Robert SmithLast week, the Forward ran a story titled “When Love Is a Casualty of War.” The war in question was the (officially named) Second Lebanon War and the love in question was that shared between a Jewish guy in DC (the author of the story) and his Lebanese American girlfriend. Joshua Gross, the author and apparently a regular Jewlicious reader, sent me a link to the story hoping it could be included in Jewlicious. The story was well written, and I so did enjoy it’s intro:

My Lebanese girlfriend does not want to listen to The Cure’s song “Killing an Arab.” … “Turn it off,” she demands… This is odd. Helen is a huge Cure fan; in fact, I never really listened to The Cure until we started dating. I turn around to face her, my mind racing to produce some witty remark that will make her laugh and defuse the sudden tension, but our eyes meet and I am utterly disarmed. I hear her sigh as she walks away… It’s not that Helen doesn’t like this particular song, it’s that she doesn’t like songs about killing Arabs, especially when in real life, our peoples are killing each other day after day. We cannot enjoy the song’s catchy rhythm or ironic lyrics when bombs fall and Katyushas fly. What used to be a harmless song has become an unwanted reminder of the gulf that exists between us.

Of course, “Killing an Arab” is not a song that advocates the killing of Arabs. It’s a reference to a scene in Albert Camus’ novel L’Étranger (The foreigner). The song is the Cure’s first single released way back in 1979 and it has dogged the band ever since due to criticisms by ignoramuses that it promotes hatred and violence against Arabs.

Joshua Gross seems like a nice guy. He is a nice guy – we shared a bit of a correspondence. His story was warm and at times humorous, an obvious analogy to the Arab/Israeli conflict, containing a message of hope – the hope that just as Robert and Helen can share love despite their ethnic identities, then so too may the people of Israel be able to live in peace with the people of Lebanon and the rest of the Arab world.

And now let’s all sing Kumbaya.

I think the story would have been more impressive had Joshua been dating a Lebanese Shiite. Lebanese Christians have fought as allies with Israelis before and in Montreal, some of my dearest friends were Lebanese Christians. I also think the notion that a couple living in the US, far removed from the bombs and Katyushas can see themselves as casualties of war, is a little, I don’t know… off? I mean people died. Joshua and Helen suffered minor irritation. I don’t see the comparison. Finally, and this has to be said, I don’t think we need any more heartwarming stories about Jewish boys and their love of non-Jewish women. Certainly not in the Forward. This sort of thing, intermarriage and all, has become so common it’s banal.

In fact, let’s forget about Robert dating a Shiite. Let’s have a story of a Jewish man who, despite the ready availability of many nubile and servile Asian women willing to get jiggy with him, conquers his self loathing and Hebrew school inspired disdain for all things Jewish and meets and marries an actual Jewish woman. They then go off and raise actual Jewish children and live happily ever after.

Now that’s a story!

As for the Cure, in 2005 they played the song at several European festivals. However they sang “Kissing an Arab” instead. I’m all for that – you know, in the way you kiss as a sign of respect and fraternity. It’s a middle eastern thing. But let’s not date ok? Here’s the original track from the Cure – and remember – the song is about an obscure literary reference and not a call to violence against our Arab cousins!

[audio:killing_an_arab.mp3]

About the author

ck

Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.

58 Comments

  • Nubile and servile Asian women?

    My wife must have missed that memo.

    We always complain about people stereotyping us, so I think that we should return the favor.

    Anyway, why do dafka Asian women need to be nubile and sevile? Suzie Wong is so, like, 1950s.

  • It’s not obscure; he sings “I am The Stranger” as part of the chorus, and the killing of the Arab was the crux of the book b/c it signified the main character’s French existential bullshit. Of course, this is still no reason to censor the song or change the lyrics.

  • EV: It’s obscure to those less erudite than you. Neither Camus’ book nor Robert Smith’s song advocate the killing of Arabs. That’s the point. But thanks for enlightening us on French existential bullshit.

  • Every Jewish communal professional and leader I know who advocates for “endogamy” goes to great lengths to assure their listeners that the desire to see Jews marry other Jews has absolutely nothing to do with race.

