Article Discussion: You and Israel: It’s Complicated

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This topic has 5 voices, contains 12 replies, and was last updated by  Robin Margolis 7 years ago.

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February 23, 2011 at 2:00 pm #5512


Click here to read the article: You and Israel: It’s Complicated

March 2, 2011 at 12:21 am #5539


Dear Michal:

I was very disappointed by the omission of key facts in this essay. As the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network for adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage, I know that Israel is not “family” for half-Jewish people and does not “welcome” them.

I receive endless news articles and emails from Israel with detailed accounts of the web of negative and discriminatory Israeli laws and policies against half-Jewish people and interfaith couples.

I am in contact with three Israeli Jewish organizations fighting this discriminations. You would do your trip participants a favor by being truthful with them instead of encouraging them false hopes of acceptance.

I have dealt many times with the phenomenon of Israeli Jews — like the ones who falsely assured your half-Jewish trip participants that they were “family” — telling trusting half-Jewish people that they are welcome to Israel.

Sadly, many Israelis apparently believe that populating Israel even with half-Jewish people so that they will have allies within their political parties and have people to join the IDF takes precedence over the truth.

It’s not “complicated.”

Robin Margolis

March 2, 2011 at 7:28 am #5544

Robin Margolis

Michal, I wish to apologize if my comment on your article is coming across as overly critical. I can tell that perhaps you have family members. You’re trying to be positive about Israel. But if you are the child of an intermarriage, I hope you’ll consider that other half-Jewish people desperately need you to tell them what is going on for half-Jewish people in Israel. You could be very helpful to them.

March 2, 2011 at 7:42 am #5545

Robin Margolis

Michal, second apology — one sentence should have read — “I can tell that you perhaps have family members in Israel.”

Please excuse my failure to be clear!

March 2, 2011 at 11:11 pm #5548


Dear Robin
I live in Israel, and I think it is a bit harsh for you to say that israelis *falsely* accept half jewish people, that their open arms are not sincere. As if we are all smiles when we see them but secretly speak ill of them behind their backs.

Rather, the situation is that there is unfortunate Ultra-orthodox leadership that creates a beurocratic mess for people who are not Jewish, and they create a huge mess in many other ways too. They are resented by general society, and I say that as a gay man trying to live a fun, positive liberal observant life in this country. It’s not easy with them pulling the strings.

But Israelis themselves couldn’t care less, and if there is any society that is genuine in the world, it is Israelis. That is why people think we are rude – because we don’t put up appearances. We don’t have time to care what you are up to at night or how many fractions jewish you are. Israel welcomes its visitors with genuine hospitality.

And…. just to throw another log onto the fire … in the case of half jews and beurocracy, I can actually understand the country needing to at least make some hurdles for people who are not fully jewish. This is because we automatically grant citizenship to anyone who is Jewish, so the definition of who is Jewish has a huge impact on the country in so many ways. Imagine if the US, or any other major western country, were to have a blanket rule like that – it would be governed by more red tape than the naturalization process is already covered in. Israel is the only country in the world that hands out passports so easily, so it deserves at least a bit of discrimination in the matter.

And…. the main thing of course I can say is come visit and see for yourself!!


March 4, 2011 at 10:26 am #5553


Dear Eli: I’m sure I was too harsh with Michal — she has family in Israel.

I understand that you are an Israeli citizen and want to think well of Israel also.

But Israel treats half-Jewish people very badly and that has to be discussed openly and honestly.

First, if you visit the message board of the Half-Jewish Network at: … 46&msgid=0

you will see documentation of many incidents of Israel’s poor treatment of half-Jewish people, all linked to Israeli news websites. Please see the documentation for yourself.

Second, Israelis always blame the ultra-Orthodox for this discrimination — but the rest of Israel’s citizens are doing nothing to stop it.

The three Israeli Jewish organizations fighting this discrimination tell me that they get almost no help from other Israelis. Why are other Israelis not helping these organizations?

So when you speak of Israelis welcoming half-Jewish people on a personal basis, I have to say that is not enough.

Finally, when you say ” in the case of half jews and beurocracy, I can actually understand the country needing to at least make some hurdles for people who are not fully jewish” — that is exactly what I am talkling about.

Many Israelis who are not Orthodox may be nice and welcoming to half-Jewish people in person — but they apparently secretly think we don’t deserve the same rights that they have.

They think that there should be more “hurdles” for half-Jewish people in Israel than for people with two Jewish parents.

