A Mother’s Feelings on Intermarriage

By Zell Schulman


My heart is heavy and the ability to change my negative thoughts difficult. How does one explain to family and friends, “Inside my heart is heavy and I feel at a loss because two of my three sons married non-Jewish wives.” What of Ruth, one of the great women in the bible, I asked myself. “Wither thou goest I will go. Your people will be my people, etc., etc. etc.” Though my biblical knowledge is there. Even this isn’t a band-aide for what I feel inside of me at this moment.

Guilt, self-pity, anger, hate and denial, these things could all make this intermarried situation ‘right.’ Is that the answer? Only I can help myself heal this wound. Interfaith support groups are everywhere for the couples getting married, but where are the support groups for the parents? Where are the hands, hearts and words that can reach out to us? We need to be told, “Its okay. You didn’t bring your children up wrong. You’re not a bad Jew because your child intermarried.”

The American Jewish Committee’s statistics reveal that more than 60 per cent of young people today will intermarry. This is Egon Mayer’s specialty. Yet Egon isn’t me, nor is he hurting right now. He’s busy, trying to help the world understand this intermarried phenomenon.

My head knows all the right answers, yet my heart keeps asking, “Why couldn’t they have chosen someone of the Jewish faith, with Jewish parents and Jewish feelings and knowledge of Judaism?” What is this “love” business? Jewish traditions, whatever happened to Jewish traditions? When you’re not born with them, it can take years and years until the feelings can develop, and then only if that person wants them too.

I know all the “right” words”: But she’s a nice girl. Look, she is even planning to convert. You’re not losing a child, he isn’t dead. This is the way things are today, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Statistics show . . . ” The hell with statistics, what about the pain in my heart, what statistics will deal with that?”

The Orthodox Jew’s way to deal with intermarriage is to tear their clothing, sit shiva and accept their child as dead. I have a friend whose parents actually did this. You needn’t talk to the child, hold the child, or be part of their everyday lives. They’re dead, gone forever, needn’t think about the real-life situations. You only deal with the feeling of loss

That was not my choice. It would have been living in denial. Accepting intermarriage for a Jewish parent is a real test. Each day, you need the strength to have proper communication, understanding and knowledge of the situation. Each day, you deal with feelings of guilt, anger and loss. Working it through is a challenge only the parent can choose. What I want from and for my life is up to me. As Hillel said, ” If I’m not for myself, who will be, and if not now, when?” No support group can make the choice, yet it would be nice if they could be there to listen.

It is fifteen years later since these words were written. These two families have given us five of our nine grandchildren. Our oldest grandson turned eighteen and recently graduated from high school. I am “Bubbie” to them all. There isn’t a month goes by that we don’t talk, or write, or exchange small gifts. As my parents taught me at an early age, “I am the teacher.” As a bubbie, this is my primary role. One family lives near us, the other far away. Shabbat (the Sabbath) and holidays are important gatherings for us. The children have participated from the time they were old enough to push the button on my food processor. Those out of town can’t wait to get their holiday packages. Honeycakes for Rosh Hashanah, hamantaschen at Purim, books for Hanukkah and Passover. They have a latke party at their schools every year. We exchange holiday cards, call and wish each other “Shabbat Shalom.” Communication is continuous.

The pain has lessened; it will never go away completely. “Life ” is the gift. Each day we open the package. We may not like what it holds, but somehow we find the strength to deal with it.


About Zell Schulman

Zell Schulman is the author of several cookbooks, including Passover Seders Made Simple (Hungry Minds, 2001, $16.95).