    So I find your bald-faced racism in the promotion of in-marriage remarkably refreshing! If only all of those other folks were as honest as you about their racist fears.

    I guess that’s what separates you from the professionals.

  • Hmmm… in re-reading my comment I thought I’d better make it clear why your statement is racist, just in case you don’t see what I’m referring to — though Ephraim touched on it above. The line about “nubile and servile Asian women willing to get jiggy” is racist on two counts:

    First, the obvious reason. Not all Asian women are nubile and servile. Or promiscuous. You may assuage yourself with the old “I was just joking, don’t be so serious” or worst-case scenario, just peddling in harmless stereotypes. If you are an Asian woman I’ll accept it as self-deprecating humor. I don’t think you’re an Asian woman. So a proper analogy would be if someone who wasn’t Jewish called you a cheap Jew. Well, that too is just peddling in stereotypes, or maybe he was “just joking,” but I’m going to assume that person is an anti-Semite until proven otherwise.

    MORE IMPORTANTLY, here’s how you reveal your racism in a more subtle but I believe more damning manner: you assume that your nubile, servile Asian woman is not a Jew just because she’s Asian. At no point do you call her a non-Jewish Asian woman.

    So not only do you insult intermarried Jews (your intention) and Asians in general, but Jews of Color as well.

    It’s sad that you can’t just make your point without being so insulting. I hope you will reflect on this, because the knee-jerk reaction will be to tell me I’m the P.C. Police, I should get a sense of humor… some of your best friends are Asian… you don’t have a racist bone in your body, etc. Instead, a simply apology would be fine.

  • What do you want me to say? I’m sorry I’m a racist? I’m sorry, but that’s just not the case. I was being facetious. Blame it on Jonathan Swift or early exposure to Frank Zappa, but I use patently irreverent language and ideas to make a point. Notice the use of the term “jiggy.” That should have alerted you to the underlying message.

    The point I was trying to make had nothing to do with this mythical (ie non-existent) army of hot (non-Jewish) Asian honeys ready and willing to delight men of the mosaic persuasion with their wily and exotic eastern charm.

    The point I was making had to do with the fact that intermarriage is, in many parts of the US and in many segments of the Jewish population, the norm and not the exception. I also find the attendant stories of struggle and how hard it is to cross cultural and religious divides for the sake of love, not only uninspiring, but frankly, kinda boring.

    For the record, and I’ve said this before but I guess I have to say it again, Judaism is not a race. It’s a religion. The Nazis defined it as a race, ignoramuses define it as a race, but it’s really kind of simple – you cannot convert to a race, but you can convert to Judaism. Judaism is thus not a race.

    As for interfaith couples, recognizing the existence of individual exceptions, I don’t think intermarriage is good for Judaism. That having been said, I would welcome and support any interfaith couple who wishes to have one of its members convert to Judaism or who wishes to educate their children Jewishly, or even who simply want to know more about their options.

    And I don’t give a rat’s ass about their race. That doesn’t play into it at all.

  • Advocating the perservation of the Jewish people is not racist! Intermarriage is huge problem in America and around the world. Pretty soon the only Jews left in the world will be in Israel. Is that what you want Paul?

  • Anna said:
    Advocating the perservation of the Jewish people is not racist!
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    That’s right – besides, you can marry a Jewish woman and then have the nubile, servile Asian woman as your au-pair…

    Sorry, I’ve been inhaling strong cleaning fluids all week. Happy Pesach!

  • “I also find the attendant stories of struggle and how hard it is to cross cultural and religious divides for the sake of love, not only uninspiring, but frankly, kinda boring.”

    I agree. He acts like the incident he describes surprises him which makes this double boring.

  • Yeah, ck, standard answer as expected. So let’s say you’re reading a blog by a non-Jewish Japanese guy [the Japanese are declining in numbers so they too may feel entitled to fear intermarriage] and he bemoans the growing number of Japanese women getting jiggy with money-grubbing Jews.

    Is that okay with you, because he used the word jiggy?! Or is “money-grubbing Jews” an anti-Semitic remark even if he tells you he was kidding? “Servile Asian women” is an offensive racist stereotype no matter what the context.

