When I go to the library at the Jewish Community Centre, I tend to browse and just grab whatever book catches my fancy. A few weeks ago, I couldn't find anything, so I asked the librarian if she had any recommendations. I was in the mood for a memoir or something historical. She recommended Harry Bernstein's memoir The Invisible Wall.
Mr. Bernstein wrote his memoirs (a series of 3 books) in his late nineties after his wife had passe away. He paints an amazing picture of England in the early twentieth century. He lived on a small street where the Jews lived on one side and the Christians on the other side. Antisemitic remarks were commonplace and something they lived with constantly.
I hadn't realized that the book would actually include the issue of intermarriage. The eldest sister Lily, married a non Jew, a boy who lived across the street. They had a secret romance and eventually "eloped" to the country side where they were married. Mother Bernstein was heartbroken. They mourned her "death" and sat shivah. Lily even came to the house to show she was very much alive, but her family ignored her.
Eventually they accepted the marriage, when a grandchild was born. In fact the street became united to celebrate the birth of the child of intermarriage.
I could certainly relate to what Lily went through. After I started dating my first non Jewish boy, my parents were disappointed and our relationship was severed for a long time. After the birth of our son, my parents have come around themselves, accepting my husband. I know it can't be easy for them to put aside their own upbringing and ingrained beliefs, but they are doing it and showing amazing love and grace to my husband.
Historically, Jews who intermarried were trying to shed their Jewish spirituality. They felt that religion and spirituality were the cause of antisemitism, and by being "like everyone else" they would be more accepted. This was the case for Lily and her husband.
Today, people have many reasons for marrying "out"; religion may not be as important, or it can be as simple as they fell in love with that person, who happens to not be Jewish (the latter is what applies to me). More importantly, many intermarried couples still want their children to have some kind of Jewish upbringing.
Lily didn't even want her son to be circumcised. I felt a bit sad that she could not see anything beautiful about her Jewish spirituality, only the ugliness of the antisemitism.
I thought that as a society, we have moved forward and intermarriage would be more accepted, but from my experience of forming a parenting group, I am hearing otherwise. Intermarriage rates may be high, but it does not necessarily imply that Jewish communities are welcoming.