – regardless of their religious identity. If we as a Jewish community do not embrace families like mine, and our congregations do not open their doors and hearts to Jewish families with a non-Jewish counterpart, we’re not accepting the realities of today’s society. Funny thing, it’s rare that I think of us as an intermarried family – we observe Jewish holidays, attend services, kids are in religious school. In many ways we are the “new” Jewish family.

Stephen – you have a Jewish heart and as one said before me, you are a mensch.
So glad to have you as part of the Jewish Community.

Natashajk says:

I just want to say that being a non-Jewish woman married to a Jewish man, our son’s acceptance, as a product of an interfaith marriage in Canada, is a little less than welcoming in official Jewish circles. We practice both of our religions — I go to synagogue with my husband and son and they come to church with me. I find that it is a lot harder to find acceptance because we have integrated both faiths into our family’s life. And I’m not baking on Yom Kippur because I am fasting with my husband.

I just hope that when/if our son wants to have a Bar Mitzvah he will be accepted as a Jew because he will have grown up Jewish and that he won’t need to convert because his mother isn’t. The bubbes may be the ones leading the way of change but unfortunately that doesn’t have a lot of sway with the rabbis, who are the ones who decide who is Jewish and who isn’t.

Benjamin says:

“I just hope that when/if our son wants to have a Bar Mitzvah he will be accepted as a Jew because he will have grown up Jewish and that he won’t need to convert because his mother isn’t”

Your son is not Jewish whatever you want him to be. The halakha is the halakha and it wont change for you (maybe in the future when there is a new Sanhedrin). And the fact that you practise christianity does not really help your case !

Miriam Leah says:

@shushan, we are all capable of doing evil things, regardless of our parentage. Just look at what is going on today in some religious Jewish communities where intermarriage is not even a blip on the radar.
@Benjamin, or anyone else who feels the need to publicly berate parents responding to this article by saying that they would like to see their children accepted as Jews, you are not helping “our” case! If children of intermarriage (or secular Jews, for that matter) see Judaism as a vehicle for hatred and exclusion, why would they ever want to espouse it? One only needs to read Torah or stories of many of the great rabbis to realize how much of a contribution Jews of non-Jewish parentage have made to our history.
That being said, I am the daughter of Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father. I was raised Jewish, and chose to become Orthodox as a young adult, with the full support of both of my parents. I doubt I would have done so if I felt that bigotry and public humiliation were really Torah values.

D'vorah says:

I very much doubt that my son’s bubbe has made peace with his relationship with a non-Jewish girl. These are very dangerous precedents for the Jewish people. It makes me very sad.

Benjamin says:

Miriam Leah – I am Israeli and really don’t care about intermarriage and the feelings of the assimilated Jews. I was just stating the obvious: if the mother is not Jewish, the child is not Jewish. If she wants him to be Jewish, she can start a gyur – good luck with that, I do think gyur should be easier.
But the main point is that the diaspora clearly has no future. The only prospect of Jews as a group in the diaspora is to survive, nothing else. The diaspora Jews add nothing to the Jewish Nation, history, culture. They are just a source of Alyah and nothing else (by the way, keep your money too, Israel does not need it).

Hyman Rosen says:

It must be so frustrating to an Orthodoxy that chooses to define itself by ever more irrational constraints on behavior that there are groups outside of it who simply ignore it and its strictures. (The latest was a prohibition on metal-framed eyeglasses!) All they can do outside of Israel is rant and rave and hate and exclude, but their exclusion is meaningless because who would want to join them? Meanwhile the non-Israeli Orthodox get a taste of their own medicine when the Israeli rabbinate rejects their converts, and oh, how they scream when their own ox is gored!

mark bernheim says:

Just for the record:the unique book HITLER’S JEWISH SOLDIERS is by Brian RIGG, not “Bing” as one respondent had it. it’s a greatly researched work about a little known phenomenon of Jewish and part Jewish men serving, some at real length, in the Nazi armies.
Brian Rigg is a non-Jewish scholar of military history and merits having his identity clarified. I was glad to help him in his editing of the Austrian nationals who were involved in the group who served and fought for the Wehrmacht. let’s remember: Brian Rigg.

Mr. Marche’s reflective piece was wonderful and sensitively done.

Lyone says:

Thank you for the wonderful article. I am still not sure of where I stand on the intermarriage question as a whole. I guess I prefer to evaluate the issue on a case by case basis…

But I am surprised at the the hostility and vitriol in some of the posts here.

There are some basic truths: A person’s status as a “Jew” is not determined by their personal preferences. This status is determined by Jewish Law, as defined by and described in the Torah. So, no matter how someone is “raised”, if that person’s natural mother isn’t Jewish, then that person must undergo a rabbinically recognized conversion process to be considered Jewish for purposes of marriage, Israeli citizenship, etc.

It is also true that a vast majority of children of intermarriages either do not identify as Jewish when they are adults, or do not raise their own children as practicing Jews, thus resulting in their own marriages to non-Jews, etc. Intermarriage does lead, within two generations, to declining numbers of Jewish children (and thus adults).

It is also true that this is a phenomenon that is not unique to Judaism. All religious communities in the US–with the exception of Muslims–are experiencing great losses, generationally, to secularization. This is significant because, in general, I suspect that many of those who marry Jewish spouses may not be all that attached to another religious tradition. Some certainly are, but is it a majority? How deep is the non-Jewish religious identity of the non-Jewish spouses in these intermarriages? I would imagine it is about as deep as the Jewish identity of their Jewish mates.

Religion is no longer understood as such a vital and crucial aspect of someone’s identity by most people in our culture. Certainly, it is not considered a matter of one’s eternal destiny. I think it is fair to say that many regard it as a lifestyle issue. Though some of us may decry the loss in values and tradition, we should recognize where others are coming from.

A beautiful article. Thank you for sharing your experiences and perspectives.

Whenever I hear Jewish people (usually Orthodox) pejoratively refer to goyim, I love to remind them that every day in their prayers they refer to themselves as goyim.

That’s right. In the tachanun prayer, you’ll find these words: Shomer goy echad… v’al yovad goy echad – “Watch over the singular nation… do not abandon the singular nation.” Shomer goy kadosh… v’al yovad goy kadosh- “Watch over the holy nation… do not abandon the holy nation.”

Poor Tevye. There does, indeed, seem to be another hand. Mr. Marche – you people sure know how to write. :)

David says:

@anti-intermarriage wrote: “You will have gentile children born to a gentile mother.”

This is an utterly false statement (I am an Orthodox Jew with rabbinic ordination); as Stephen correctly states, his child (and any future offspring born to his wife and him) are absolutely Jewish. There are a few ramifications relating to marriage with a Kohen (see Even HaEzer 4:19; Responsa Yaskil Avdi Even HaEzer 2:3).

Best,
David

I’ve said that least 207217 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

Oh my goodness! an amazing article. Thank you!

Pretty drawn out excuse to try and reason with guilt.

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Intertwined

Boy met girl. Boy married girl. But girl is Jewish, and boy is not. Now I’m a goy, part of a growing community of non-Jews with Jewish spouses, Jewish children, and a special connection to Judaism

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