    And despite your “Judaism is not a race” disclaimer (after the fact), your use of “Asian women” as synonymous with “non-Jewish” clearly shows that you expected your readership to share a common understanding with you about what race Jews are supposed to be.

    This was not presented as a comedy piece. If it’s really all about your oh-so-Zappaesque sense of humor, and nothing to do with being an outlet for your anger and insensitivity as I have pointed out on some other of your posts as well, why not blog using your real name, as Esther does? If your thoughts are so truthful and witty, claim “servile Asian women” as your own by putting your real name on it, so that when future employers google you they can see where you really stand on the important issues.

  • What a bunch of presumptuous twaddle. My “Judaism is not a race” disclaimer is a matter of well articulated public record. Go ahead, do a google search – here let me help you out:

    https://jewlicious.com/?p=1103
    https://jewlicious.com/?p=917

    And I’m sure there are more examples. What you are saying is the exact opposite of what I believe and what I am on record as having said. I’m not going to dignify your ill informed statement by addressing it any further.

    My real name is also a matter of public record. It’s David Abitbol. OK? ck is just my nom de guerre. I am not remotely anonymous and i stand behind everything I say.

    The only thing I am angry about is the self righteous indignation spewed by people like yourself.

  • That only addresses the second half of my last comment (and it presumes people reading this blog entry have read all your previous entries and know your “public record” well enough to not be offended by the actual text of THIS post).

    As for the first part of my comment about the “servile Asian women” phrase that you still have not addressed, I hope none of your clients — “most of whom have no idea of my involvement in Jewlicious” according to your bio on this site — aren’t Asian, or racially sensitive people in any way. It’s stunning to see that you will not even admit to considering how maybe, just maybe, someone might find that terribly offensive. That’s the real comedy of your piece.

    But thank you for attaching your name to your opinion.

  • Paul,
    I will indulge you more time. When Cartman tells Kyle to “Shut up you fucking Jew,” those of us with sense in our heads, laugh. We know that the authors of that script are not promoting hatred against Jews but are in fact making a statement about the base ignorance of anti-Semitism. Jewlicious is often irreverent, and anyone that reads Jewlicious with any regularity, knows that. Anyone who is offended is free to request clarification. But I’m not going to launch into this whole mea-culpa, I’m so sorry crap.

    The terms I used to describe these mythical hordes of Asian women were used on purpose. They were meant to be patently ridiculous and a sideways dig at anyone who actually takes such notions seriously.

    You have also helped to add a new dimension to this whole thing by demonstrating the ridiculousness of an overly fastidious sense of moral superiority, hubris and unlimited self-righteousness.

  • That’s a comedy show. The entire context is ridicule. This is commentary, in which you also try to be funny. I think context matters. Is ALL of Jewlicious a big joke, is that what you’re suggesting?

    Anyway, maybe South Park just gets away with it because they’re actually funny.

    I don’t think I’m morally superior to you. I am simply trying to point out to you where you offended me. Would it be morally better of me to keep quite?

    But your bombastic defense of yourself suggests that I can’t possibly be the only one who has pointed this kind of stuff out to you.

    But go ahead, keep ranting away. As you said before, I’m sure your birthright israel alumni from intermarried families understand completely that your ongoing harping on the intermarried is all in good humor. Of course they know that you don’t REALLY think all Jewish men who intermarry are unable to “conquer [their] self loathing and Hebrew school inspired disdain for all things Jewish.” Who would ever be offended to read that about their own father when it is so obviously a joke, right?

    Yeah, that’s just me being self-righteous, to suggest than anything you do in the cause of humor might be offensive. Hell, Michael Richards was doing stand-up in a comedy club when he made his remarks! Can’t people just take a joke?!

  • Well, really, you are over the top with the accusations, Paul. I mean, you could have simply pointed out that some people might take offense to the way that sentence about “servile Asian women” is phrased. However, you came out swinging with an accusation of “bald-faced racism” over a comment that can be parsed in a couple of ways including the harmless, amusing one that ck is claiming to be his intention. When the response was that this was a joke and racism doesn’t factor in, you moved the red line and turned it into how others might perceive the phrase. In putting ck on the defensive to this degree, did you expect anything but a strong reaction?