Also, I don’t know why you think Israel hands out passports easily to half-Jewish people — many of them spend years fighting for citizenship. This is also discussed on the Half-Jewish Network website.

March 6, 2011 at 4:33 pm #5559

Michal Richardson

Thanks for reading. Robin, the issues you describe are significant, and I hope I never gave a Birthright participant the wrong idea. I did mention in my article that the “simplified” version of Israel we saw on our trip differs somewhat from the messy (though still warm, as Eli demonstrates) bureaucracy that Israelis experience. The fullest picture of Israel, with its various and involved shortcomings, isn’t one that I would expect Birthright trip planners and tour guides to cover; that would require an entirely different sort of trip. I don’t work for Birthright in any official capacity, but on the trips I have staffed (and in this article), I’ve leaned towards sharing my feelings towards Israel, which are always mixed. The idea of the article was to highlight what potential participants can expect to learn and feel on Birthright (not from moving to Israel) – and to that end, I think I related my experiences somewhat faithfully.

March 7, 2011 at 10:18 am #5563

Robin Margolis

Dear Michal: I understand what you are saying — Birthright trips are not intended to be an in-depth view of Israel.

But consider the other side — I have seen Youtube videos and articles on the web from half-Jewish people who went to Israel on Birthright trips who genuinely have no clue about the web of negative laws and discrimination that they would face as residents of Israel.

They talk about how wonderful and accepting Israel is to half-Jewish people based on those trips.

They also talk about plans to make aliyah — clearly no one on their Birthright trips told them the truth.

So my feeling is that those of us who do know the truth and are half-Jewish ourselves, have a moral duty to warn our fellow half-Jewish folks about the truth.

March 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm #5565

Ed Case

Regular visitors to this site know that every time we publish an article that has anything to do with positive experiences people in interfaith relationships, including people with one Jewish parent, have in Israel, Robin Margolis posts a comment that criticizes the government and rabbinate in Israel for their mis-treatment of people in interfaith relationships. I respect Robin greatly but think that her approach is not productive. Birthright Israel is to be commended for including young adults with one Jewish parent. Studies of Birthright Israel’s impact show that the Jewish identity of participants with one Jewish parent is strengthened — a very positive result. The best way to address the admittedly negative policies and attitudes with which the government and rabbinate in Israel treat people in interfaith relationships is to increase the positive feelings people in interfaith relationships have about Israel so that they will be motivated to participate in efforts to change the negative policies and attitudes.

March 7, 2011 at 6:58 pm #5570


Ed Case brings up a valid point in that Birthright Israel is to be commended for including children of interfaith marriages.  However, the discussion thread’s terminology for these participants bothers me.  As time goes on, I realize I’m not OK with the term “half Jewish.”  For as long as I can remember, I used this expression myself in reference to celebrities or other people I didn’t actually know.  But when I first heard a friend refer to my own child as “only half Jewish,” it struck me as wrong.  My sons have a Catholic father, but they are being raised Jewish and our whole family participates in our traditions.  After giving it some thought, I realize I am making a distinction between those people with mixed-faith parents who are not practicing Judaism and those who are.  I’m not saying this is a fair distinction, only that I realized why the expression was bothering me now that I’m a parent. recently published a touching article by a young women who addressed the effect it had on her in Hebrew School to be singled out as “half-Jewish.”  Needing some clarity and reassurance, I questioned a Rabbi at the Chabad shul we sometimes attend and where my son goes to Hebrew School.  His answer was that there is no such thing as half Jewish … you are or you aren’t.  I realize this is off-subject from the original topic, but it relates as I feel that sensitivity towards the children of mixed-faith parents can be improved, regardless of what is happening in Israel.  Israel isn’t unique in the way some people of religion view “half Jews.”  I don’t have the answers. But I tend to agree with my Chabad Rabbi. It’s no longer about celebrities and people I don’t know.  Now it’s about my sons and the other children who are being raised in the Jewish faith but have a parent who isn’t Jewish.  

I shared the above-mentioned article with the Chabad Rabbi and he responded by telling me there is no tolerance in his community for anyone who makes that distinction.  Of course, I’m aware there are children who have a Jewish father instead of a Jewish mother, so they aren’t considered Jewish at all.  But that is a whole other issue, outside of the reform movement.  At least as far as this local shul is considered, they welcome everyone, but are always clear as to their limitations when the mother isn’t Jewish.  I think that similarly, Birthright, as Michal stated, is a great opportunity for ALL participants to connect to Israel and the greater Jewish community – regardless of whether they have 1 or 2 Jewish parents.  I would tend to disagree that they need to be singled out before Birthright more than any other non-Israeli Jew would.  From what I read and hear, being “half Jewish” is not the only hurdle waiting when a person moves to Israel. It sounds as if non-Israelis’ “Jewishness” is regularly put to the test and often falls short of the state’s definition of Jewish, whether they come from a Reform, Conservative or mixed-faith background.

