Intermarriage Can and Does Work

By Nadine Soo-Hoo Levy


July, 2003: It will be 44 years ago when, in my opinion, Los Angeles’ most eligible Jewish bachelor asked me out to dinner. That invitation began a relationship that from the beginning was faced with three strikes. First, he was Jewish; I was not. Second, it was readily clear I was not, as I am Chinese-American (this was before Kaifong Jews became as well-known as they are today). Third, age difference; he was thirty-five and I was twenty-one. In spite of these three strikes, we hit a home run–we will be celebrating our fortieth wedding anniversary in June, 2003.

From the start, much to his and to his parents’ credit, this Jewish man vowed that he would never marry a non-Jewish woman. My family and I, too, had similar feelings (although to a lesser degree) about marrying outside our people. We nonetheless dated. And during our four-year courtship, we once went our separate ways for about six months. Then one day, quite accidentally, we ran into each other and we quickly picked up where we had left off. The rest is history. That old Jewish saying that it was “bashert” (meant to be) fits us to a T, and I don’t mean green tea.

Although I had not yet converted to Judaism, we were married under a chuppah (Jewish wedding canopy) in Chinatown, joined together by a Reform rabbi. While conversion to Judaism was not a condition of marriage, my husband suggested that I take a sixteen-week course at a local temple called “Introduction to Judaism”–which I did, and he accompanied me to the classes. Shortly before the birth of our first child, I inquired of my rabbi as to the child’s eventual standing in the eyes of the Jewish community. He informed me that if I were not Jewish, then my child would be in limbo. In view of this, and given what I had learned about Judaism from my studies, and having lived with a Jew for two years now, I came to the conclusion that I was ready to convert and I did so a couple of months before our son was born.

Shortly after my conversion, my husband and I, along with both sides of the family, celebrated our first Jewish lifecycle event; the bris of our first born. We have been fortunate that this was followed by many other Jewish lifecycle events. Our second son was also welcomed into the Jewish community with some wine and a snip, and all three of our children celebrated their B’nai Mitzvot at the synagogue where my husband and I have been active members for thirty years. We are already anticipating two more simchas (joyous occasions) there in the near future: the B’not Mitzvot of our two granddaughters.

These celebrations were totally inclusive of my Chinese family, all of whom anticipated and participated with the same great joy and happiness as our Jewish family. And in a nod to the two cultural backgrounds in our families, the B’nai Mitzvot evening festivities took place in the setting of my youth–restaurants in Chinatown.

Our home has been one enthused with living the “Jewish way,” from the holidays we celebrate to our involvement in the community. In sync with our children’s education at various institutions (nursery school at the JCC, Talmud Torah at the synagogue, Hebrew high school in the greater Los Angeles area), my husband and I have been actively involved there, often serving in leadership positions. In fact, “our” Center (as we’ve come to call the local JCC) awarded me the “Man of the Year” award (this was in the days when “Man” meant the highest honor).

As for celebrating the holidays, our children and grandchildren also participate in the celebrations of our extended family, which include Chinese New Year and Christmas. But they know without a doubt that the latter is their relatives’ celebration, not ours. And so the “December Dilemma” has never been an issue in our home. Hanukkah is happily celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, eating latkes, playing dreidles and eating chocolate Hannukah gelt–not to mention discussing the meaning of the holiday. In keeping with the tradition and meaning of Hanukkah, we do not give them presents. But we do, however, “allow” them to receive Christmas gifts from their Chinese family in acknowledgment of the relatives’ celebration. They have been taught to respect, and allowed and encouraged to participate in, what is not a Jewish tradition, holiday, or event.

Perhaps one of the reasons for the success of our relationship is that I came into the picture without any religious upbringing and therefore did not have to choose between two religions. I was raised in a “secular” Chinese household–doing the right thing, getting an education, and maintaining strong family ties.

Bottom line, love and respect who you are and respect others not like you. It worked for us and is still working.

About Nadine Soo-Hoo Levy

Nadine Soo-Hoo Levy was born, raised and still lives in Los Angeles. She has been intermarried for forty years, and has three children, two granddaughters, and a husband.