    The irony of all of this, however, is that you, Paul, drove this discussion away from a topic that is obviously near and dear to your heart – interfaith marriage and relationships – and into a personal attack that involves an accusation of racism. Surely there is a better way to go out into the broader Internet to make the case for those values in which you believe…

    This could have been an interesting conversation.

  • I think that’s a valid point and I’m sorry if my initial comment seems like I went bombastic first. However, I did not read this in a vacuum but as one of several posts by ck (and others on Jewlicious) over time that disparages the intermarried in an ugly way rather than in “interesting conversation” as you suggest. It is difficult to engage in interesting conversation about a topic “near and dear to my heart” when the initial post felt like such a broadside, and as part of a campaign of such remarks. Do you really read this post as leaving the door open for such an enlightened conversation?

    As for moving the red line from whether the comment is racism to how it is perceived, I don’t quite follow. What is racism, if not how it is perceived? Is it only based on intent? I perceived it as racism and was offended.

    I think my analogy above is a very good one. If a non-Jew in a similar context (this is not Cartman; light literary commentary, if you can call it that) made a “joke” about money-grubbing Jews, we’d be all over it for being anti-Semitic. Maybe that phrase can be “parsed” in other way by non-Jews, but by Jews? Not so much. Is there really any question as to whether “servile Asian woman” is an ugly stereotype based on race, i.e., racism? Anyone else out there with Asian family members (or themselves Asian) who want to weigh in?

    I understand the point of the last part of his blog entry, which is basically saying that the Forward should not give a platform to the more than one-third of all married Jews in America who are intermarried (or, in this case, interdating), lest they somehow set a bad example. We should instead pretend they do not exist and write them out of our community (or at least the paper that covers our community). The Forward runs an entire column every single week by a mother who is in-married about her Jewish household. This piece was a rare exception to the rule, and certainly not representative of the huge numbers of intermarried or interdating Jews.

    Sure, we could have conversed about that. Next time I will say it like that, because I understand that “racist” and “racism” are strong words. But I could not ignore the fact that he also happens to make his point using “humor” about Jews who date or marry Asians, in light of the ongoing thou-doth-protest-too-much chorus of those who say they do not oppose intermarriage on racist lines. He says he’s not among them? I will try to take that at face value. But I’ve read and re-read this post, and I can’t help but believe that when ck sees a Jewish man with an Asian woman – on the street, in his synagogue, wherever – he’s thinking, oh, she must be his servile Asian slave and he married her because she never talks back to him, etc., maybe he couldn’t handle a Jewish woman who thinks for herself, so on and so forth.

    Only ck knows what really goes on in his head, but what he says and how he acts is what matters more. Is this really such a sophisticated joke that deals with an absurdity so far removed from his mind, that that’s what makes it funny? (And did he successfully get that across in writing?) Are we to believe that he really has no thoughts one way or another based solely on the Asian race of that hypothetical woman whether she is servile or assertive in her relationships? The most obvious answer is often the correct answer.

  • I don’t know, you seem adamant about proving your point with respect to ck, but I think it’s weaker than you think. As he pointed out, there is a streak of self-righteous indignation that may be blinding you somewhat.

    With respect to Jewlicious, right now in another post I’m speaking to one of our posters who has recently written a fairly strong post supporting intermarriage and rejecting the Jewish community’s strong bias towards in-marriage. We have a variety of people here at Jewlicious. In this case, you took the discussion in a direction that has little to do with the topic at hand. You could have easily focused on what seems to interest you.

    You continue to stress your point about racism but I want to tell you that I have read and re-read the sentence that so offends you and my take on it is that it’s clearly humor. The word “jiggy” indicates it as does the reference to the self-loathing Hebrew day school graduate. I also happen to know how few Asian Jews there are out there and therefore “get” where ck is coming from and why he’s overlooking the standard disclaimers you’re seeking. If nothing else, he does point to “some,” and doesn’t indicate “all” Asian women which also suggests that you may be over-reaching in your challenge to what he’s saying.

