I used to be a Sunday School teacher teaching Judaica and Jewish history at local synagogues and congregations. Currently, I tutor Jewish kids at a local Jewish day school. My mother was a Judaica teacher for decades and my sister taught as well. I have seen how kids are raised and respond within Jewish as well as mixed families. I have even spoken with friends and acquaintances about this issue and gotten their take on it.
[I have been holding off on this blog for a while since this is a very difficult topic for me. Aside from the fact that I was almost guilty of this myself, I have so many friends and family who will be directly affected by this blog. I was asked why I have delayed writing this... I'm not sure that I have a good answer except that it will hurt people I care about. I'd like to think that they already know me well enough to be aware of how I feel about this and other topics and that I'm not afraid of being politically incorrect. This may be true. Regardless, to them I say that people can differ in their convictions and still love each other. I may not understand and/or approve of your life choices, but that doesn't mean I don't care for you. I apologize if this hurts or offends you, but I cannot apologize for my opinion and feelings.]
Despite this intense conflict of feeling, yesterday I reached my breaking point. Perhaps it was a joke, but I didn't find it to be funny. An old male classmate of mine had a Facebook status, "This is the best time of year to be married to a gentile!"
Fantastic. Let's show some PRIDE that we've not just intermarried, but that we are also happy about it, that we have now relegated our next generation to being non-Jewish (with a gentile mother) AND being apathetic about which religion is important in our lives.
I will admit that I am not completely innocent of this travesty. When I was merely dating, I dated non-Jewish guys (two, to be exact). I was not happy about them being non-Jewish, but felt that my choices in the Detroit Jewish community were extremely limited (not an excuse). Even when I dated Jewish guys, I was bothered because, while they insisted that they were interested in being more Jewish, they were never proactive about doing more or even learning about their religion. I dated these guys because I was fighting my Jewish soul and being more Jewish/observant (as I spoke about in a previous blog).
Perhaps hindsight is 20/20. Perhaps I'm only now accepting what I have always felt, believed, and loudly promoted. Being Jewish is fantastic. Being Jewish is a culture, a people, a way of life, a religion. Being Jewish is to be different. It's all of the above. It's everything. While it's not always easy, it is something to be proud of and to fight for. It is not something to minimize or ignore.
Sadly, most American Jews today are "cultural" and nothing more (I have theories as to why the Cultural Jew is the most common, but that's a subject for another blog). They are ignorant of their own religion and history, and, based on that ignorance, assume that Judaism is restrictive and, thus, off-putting. It doesn't help that they don't have exposure to religious Jews who demonstrate that it can be fun and enjoyable. They only hear about the bigoted, obnoxious, ultra-religious Jews who, quite detrimentally, make Judaism seem outdated and anti-women.
Because of that, I have some sympathy for most Jews... to a point. Ignorance is no excuse.
There is no excuse to not know the basics about your own religion; to do your own homework. I start with one argument:
Why discard your own religion before knowing anything about it?
Why not ask questions about your own religion? About your identity? Your history? Who you are? Why deny yourself and your children knowledge?
When someone asks you what it means to be Jewish, you should have an answer.
When you date someone, you should be thinking of your children, grandchildren, and their futures.
Then there are the Jews who are somewhat educated, involve themselves in Jewish activities, Jewish youth groups, participate in educating our next generation, and yet have no problem dating and marrying non-Jewish spouses. Before accepting my full love of Judaism and marrying a religious Israeli, I would have fallen into this category. It's just as detrimental to the Jewish People's future, though perhaps sadder, and I would have had absolutely no explanation for my kids had they asked me, "If Judaism is so important, why did you marry Dad?"
Adolf Hitler felt that Jews were lesser people and had scientists manipulate science to prove his theory. In his endeavors, he ended up murdering at least six million Jews and we have learned NOTHING from this. We have only continued his action with the voluntary dilution of intermarriage.
Even Jewish philanthropist Edgar Bronfman, who fought for Jewish rights and to strengthen Jewish identity among young people, who fought Swiss banks to release huge amounts of monies as restitution to murdered Jews, continued the dilution. He even went so far as to encourage it.
“Intermarriage today can even be an opportunity for a stronger embrace of Jewish identity,” Bronfman wrote in the Jewish Daily Forward in 2010. “Intermarriage is not a calamity but an opportunity for both a Jewish and non-Jewish partner to learn.”
I beg to differ. If education, exposure, and tolerance of different religions and identities were the goal, there are simpler and better ways to accomplish it: joint religious events, seminars, and interfaith gatherings, just to name a few. But again, you should learn about your own religion and identity first before studying others.
Nowhere in science does dilution strengthen anything. Rather, it is the process of making something weaker or less concentrated. Religion is no different.
Yes, there are some overlapping morals and beliefs, but there is a stark difference between Judaism and Christianity (or Judaism and any other religion); a chasm that cannot be bridged. When the parents disagree on the basic tenets of religion, what is the child supposed to believe? If it's not important enough to the father/mother to marry Jewish, why should Judaism be important to the child? Why should the existence of Israel matter? Why would it become anything other than something interesting, yet disconnected and academic... How could it not be merely...