Zack Kushner is a freelance travel writer and is currently exploring the world with his bride. He has every intention of turning his experiences into a book.
The Family Business
February 13, 2007
Some rabbis are strict or dogmatic, but not my father. I was a relatively normal child with a relatively normal home life. Perhaps I sat in the front row at temple more often than my friends, but otherwise we were just folks. Our religious life didn't feel excessive, either. We aimed for regular family Shabbos (Sabbath) dinners, but often one of us would fail to appear and it was okay. Once I even skipped High Holiday services to see a Rolling Stones concert. My father understood.
As a family, we saw that Dad was no holier than any other thoughtful person. Members of the community did not always concur, however. My father served as their emissary to God. This made him mysterious and powerful and they looked to me as his eldest son to follow his lead.
In short, people expected me to date Jews. To do otherwise would reflect poorly on the family business. And I started reflecting poorly on the family business in high school. It wasn't because I didn't care about my father's reputation or about being Jewish. I just cared more about girls. I suspect this admission surprises no one.
My priorities aside, people require rabbi's sons to date Jewish women just as they require the sons of Ford dealers to drive American cars. When the child strays, the more outspoken community members grumble and huff. While this sounds icky, for me it usually wasn't too terrible. People who thought my status as the rabbi's son gave them the right to interfere typically were generally nutty, harmless, or just as overbearing with everyone else. Their children had a much harder time than I did.
When I started dating as a teenager, I courted the nice Jewish girls in my Jewish youth group. My father's status did not work in my favor. At 16, offering good seats to Yom Kippur services does not work well as a pick-up line. To my girlfriends' mothers, however, my father's status meant quite a bit.
“That Zack, such a nice boy. And you know who his father is!”
It was the kiss of death. High school girls find nothing less attractive than having their mother heartily approve of their romantic taste. Doing something your parents don't approve of, that's attractive.
Not that my father forbade me from dating non-Jews. I cannot recall him even actively discouraging it. My parents were too smart for that. And so I met a girl at a party; we went on a few dates. She wasn't Jewish and I felt myself come to no harm.
In university, distanced from my Jewish youth group, I found myself less and less involved with religion. The women around me did not know my father's line of work and their mothers, who might have asked and cared, were as far away as mine.
I remained my father's son, but his shadow faded and so did the desire to rebel against it. I wanted to meet nice Jewish girls; I knew that marrying a Jewish girl would work best for me. The Jewish girls were not, however, always so cooperative. I continued to date women regardless of their religion. When my sister broke up with her boyfriend because he was not Jewish, it made me reconsider, but I decided that for me love trumps matters of religion.
Only once since I left my father's house did being a rabbi's son interfere with my love life. I became involved with a woman who was in the process of converting to Judaism; she converted not for a partner or for her family, but for herself. She felt Jewish. She wanted to be Jewish and in fact now is.
For this woman, my relation to a rabbi meant quite a lot. It made me more attractive but I felt slightly uncomfortable about it. Should a Jewish woman find me more suitable simply because of my father? Our relationship ended for reasons outside of religion and family.
I married a non-Jew in a Jewish ceremony. There were parts of the wedding planning that were difficult to navigate, but I felt supported through them. On the wedding day, there must have been close to a dozen rabbis present--guests of my father, friends of my family--and if you are wondering what they said about my romantic involvement with non-Jews, I'll tell you.
They said mazel tov.