Article Discussion: A Family Not a Statistic

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April 10, 2009 at 4:14 pm #1465

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Click here to read the article: A Family Not a Statistic

January 10, 2011 at 11:50 am #5376

Harold

As someone who once stood in your shoes, I read your article with great interest. Having been through a similar process (my wife ultimately converted, but many years into our marriage), I think the psychologist is only half right. It is true that Judaism can sometimes be a “cover” for underlying issues like communication, etc. However, that is not to say that religious identities are not a real issue, all on their own. They are much more intrinsic to who we are than we often realize, and can often come up in the most unexpected ways – and moreso after marriage than before. (Incidentally, our experience taught us that just because a therapist is Jewish doesn’t mean that he/she is in tune with the issues-sometimes a secular or not-so-religious Jew can even be less in tune with the religious issues.)

Again, having been through this process, one word that came up in your article more than once that concerned me was “compromise.” Whenever these decsions, on either side, become one of “compromise” rather than a truly shared decision, they are off on the wrong track from the start. It’s not always possible – but ideally, these are decisions that the couple arrives at together, not as a result of negotiation. When one feels they have “compromised” more than the other, then it becomes a measuring game (e.g. I agreed to not have a tree, so I can’t agree to something else since you haven’t really compromised) rather than a joint vision on how to create a life together. When my wife decided to convert, it was incredibly important to me that she was doing it for herself and not for me, and not even 1% for me. Because otherwise, such “compromises” have a way of breaking down later on.

Finally, I would say definitely don’t push Briana on conversion. However, see how much you can together share a life infused with Judaism. It’s not about what she has to give up to do this, but what she can embrace and find meaningful for herself. Many times, someone may not be interested in converting now, but things can be very different down the road. It’s not an expectation you should hold out – but it always remains a possibility. This link is to an article my wife wrote this past summer describing some of her own process in this regard. I am sharing it with you in the event it might be helpful –
http://www.aish.com/jw/s/100466579.html (If the link doesn’t work, go to aish.com, and type “letter to chelsea” in the search section)

January 11, 2011 at 12:02 am #5380

Debbie B.

I agree with so much of what Harold (and his wife in her article) have to say. I speak as someone who converted more than two decades after marriage to a Jewish husband.

I too am uncomfortable with the idea of “compromise” which sounds like a couple might keep score and “trade” things they give up. You’re setting yourselves up for conflict because these things cannot be quantified so both spouses are bound to feel like they are getting the short end of the deal.

My husband also never pushed me to convert. When I finally did, I found out to my surprise that although I felt that I had known since we got married that I would convert eventually, that he had never had such expectations, completely accepting the possibility that I would never choose to convert. When I converted, I pledged and signed in a “Declaration of Faith” that I was converting of my own free will. In some sense, it’s not really of one’s “own free will” if there is outside pressure. I am grateful that I was allowed to convert when I felt I was ready, not when someone else wanted me to do so. I don’t think I would feel nearly as good as I do about my conversion if I thought that it was anything other than what I really wanted for myself.

The funny thing is that I thought that most people would understand that since I converted so many years after marriage that it was not for my husband. And yet I have found that some people seem to think that maybe I converted because my resistance to it wore down over the years. And then they really do not understand why I now have more need to be observant than my husband does. Oh well, some people simply do not understand that there are indeed sincere converts.

I agree very much with Harold’s wife that children should be brought up well in ONE faith. Don’t make them choose (which can make them feel that they are favoring one parent over another, and asks them to choose without really knowing what they are choosing). And don’t give them just a taste of each faith which is hardly much more than nothing at all.

January 11, 2011 at 1:46 pm #5384

Harold

Debbie,

Thanks, and so much of what you said resonates. Sounds like your experience shares some commonality with ours. One of my pet peeves is people who assume that the conversion is “for the marriage.” These days, no one really has to convert unless they want to. I even have heard people say really stupid things like, “She’s not Jewish. She converted.” Truthfully, in our experience, we have encountered much less of this among Jews who are more observant. I think that is because there is a basic insecurity among so many (too many) Jews that they just assume the person converted for the marriage, as if there was nothing inherent in Judaism that would have drawn them to it.