    I’ll also point out to you that servility is only one of a number of stereotypes about Asian women that exist in our society. Since I know ck, I suspect that his view of any woman, Asian or not, is quite a bit more sophisticated than this single viewpoint.

    In short, I read this differently than you.

    I do have one complaint where I’m in agreement with you and that is that ck would have done well to add the phrase “non-Jewish” in front of “Asian,” so that even the relatively small number of Asian Jews is covered.

    In any case, this post is about Joshua’s article about his relationship with Helen. I had seen his article and thought it was interesting but chose not to post about it. My reason also involved the issue of further promoting interfaith marriages in a society where there are already large numbers of such marriages.

    In my experience, the Reform community is open and welcoming to interfaith couples, but ultimately a large percentage of the children end up sensing that Judaism is only one part of who they are but not all of who they are. They cannot reject non-Jewish traditions because one of their parents still adheres to those traditions, and of course, there is no sense that either set of traditions carries any sort of superiority over the other. By the time the child is an adult, their link to Judaism is tenuous at best and when they marry a non-Jew (which of course is not an issue for them at all), they tend to allow the other person, who grew up in a single faith, to dominate that aspect of the marriage. End of Jewish connection.

    While I feel there isn’t much you can or should do about intermarriage other than to attempt to create opportunities for Jews to meet other Jews and at least improve the playing field in a society that is 97.5% non-Jewish, I also feel that both Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis and synagogues need to stop being so accepting of interfaith couples that they do not even challenge the non-Jewish spouse to consider becoming Jewish. They are afraid to say that their faith is superior in any way to any other faith and I, as a secular Jew, understand them.

    By not reaching out; by not discussing Judaism at length; by not pressing the non-Jewish spouse to at least consider converting, these movements are undermining their own future and that of the Jewish community in North America. The reason for this is simple: the children will not bother to become members when they’re inter-married adults with a spouse who is fully non-Jewish. This is a trend that was less problematic one and two generations ago, but is clearly at a danger point now that people are more secular, have a much greater likelihood of having only one Jewish parent, and live in a society that considers their religion to be part of yet another culture assimilating into the larger culture.

    People fall in love and marry and it’s hard to ask them to make such significant decisions with a view of maintaining traditions or preserving a culture. However, giving a less active presence to those who already have a foot out of our community may at least stem the tide. Once they do make that decision, however, in my mind they need to be hugged and kept close rather than dismissed so that they have a reason to stay connected and perhaps be able to show their spouse a reason to seek to join our culture and traditions as well.

  • Paul Golin wrote: “Is there really any question as to whether “servile Asian woman” is an ugly stereotype based on race…” Uh. No. There isn’t. I’m pretty certain that’s what the point was.

    Paul added: “I can’t help but believe that when ck sees a Jewish man with an Asian woman – on the street, in his synagogue, wherever – he’s thinking, oh, she must be his servile Asian slave and he married her because she never talks back to him, etc.” Well… since you decided to go there, I’ll respond in kind. My personal experience, as well as my common sense, shows me that this is not at all the case. One of the members of our shul is an Asian woman married to a Sephardic man. She is a convert and the family is completely unremarkable. Her race is not and never has been an issue, certainly not to me.

    But the charge of racism is a difficult thing to defend yourself against. All I can do is let my writing speak for itself. I provided you with older links to my previous and unequivocal statements on the issue and yet you persist.

    Why? Because this isn’t about race. You are the Associate Executive Director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, an organization dedicated to “including the intermarried in the Jewish Community.” You know that I am personally opposed to intermarriage and you claim that I have written posts that “disparage … the intermarried in an ugly way.”

    As, TM may have mentioned, that would have been an infinitely more interesting discussion. But I guess you just couldn’t help yourself.

    Just for the record, I have no problem with trying to be more inclusive of such couples. The only issue is what amount of community resources we ought dedicate to this and to what extent we should be inclusive. You didn’t want to talk about that though. You wanted to get on your high horse and sling accusations and talk about my clients and what a racist I am. You do your employer proud Mr. Golin. Way to represent. Very effective!!

