Article Discussion: Don't Call Me Half-Jewish

HomeDiscussionsGrowing up in an Interfaith FamilyArticle Discussion: Don't Call Me Half-Jewish

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January 9, 2014 at 10:52 am #20118

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Click here to read the article: Don't Call Me Half-Jewish

January 19, 2014 at 4:06 am #20135

Robin Margolis

Dear Zach:

I’d like to offer a different perspective. Some of the other adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage look at this in a different manner.

As the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, an organization for adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage, I struggled when I first started the group as to what it should be named.

Finally, I did an internet search on what search terms adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage input when seeking resources.

The vast majority input “half-Jewish.”

When you’re doing outreach, you have to go where your constituents are and use language that they have adopted.

My group members who identify as Jews usually identify as “Jewish” by religion or secular culture, and “half-Jewish” by ethnicity.

Many of them feel that they wish to honor both parents’ ethnic backgrounds and the strong emotional ties to both parents.

You believe, if I understand you correctly, that only patrilineals are subjected to discrimination within the Jewish world.

I can assure that the matrilineals in my group report almost as many negative comments and rejections from other Jews as the patrilineals.

Frankly, many Jews just don’t want adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage in their communities, period.

They don’t care what we call ourselves or what we believe.

That is the primary underlying issue behind the poor treatment we experience.

You are rightfully distressed by the rejections you have received because of your mother’s ethnicity.

But the traditional viewpoint — still held by many Jews — is that Judaism is a matrilineal bloodlines religion. Everyone else has to convert in.

I believe that this viewpoint is historically erroneous.

If you check out the “Who Is A Jew?” essay on my group’s website, you’ll see that Judaism has accepted patrilineal descent in some eras, which is something that many Orthodox and Conservative Jews and their allies are not aware of.

You have an idea that I personally agree with — people should be judged as Jewish by what they believe, how they were raised, and how they currently behave.

But keep in mind that’s a Christian idea of identity that was adopted by Reform Judaism in 19th century Germany, and from there spread to other liberal Jewish groups.

In that framework, if you have a parent or grandparent who practiced that faith, it’s considered an additional support for a claim of identity with a particular faith.

I think its a good thing that Reform and other liberal Jewish groups, such as Humanistic Judaism, have adopted this idea, even though many of them aren’t aware of its source or history.

But presenting that rationale of Jewish identity to more traditionalist Jews doesn’t always go over well with them.

The traditionalist view of Jewish identity — and the discrimination against us that flows from it — is extremely psychologically damaging for all adult descendants of intermarriage, regardless of their various beliefs or identities.

But it’s going to take a determined fight by the adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage and their allies to diminish its grip on the Jewish community.

Finally, you mention that it is possible to live as a Jew without effort in Israel.

Unfortunately, that’s only true for Jews with two biological Jewish parents, who have been raised as Jews and have the paperwork to prove it, extending back at least three generations.

Adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage have major problems living in Israel and marrying Israelis.

Here’s a link to a paper by an Israeli Jewish organization on the problems of half-Jewish people in Israel:

http://www.il.boell.org/downloads/Mixed_families_booklet.pdf

The Israeli government just took away the funding of this group, the AMF of Israel, which was the only group in Israel totally devoted to protecting the rights of adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage.

My group maintains a page on our website honoring the AMF of Israel’s work and describing the immense amount of good they did trying to help half-Jewish people fight the Israeli government bureaucracy and Orthodox rabbinate on their behalf.

I believe that they were defunded because they were probably becoming too successful.

These are complex and painful issues. But people like ourselves can network with each other and join in groups to fight for better treatment of half-Jewish people, both in the Diaspora and Israel.

Cordially,
Robin Margolis
Coordinator
Half-Jewish Network
http://www.half-jewish.net

January 19, 2014 at 5:31 pm #20136

Zach C. Cohen

Hi Robin, thank you for your insight. I completely understand your viewpoint. My rejection of the term “half-Jewish” is a personal choice and not one that alienates my Christian mother (as seen in her comment above. Thanks, Mom!).
Just as I am the only one who can determine my Judaism, I have no right to label anybody else. I respect anybody’s desire to identify as they please.
Discrimination against matrilineal Jews is also an issue, and I did not mean to negate the importance eliminating that prejudice. Anybody who fights for acceptance is an ally of mine.

January 28, 2014 at 12:28 pm #20148

Susie

Thank you, Zach. I have a four month old and, though I don’t plan to convert, was considering the mikveh for him. Your article helped me see a different side to this than the one I’ve heard most from recently, and I’ve got a lot to discuss with my husband after reading your article. Thank you very much for sharing.

January 31, 2014 at 10:25 pm #20155

Robin Margolis

Dear Zach:

Glad you found my group’s perspective of interest and recognize that we’re your allies, no matter what descendants of intermarriage choose to call themselves.

Very cordially,
Robin

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