January 11, 2011 at 11:37 pm #5387

Heather

i was with my Gentile partner for several years, much to the dismay of my Conservative parents. they weren’t particularly observant, but they were opposed to my being with a non-Jew even though some of our friends and relatives had intermarried. i sought out guidance from a Jewish therapist, whom i still see every so often. he felt that my parents used religion as a means to cover up other insecurities, such as would my partner be able to provide me with a good life and would he be compatible with me in other areas that have nothing to do with religion. he also felt that it was a means to hide their fears about me becoming an adult. the therapist also believed that by voicing criticism and hostility, they would drive me away from them and from Judaism. while the therapist encouraged in-marriage, he also did not turn away the intermarried. as time went on, my parents shifted their tone and expressed the desire for my partner to convert. but i made it clear it wasn’t up to them, and that he would need to come to that decision on his own even if it was many years down the line. slowly, they came around to him. my partner was open to certain aspects of Judaism, but there were times i could tell he was hesitant about it. the big issue was Christmas. although his family were non-practicing Christians, it was a big family gathering for them and was nothing more than a day off work (which was fine with me). the other big issue was how his parents would feel if he had become Jewish. although they were accepting of me, it would be a massive adjustment for them. i was also concerned if conversion became a reality, he would be more observant than me and our views might clash. we separated a few years ago not because of religious differences, but because he had an affair and left me for the other woman.

i agree with Harold, don’t push conversion on your partner. they will feel as though you don’t love them for who they are. i have friends who are dating non-Jews and some must hide their relationships from their parents. their partners have agreed to convert if the relationships become more serious, but i know it will really be to appease the parents and that is not the way to go.

January 12, 2011 at 4:15 am #5389

Debbie B.

Harold,

I do think that Jews reactions to converts often reflect how they feel about their own Jewish identity, but I’ve found that it does not strictly correlate with observance. Some of my Reform friends who are not very “observant” in the traditional sense have surprised me with their delight at my conversion, and in some cases have been more understanding than I expected of my more traditional observance. (My Jewish former boss and friend of 20 years has made a big effort to find the few kosher restaurants in his area for us to meet at even though he does not keep any of the dietary laws himself and had always given me the impression that he thought kashrut is foolish—but he is respectful of my choice to keep kosher.) And some of my Orthodox friends have surprised me with their enthusiasm given that my conversion was with a Conservative Beit Din, so I worried that they would tell me my conversion wasn’t worth anything because it wasn’t under Orthodox auspices.  In all cases, the ones who react positively are excited that it brings us closer because it gives us a commonality—one that we sort of had before in that I lived “Jewishly” for many years before conversion (more so than my Reform friends!), but that became stronger once I formally converted. Being a fellow “member of the tribe” enables a special intimacy with my Jewish friends. 

It is true that Jews who see their Jewish heritage more as a burden, than a gift, and don’t have an overall positive view of Judaism, can’t understand why I was so drawn to it and why being Jewish is so important to me.

January 12, 2011 at 9:46 am #5390

Harold

Heather,

I want to clarify what I said. I don’t think conversion should ever be pushed, for the obvious reason that it’s counterproductive. But I also don’t think, as you described, someone should consider conversion if their relationship with a Jew “becomes more serious.” The only reason to convert is that the person genuinely wants to embrace Judaism. Having said that, I think the Jewish community could do a much better job of making conversion to Judaism available as a viable and attractive option – I have met many intermarrieds who I think would enthusiastically embrace it on its own terms if they were shown the beauty in it. As I said in my first post, it is not about compromise and giving up things – it is about embracing something that is life-enriching and even life-transforming. If we showed and lived that side of Judaism more, there are many non-Jews who would want to convert, not because of their partner, but because they would simply want to be part of this beautiful 3,500 year old tradition.  Regarding your description of the therapist, I agree with therapists (and this was touched on in the initial article) who say that sometimes issues raised around Judaism are a cover for other things – like insecurity and communication issues.  However, I also have observed the opposite: other issues can become a cover for Judaism issues. I know some couples where there were various issues in the relationship, but underlying it was the fact that their respective religious identities were far more a part of who they were than they realized, and that underlying gap between them often was expressed in other ways.

Debbie,

I completely agree – Jewish reactions to converts do not strictly correspond to observance.  I have only experienced a very general correlation, with of course, many exceptions.  As you said, the more someone is comfortable in their own Jewish skin, the more they tend to embrace the convert. And, in general, someone who sees their being Jewish more as an ethnic identity is less able to relate to and understand the convert – sometimes the converts embrace of Judaism can even be threatening to their own Jewish self-concept (again, with notable exceptions.

June 4, 2011 at 3:48 am #5832

FlyRods

As someone who has a family member who is from one of the Protestant sects and is marrying a Jewish person, I found your article and the ensuing comments to be quite interesting.

In both families, there are both people who are quite accepting and don’t care while there are a few others who seem… disconcerted at the upcoming union of the two persons.

I’m following along to see how it will all turn out.

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