March 7, 2011 at 7:23 pm #5572

Ed Case

I agree with a lot of what Dana says. For a long time I was not comfortable with the term “half-Jew” for the reasons Dana describes, and at we usually say “people with one Jewish parent.” When people call themselves “half-Jews,” we don’t say they can’t, or shouldn’t, but I still don’t like the term. We have a similar issue with “goy” — personally I hate the term and would just as soon never use it on our site, but when someone refers to him or herself as a “goy” and not in a negative way, we’re not going to say they can’t or they shouldn’t.

March 8, 2011 at 2:32 am #5573

Robin Margolis

Dear Ed:

Ed says: “Robin Margolis posts a comment that criticizes the government and rabbinate in Israel for their mis-treatment of people in interfaith relationships.”

Robin replies: Ed, I think emet (truth) should come first. I feel that it is setting interfaith family members up for major disillusionment if they are not told the truth about Israel’s poor treatment of them. They trust interfaith family outreach professionals to care about them and advise them.

Ed says: “Studies of Birthright Israel’s impact show that the Jewish identity of participants with one Jewish parent is strengthened — a very positive result.”

Robin replies: Actually, Ed, if you wish, I can send you an analysis of those statistics showing that they may not be accurate. They based them on less than 20 half-Jewish people if I read them correctly. Birthright also withdrew a report issued several years ago showing that the trips have little effect on the Jewish identities of any trip participants. The report was promptly buried, but I have a copy of it, and could get you one.

Ed says: “The best way to address the admittedly negative policies and attitudes with which the government and rabbinate in Israel treat people in interfaith relationships is to increase the positive feelings people in interfaith relationships have about Israel so that they will be motivated to participate in efforts to change the negative policies and attitudes.”

Robin: That is what I used to think, but I had to abandon that approach. All that happened was that half-Jewish people, like so many Jews with two Jewish parents, kept quiet about Israel’s poor treatment of interfaith families — they felt positive about Israel, and felt that it would be wrong to mention anything negative about the country, including its poor treatment of people like themselves. So nothing happened among half-Jewish people on these issues.

When I began writing tougher emails and newspaper “talkbacks,” then I gained a more respectful hearing from Israelis. Israelis respect “tough” rather than “nice.”

The three Israeli Jewish organizations fighting this discrimination — Israel Religious Action Center, the Association for the Protection of Mixed Families’ Rights (in Israel), and the New Family — have asked me to do whatever I can to mobilize American Jews to fight the abusive treatment of interfaith families in Israel. They need money and help from American Jews. They are baffled by American Jews remaining silent on these issues.

They also fight for other causes, such as the rights of Reform and other non-Orthodox Jews in Israel and would welcome donations.

March 8, 2011 at 3:13 am #5574

Robin Margolis

Dear Dana and Ed:

I share your interest in the nomenclature of half-Jewish people, but aren’t we getting a little bit off-topic? If Ed runs an article on “what to call children of intermarriage,” I’d be delighted to comment.

But I can tie the question of what to call half-Jewish people to our current topic — Israel’s media routinely refers to half-Jewish people as “non-Jews,” “non-halachic Jews,” “shiksas,” “goys,” “Russians,” and many other terms that are much, much, much worse.

I routinely write Israeli media outlets rebuking those who use such terms. I have managed to stop a number of ugly comment threads and other news pieces in their tracks.

I would urge other members of interfaith families to do the same. Israelis pay attention when Americans are polite but firm about unacceptable comments and actions towards interfaith families.

For example, there was an article lauding the Knesset for holding a hearing on basically how to prevent intermarriages in America.

The Israeli commenters on the article were happy to agree that the bad American Jews shouldn’t intermarry and it was time that the Israeli government interferred.

I put a stop to the entire discussion with a simple post headined: “Doesn’t Israel Have Interfaith Families?” I asked if Israel was prepared to take action against its own interfaith families. I was greeted with silence.

Israel’s newspapers are in English, free and online. I’d be happy to assist anyone who wanted to start objecting to the attacks on Israeli and American interfaith families that Israeli newspapers carry virtually every week.

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