  • Paul Golin is married to a non-Jewish Asian women. He has a lot of personal issues with being Jewish, [ed. by TM]. Poor thing!

  • Despite bad memories of Hebrew School, I’m happy married to a lovely Jewess. I would think it would a great thing if more Jews married other Jews (regardless of whether these Jews were born that way) and provided their Jewish children with meaningful Jewish experiences. And racism is a strong charge, not be thrown out lightly. But the pot-shot at Asian women in the post was boorish, insensitive, offensive on multiple levels and not in the least amusing. It wholly detracted from the point the author was trying to make and added absolutely nothing of value to it. Please take your foot out of your mouth, apologize (or better yet delete it) and move on to the substance of the dispute.

  • ck, let me reiterate what I said in my last post about my being sorry I was bombastic. I’m sorry I was bombastic. I would appreciate if you would acknowledge that you can understand why someone could find your words in this post so offensive. Pointing me to all the non-racist stuff you’ve written over the years (or mentioning the one Asian woman you kind of sort of know) doesn’t change the words that I still perceive as racism.

    As “anti-interfaithmarriages” so kindly points out (he is clearly a warm and welcoming person), I took it personally. I wish he had linked to the actual article and at least given me some publicity:
    http://www.interfaithfamily.com/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c=ekLSK5MLIrG&b=297390&ct=410365

    That’s why I don’t see it as righteous indignation as you and TM suggest but as a response to an attack that I took personally. However, I would have been equally sensitized (though probably not as bombastic) had you talked about Puerto Ricans stealing hubcaps or African Americans being well-endowed or whatever. You claim to really want to engage in a conversation about intermarriage or outreach, but using slurs not only weakens your argument but also precludes folks who take it personally from engaging with you in a serious manner.

    By the way, I also volunteer with a great organization called the Jewish Multiracial Network:
    http://jewishmultiracialnetwork.org/
    The good folks on that listserv have helped me become a lot more sensitized to this issue and I recommend joining that listserv for anyone interested in becoming more aware of the racial diversity of the Jewish people…and their loved ones.

    Thanks,
    Paul

  • To #20, Paul’s marriage to an Asian woman is public knowledge (http://jetaany.org/newsletter_files/Spring%202006.pdf), because he has made it so. I assume you’re guessing about whether he has “personal issues” and will let that go. However, your comments about his children, if he has any, are unacceptable to me. Wouldn’t it be better to tackle him regarding his ideas and ideals than with personal attacks?

  • As for the substantive issues raised in the second part of TM’s last comment… Why do you think that an article about how difficult it is for a Jew to be in an interfaith relationship is in any way “further promoting interfaith marriages”? If anything, the piece is neutral about interdating, if not a flat-out cautionary tale!

    I think that anything dealing in a fair way about such an important issue for the Jewish community should be commended. This is not a fluff piece about how wonderful it is that he found a nice non-Jewish woman. If you visit sites like InterfaithFamily.com, almost every piece discusses the challenges couples face. Giving people more information is better than less.

    For example, there are some people who believe that teaching teenagers about safe sex promotes promiscuity among teenagers. Yet studies show that the more teens learn about safe sex, the LESS likely they are to have sex (not to mention get STDs). And that makes perfect sense. You don’t need to do anything to “promote” teens to have sex! It’s biology, they’re going to do it anyway. (Or at least try and fail, and fail again, and again and again… um, I’m talking about a friend, of course…)

    Likewise, if we create open and honest curriculum about interfaith families for our young people, we can warn of the challenges while at the same time recognize those families who overcome the obstacles to create strongly-identified Jewish households. Instead, the community is more often than not content to demonize the entire issue, which (a) doesn’t stem the tide of intermarriage, because it was already tried and failed (see: years 1965-1995), and (b) pushes away those people in that very audience who have intermarried loved ones (see: Conservative movement shrinkage).

