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October 9, 2009

It was a hard rule to break, my rule about dating non-Jews. I had good reasons for the rule. I'd grown up with kids who were the products of intermarriage. Nice kids. They always claimed to be both Jewish and Catholic though. This is something I'd always learned in Hebrew school that you couldn't be, though, as one often contradicted the other. But I really don't think these kids were really ingrained with the little details and customs. To them, it was presents at both Christmas and Hanukkah. I grew up with that too. But the rule was there for a reason.

Mexican beach imageI am the child of a father who is a Jew by birth and a mother who is a Jew by choice. My mom, who grew up Anglican, converted to Judaism for my father prior to their marriage. His culture as a Jew mattered to him more than the religion itself, but my mother understood the importance in raising a family in one faith, and therefore decided to convert. He would have married my mother either way, he told me.

My rule stemmed not from my parents' influence, but from many of my peers. I had a Catholic girlfriend in the 10th grade. She was not accepting of my Judaism. She did not appreciate the culture, and stated that she would never raise her children Jewish. At the time, I was a 15-year-old kid and I had a girlfriend when so many others didn't, so I didn't argue. But deep down, it hurt. I don't go to synagogue every Shabbat. I rarely observe any holidays other than Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach and Hanukkah. I eat pork. Far be it from me to turn down a Christmas ham. However, I know our history and plight as a people is deeper than rituals and laws.

My rule was about preservation. I need not mention the countless times in history and in the present when groups have tried to make us change our identity, run us out of our lands and annihilate us. Yes, it's history, most of it, but it's a living history. And I take it personally. When Bin Laden announced that he would target anywhere where there are Americans or Jews, I thought, "What the hell do we have to do with this?" When I watch documentaries about Americans praising Adolf Hitler, I seethe. I want to bludgeon these people with baseball bats and ask them why. "What is your problem?!" But I'm not a violent person. I just want to preserve. By having children not brought up in the Jewish faith, I feel I'm feeding into the plans of the haters of this world and just helping them along.

But I broke my rule. I met a wonderful girl and fell in love. She's not Jewish. The funny thing is, it never really bothered me. When we started to get serious, we discussed our feelings about religion. She even considered converting for a little while. But it wasn't for her. It wasn't in her heart to give up her Catholicism to become a Jew. I had no intention of pushing the issue. We agreed, though, that if we ever got married and had children, we would raise them in the Jewish faith--send them to Hebrew school, have them become bar or bat mitzvah and, when they were old enough to choose, they could make the decision to remain Jewish or become whatever else they wanted. They would grow up knowing the customs and beliefs of their mother and her family very well. We would have Christmas, and we would hunt for eggs at Easter (so long as it doesn't coincide with Passover). But most of all, we would have a household filled with love and faith in God and traditions.

And now we are getting married. And we are having our ceremony on a beach in Mexico officiated by a Mexican non-denominational minister. And it will be beautiful. And when we return home to New York and have to sign our papers legalizing our marriage in the United States, we plan to have a rabbi officiate. We plan to sign a ketubah. We both want our marriage to be blessed by a religious leader, and it will be. And whether that religious leader is Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, etc., it will be fine. A blessing is a blessing is a blessing. We chose a rabbi together. That was our choice. If she wanted a priest present, I would not argue. It is not my intention to steal away her faith, her religion or her beliefs.

I come from a family with strong values and faith in God, and I know she does too. Our love, mixed with our mutual faith in God, will be all we need to make the marriage work. Well, that and a few other things that will remain between the two of us. We will have a family. The children, however many, will be brought up in a loving household and will know their cultures from both sides of the family, because preservation is key. It was key when I made my rule and key when I broke it. But I am happy that I broke it, because I am marrying someone I love very much, someone I want to spend the rest of my life with. And that' s all that should matter.

Hebrew for "Head of the Year," the Jewish New Year. With Yom Kippur, known as the High Holy Days. Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." Hebrew for "document," a legal document that is both a prenuptial agreement and a certification that a Jewish marriage has taken place. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "Passover," the spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Sam Jacobs

Sam Jacobs edits and writes for Eating Brooklyn, is a contributor for the new Eating Manhattan, and is the food and drink contributor for Debonair Magazine. He is also a regular reader at the Parapluie: Creative Series in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He has written several short stories and is currently at work on a novel. He occasionally crosses the bridge into Manhattan.

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