Monday, September 08, 2008

Dealing with Interfaith Marriage

A guest post by JS

Writing this post is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, mostly because I'm a lot more conflicted than I thought I would be. As a practicing, MO Jew I have a knee-jerk reaction when I hear about intermarriage. But beyond being MO, as a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, I grew up just knowing that intermarriage was the gravest possible sin for which there was no atonement possible. And while I hate those who toss around Holocaust metaphors so flippantly, there was always the tacit specter of Hitler whenever the subject of intermarriage was brought up - how could one marry a non-Jew and give up his own and his children's Jewishness when no more than 60 years ago people were being gassed and cremated for their Jewishness?

So when I saw an article in Ha'Aretz entitled "How can grandparents make their interfaith grandkids more Jewish?" I was livid. My immediate reaction to the article's title was a snarky "Maybe you wouldn't have to be asking this question if you made your household and your kids more Jewish!" The article is about a new organization called Granparents Circle and a new book entitled "Twenty Things for Grandparents of Interfaith Grandchildren To Do (And Not Do) To Nurture Jewish Identity in Their Grandchildren" which intend to help Jewish grandparents pass some Judaism over to their grandchildren who are the product of interfaith marriages.

The following story from the article really bothered me:

[W]hen Kurowski threw a Hanukkah party...To Kurowski's dismay, her daughter - whose husband is Christian - hung three Christmas stockings on the mantel. When Kurowski asked for the stockings to be taken down, her daughter was offended. As it turned out, the stockings had been handmade by the children's other grandmother. "When I talked about it in the grandparents Circle, I came to realize it was my problem," Kurowski said. "And instead of focusing on what I didn't like, I should be thrilled with the fact that they were having a Hanukkah party."

Again, knee-jerk reaction: "It's this pluralism and acceptance of anything and everything, including your daughter's chutzpah in your own home, that led to this issue in the first place!"

And this picture from the organization was just over the top:

After thinking for a moment, I finally realized they were actually comparing modern interfaith marriages to Yosef marrying an Egyptian, Osnat, and having two children, Ephraim and Menashe, who became 2 of the tribes.

But then, of course, the situation hits home and the wind is suddenly taken out of your sails. A relative of ours is marrying out of the faith. The fact that he's been an atheist for many years doesn't make it any easier to deal with. And it's all the more difficult because we're all very close with this relative and couldn't imagine cutting him out of our lives or ripping kriah or sitting shiva. Nonetheless, many family members are not attending the wedding and some will only go to the reception (which ironically will be glatt kosher) and not the ceremony. And this relative's mother (whose other child is married to a Jew) will one day (do you say God willing?) become a grandmother - one of the grandmothers in the article above. And suddenly all the snarkiness and sarcasm goes away and you're just confused and you don't know what to think - after all is it his fault Judaism never had anything to offer him? Should he be forced to marry a Jew to make his family happy? Does it even matter if he marries a Jew if he wouldn't raise them Jewish anyway? And you realize human drama isn't black and white and there are no easy answers and while knee-jerk reactions provide momentary relief they don't offer long-term solutions.

Buy DB's book. (I'm eagerly awaiting my copy in the mail)

No comments: