A Sad Story, But Not Typical

A recent article in Tablet Magazine has elicited a lot of comment:
Private Practice: A group of intermarried Jewish women gather for Shabbat but pack away their identities, by Elizabeth Cohen.

Cohen’s article is very sad. Three Jewish women meet for Shabbat dinner with their young children. Their non-Jewish husbands don’t participate. Turns out that each keeps her Judaica hidden away in a drawer, a box, a cabinet. Turns out they don’t discuss or mention Jewish topics with their significant others. The “cancellation [of Judaism] through silence and storage.” A grim picture.

But wait – all of their children are “enrolled in the same Jewish day school. Their Hebrew is impeccable. Their understanding of Torah … is profound for grade-schoolers. And it was they who led our Shabbat, singing prayers aloud, blessings as second nature as those their grandparents uttered.”

For me, this article doesn’t hang together. Sending children to Jewish day school is an expensive and serious commitment to Jewish life. Some of the comments on the article also question whether there are other issues in the relationships or the personalities of the author and her friends.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned at InterfaithFamily.com, it’s that every family is different, but there are patterns. I’m sure there are families where the partners who are not Jewish don’t participate in the Jewish life of their partner and children. From my point of view that is an unfortunate situation. But I wouldn’t want this article to be taken for more than it is, as representative of intermarriage in general. Some of the comments  on the article would do just that – one suggests that the article be required reading in every Hillel. As Cohen herself recognizes, “It isn’t always like this, of course. There are plenty of mixed marriages where the spouse gets involved, shares the traditions, looks on with something like admiration, maybe even converts.”

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3 thoughts on “A Sad Story, But Not Typical

  1. I just found out that my husband was telling me the truth about his mother being a German Jew (both parents were Jews-in-law ).  She grew up in Germany during WWII and was bombed out of her home.  She had nothing but the clothes on her back that she carted around with her mother.

    When I tell my mother-in-law that my dad is a Jew since his mom is a Jew, she says, “Oh, yes we have some of that in our family.”  When I ask the brothers if they are Jews they openly respond “yes.” 

    I am assuming that my mother-in-law denies being a Jew because of her experience as a child.  What do you think/

  2. I think this is an example of Jews not really knowing what they want and perhaps, uncompromisely and naively, thinking their non-Jewish spouse will just agree to anything.

    If being Jewish and/or having Jewish children is really a big issue, then this is something that must be discussed and figured out before marriage.  One must make the determination if this is so important that one should either seek a Jewish partner, or be able to really come to terms with his/her non-Jewish parnter (if conversion isn’t an option).  It is unfair for the Jewish spouse to expect the non-Jewish spouse to just allow his/her kids to be raised in just that spouse’s religion.   While I feel for these women, foresight may have prevented this.

  3. I think there is a difference between “hiding” or “avoiding” Jewish topics in the home and non-participation in Judaism.  

    My husband is not Jewish.  He’s perfectly happy for me to raise the children Jewish.  He’s fine with the dues and religious school fees we pay.  He doesn’t complain as I leave him in charge for the night while I go to a Board or committee meeting.  He’ll drive the kids to religious school if I can’t.  He’ll come to the purely social activities of the synagogue.  I even once had him babysit for little ones during a Rosh Hashana service when my babysitter fell through.  He’s sat through seders and Rosh Hashana dinners with my family, though a little bored.

    That said, he does not attend services.  Ever – unless one of the kids’ religious school class is helping to lead.  We don’t do Shabbat dinners (though I sometimes think I’d like to start doing so, and he’d be fine with that).  We don’t keep kosher. He really doesn’t participate in Jewish life in any way.  He’s not Jewish, after all. But he is very supportive of his Jewish family.  I really don’t have a problem with his level of involvement.

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