The Disgrace of a Nice Jewish Girl?

I am deeply distressed by the publication in Reform Judaism magazine of an article that undermines the Reform movement’s historic approach to welcoming and engaging interfaith families Jewishly.

The current issue of Reform Judaism includes the article "The Disgrace of a Nice Jewish Girl."


The article, titled The Disgrace of a Nice Jewish Girl, tells an admittedly sad story of a Jewish woman who divorced her husband who was not Jewish after he had an affair when their first child was 16 months old. Unfortunately, the back story is all about how the woman’s father was opposed to her intermarriage as a “shanda” — something that would bring shame on him, his family, and the Jewish community. She hoped to prove him wrong, but after the divorce, her father still thinks intermarriage is a shanda.

The author says that she doesn’t think intermarriage is a shanda, that “we should welcome non-Jews into our communities,” that “plenty of Jews… cheat on their spouses,” and that “I want to believe that my divorce is not related in any way to the fact that my ex was not Jewish.”

But her conclusion is, “I can’t help but think sometimes, Maybe things would have turned out differently had my husband been Jewish.” And “these days I nonetheless find myself searching again for a ‘nice Jewish boy.’”

The Reform movement pioneered the modern Jewish effort to welcome and engage interfaith families. Under the leadership of Rabbi Alexander Schindler z”l, the movement created an Outreach Department and the movement’s rabbis decided that Jewish identity is based on how a child is raised not just the mother being Jewish. Some Reform synagogues today go out of their way to thank the partners who are not Jewish for their contribution to and participation in Jewish life. Many Reform rabbis officiate at weddings of interfaith couples hoping that doing so increases the chances for a Jewish future for that couple and their family.

This article, despite all of its caveats, sends a completely contrary message to those partners who aren’t Jewish. It suggests, as the author “can’t help thinking,” that intermarriage is the cause of marital unhappiness. Worse, it suggests that the author’s father was right in thinking that intermarriage will cause “the ultimate demise of the Jewish people through assimilation.” I can’t overstate how sad it is to read that message in the official publication of the Union for Reform Judaism.

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8 thoughts on “The Disgrace of a Nice Jewish Girl?

  1. Hi Ed,

    I do work for the URJ, but my article in no way represents the URJ. All the opinions, thoughts or statements in the article represent only my own. I expressed my concern to RJ magazine’s editors that my piece might be offensive to some, but they wanted to publish it as one point of view. One of the beauties of Reform Judaism is to respect differing viewpoints. The editors assert that telling personal stories about intermarriage doesn’t devalue or condemn intermarriage. What I wanted to convey in the article was the conflict I felt as a result of my upbringing. I am not against interfaith marriages at all and I don’t truly believe that Jews are more or less likely to commit adultery than non-Jews, but my father’s values have had a tremendous impact on me and cause me confusion at times. Even though I push against them, they can creep in, for better or for worse. My personal journey through my own conflicted feelings, should not reflect badly on the Reform Movement as a whole or take anything away from the incredible Outreach done by the URJ, Reform congregations or individuals.

  2. Annette,
    Thank you for your comment. I did not meant to be critical of you personally in any way, and I appreciate and sympathize with the conflicted feelings you express. I also appreciate that Reform Judaism respects differing viewpoints. But the RJ magazine editors seriously misjudged this. They put intermarriage in a “Focus” section about Shanda next to drug addiction. Your article was brought to my attention by a close friend – a mother who is not Jewish, active in our Reform synagogue, actively raising Jewish children, sending them to URJ camp – who was tremendously upset and felt the message was that people like her are responsible for the ultimate demise of the Jewish people. That is not a message that should appear in the official publication of the Union.
    Ed Case

    • M Brent, sorry you’re having troubles seeing the article. I just tested the link and it opened right to the beginning of the article; in the online reader I was able to flip to the next page to read the end of the article. The article starts on page 45 and ends on page 46.

  3. Ed – I just read this article about a week ago and was struggling to put words to my feelings. You did it beautifully. Thank you for such a strong, supportive message to interfaith couples. I was appalled that this article appeared in a URJ publication. I understand the nature of a personal essay, but I’m surprised that the editors of the publication did not think through the impact these words might have to a group of Jews and their partners (interfaith couples committed to Judaism) who often feel marginalized by the larger Jewish community. I look forward to sharing your wisdom with all of the members of our congregation’s Interfaith Relationship Dialogue.

  4. I don’t see anything wrong with the article. I have a non-Jewish husband, and we have had many, many fights and arguments about my religion, not to mention the difficulties with in-laws.. I think people should know that it does not always turn out wonderful. What is wrong with letting readers see both sides? If I had known the trouble I would go through, I would have looked for a Jewish spouse. I also hope my kids find a Jewish spouse. They have witnessed many of our arguments, and I would not want them to go through the same problems.

    • I also have a non-Jewish husband of more than 30 years. We have had many fights, but very few about religion. These major conversations and decisions were made before our engagement and marriage. And yes, of course some things that we had decided on changed- that’s how life works. But I don’t know that this would have been easier with a born-Jewish spouse. Most Jewish couples (including my own parents) were raised with different traditions and customs. Every married family is a “blended” family that forms new traditions and customs- I’m sure that our children (both raised as Jews with formal Jewish education pre-school thru high school) will form their own traditions and customs as well.

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