May 17, 2012

Why (Should I Care If You) Marry Jewish?

April 26th, 2012

Why (Should I Care If You) Marry Jewish?

A few months ago while on Facebook, I started looking at an old high school friend's pictures. As is often the case on Facebook, pictures of someone I didn't  know any more led me to pictures of someone I didn't know at all.  (Obviously, I kept clicking!) And then I saw a picture of two strangers which made me sad.
Which, of course, is an odd way to feel about a picture of strangers unless it's a picture of someone suffering somehow, which it wasn't. No, the picture that made me sad was of a wedding, which is even odder, since wedding pictures generally elicit positive feelings from most normal human beings - a grouping which I often include myself in!
So why did the picture make me sad then? Because it was of a Jewish guy marrying a non-Jewish girl. Which was obviously none of my business, since these people were complete strangers (not like it would have been much more of my business if they weren't). And why should I be sad? What exactly is wrong with two people who love each other (well, at least I assume they do, remember we're talking about strangers here!) wanting to spend the rest of their lives together? Doesn't love trump all? How could I be so closed-minded in 2012?
Let's start with the "my business" part. While technically I know that other people's lives - especially people I have never met, and will probably never meet - are separate from my own, there is something that makes me feel connected to every single Jew in the world - past, present, and future - even the ones who don't consider themselves Jewish. It's why when a random Jew commits a crime (usually, white collar, that's our style!) it's my shanda, and why when a random Jew finds the cure to a disease or wins some important award it's my nachas. Although Joe Shmostein doesn't even know that I exist (or that I've been clicking through his pictures, for that matter) - knowing something upsetting about his life upsets me.
But why is it upsetting exactly? These two people will hopefully make each other very happy. Am I worried about religious tension? The non-Jewish wife probably isn't even religious if she were willing to marry him. And they'll raise the kids with "both," which means double the presents during the holiday season and that means that even the kids will be happy! And sure, it's a mitzvah to not intermarry, but it's not like this guy is observing so many mitzvos anyway if he were willing to marry her. Why does this one mitzvah count more than the others?
For the sake of full disclosure, I'll admit right now that I have a visceral reaction to intermarriage. Blame my mother. Although she did not raise us with too much observance, marrying Jewish was something she drilled into my sisters' and my heads. Most of my closest friends growing up were not Jewish, which included some of my greatest supporters as I was becoming more observant, so don't think this is an anti-gentile thing.
For her it was about Jewish continuity, but since she didn't raise us with lives too full of Jewish practice, it left me wondering what exactly she hoped we would pass on to the next generation by marrying "in." The ability to use words like "schlep" and "schmutz" correctly? A love of lox on bagels? I think ultimately it came down to rooting for the underdog to her. That sense of "Am Yisrael Chai!" ("The Jewish Nation will live!") despite all the people who wanted (and still want) to destroy us.
And while there's something to that - while in the worst case scenario, I'd want our people to go on existing even if we'd completely forgotten what made us Jewish in the first place - this is not my reason for feeling sad about that picture any more. My reason - my not at all secret agenda - is that I want every Jew to get the chance to explore his Jewish heritage in a meaningful way so that he or she can make an informed decision about how much (or little) Judaism to practice and pass on.
I want every Jew to spend just one full Shabbos in a home with people who do Shabbos in such a way that it truly feels like "a taste of the World to Come." I want every Jew to get to know at least one Torah observant family, whose lives are so committed to chesed (kindness), selflessness, and hospitality that simply being around them makes it hard to doubt God's existence. And I want every Jew to sit in on at least one Torah class given by a teacher who ties disparate ideas together so inspiringly that the words first enter the ears, but head straight for the soul.
That is the loss I feel looking at the wedding picture - that the groom will likely never get to have any of these opportunities and his children won't even be Jewish at all. True - many Jews who marry other Jews will most likely never experience anything on my list either. And yes, it's possible to marry a non-Jew and still get a chance to be exposed to these amazing things. But chances are that marrying Jewish will lead to at least one more generation of Jews and that maybe someone in the next generation will get the chance to do these things and make a big stink (like I did!) until the rest of the family tries them too.
If any Jewish person reading this - married, unmarried, inter-married, or about to get intermarried - hasn't tried any of the things on my list but would like to, shoot me an email. We may have never met, but I already feel connected to you.

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