Something Positive About Intermarriage, For a Change

Intermarriage has been trashed a lot in the past few weeks and we’ve been doing a lot of de-bunking: first of the idea that intermarriage is the cause of young American Jews’ distancing from Israel, second that interfaith marriages are more likely to fail. I thought it would be nice to end the week with a positive story.

Last weekend I was trying to make a dent in my reading pile and I found All the Obama 20-Somethings in the April 26 Sunday New York Times Magazine. One of the young people mentioned is Eric Lesser, 25, David Axelrod’s special assistant. I’m reading along about how Eric lives in a group house with some other people who work in the White House, and it occurs to me that his name is familiar.

Sure enough, back in 2005, when he was a student at Harvard, Eric wrote for us about his experiences on a Birthright Israel trip: Integrating My Identity in Israel. Then in 2006 he wrote one of the very best articles we’ve ever published – and the title conveys it all – How My Italian-American Catholic Mother Strengthened My Jewish Identity.

I continued reading the Times Magazine article, and was moved and heartened by this:

Eric Lesser looked out over the containers of Thai carryout, the bottles of wine and the Shabbat candles. “Should we do Shalom Aleichem?” he asked, and the whole table began singing a warbled but hearty version of the song that welcomes Shabbat. In Lesser’s group house of Obama staff assistants, Friday-night Shabbat dinners have become something of a ritual, a chance to relax and spend a few hours with friends, reflecting on the week.… At the end of every Friday dinner, the tradition is that everyone goes around the table and says something from the past week for which they’re grateful.

I wish the folks out there who are trashing intermarriage would stop and consider this example of a young product of intermarriage leading Shabbat dinners for his housemates. There are hundreds and thousands of similar examples of positive Jewish engagement by interfaith families and the young adults who grew up in them; this may just be the first one we know about with a White House connection. I can’t help but think that there would be a lot more, if intermarriage were viewed as an opportunity and not something to be demeaned.

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