    And that’s the other part of your comments that I want to address, the implication that interfaith families can’t create strong Jewish identities in their children. While there’s no denying that too high a percentage of interfaith families do not yet instill a strong enough Jewish identity in their children, you write as if none do when in fact it is a remarkably high number, in the hundreds of thousands.

    You offer only one scenario of intermarried children. That’s too broad a generalization. You can’t generalize “the intermarried” any more than you can generalize “the Jews.” At the very least, let’s break them down into some sub-categories! There is a substantial and growing sub-category of interfaith families creating strongly-identified Jewish households. I believe it is in the community’s best interest, not just demographically but morally, to help them do so. These people do not all have their “foot out the door,” as you suggest, but are fully inside, yet many in the community still want to push them out anyway.

    I also believe that your view of the Reform movement is misinformed and I encourage you to dig deeper. Almost every observer of Jewish community will tell you that over the past couple of decades, the Reform movement has moved toward MORE Jewish ritual practice, MORE Jewish learning. Yet at the same time, they have welcomed in more interfaith families than any other segment of the organized community, taking Reform from second to first largest movement in the country.

    Don’t you find that an interesting disconnect? That at the same time they’re welcoming in interfaith families, they’re also becoming MORE Jewish? It’s why certain sociologists no longer claim that welcoming large numbers of interfaith families will “dilute” Judaism — as if the non-Jewish spouses were going to plant Christmas trees on the bimah like a flag on the moon.

    Perhaps as a self-described secular Jew, you can understand an alternative scenario I paint for you of an interfaith family in the Reform movement: the Jewish father (raised by IN-married parents, mind you) feels no connection to religious Judaism whatsoever, but “wants my kids to be Jewish” (whatever that means). The lapsed-Roman Catholic mother (who had her kids converted at birth by an Orthodox rabbi, and I include that for the folks who will inevitably try to slam me on halachic issues) demands that the kids have religion in their lives, because of her own upbringing in a “religious” household. She is so intent on doing Judaism “right” that she pushes her husband to actually become a better Jew than he was before they met.

    I have seen that scenario play out over and over again, as has everyone who works with this population. Again, this is not the “rare exception,” this is ten of thousands of non-Jewish women in the Reform movement (not all lapsed-Catholics, of course, but you know what I mean). And how do we as the organized Jewish community generally treat these women, who are giving up their own religious heritages to raise Jewish kids? Pretty shabbily, in too many cases.

    Reform Rabbis who work closely with their congregants know which ones are ripe to be asked to convert and which they should never ask at all. The lapsed-Catholic in the above scenario may have already devastated her parents enough by not having her kids baptized; she fears she’ll KILL them if she herself converts. Again, I hear that all the time. But there is no thanks from the community for what she’s doing, just the question, “Why haven’t you converted yet?”

    If the kids of those couples also intermarry, they now have a blueprint from their parents on how THEY too can raise a Jewish household. Hopefully by then they won’t have to push through the same generally unwelcoming community their parents currently navigate.

    Of course there are countless other scenarios, many not as “good for the Jews,” but my point is that when we limit ourselves to only one narrative about intermarried Jews, we limit ourselves as a Jewish community.

  • I’m sorry, Paul, I am slammed right now and don’t have time to respond. I’ll try to answer in the next day or two.

  • Hey Paul,

    I don’t have exactly an answer, except I do want to say that you are working within a community of committed intermarried families. You aren’t surveying ALL intermarried and coming to the conclusion that a large percentage of them are actually becoming more committed to Judaism. It seems the same is true with the Reform movement. But when I, personally, think of intermarried couples, I think of all of the couples I know personally who are intermarried (my entire generation in my family on both sides, my parents’ friends, my friends, my religious school students’ parents, etc), I will say that a vast majority of them feel nothing for religion in general.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, I am saying that you are presenting an opinion from the perspective that may be completely opposite from what other posters here experience. So maybe trying to convince them that thousands and thousands of intermarried couples are committed (and therefore their condemnation of intermarriage is 100% off the mark) is not the right approach.

    I’m also not a huge fan of the analogy to safe sex. It’s not inevitable that Jews will marry non-Jews like it is inevitable that people will have sex – and abstaining from marrying a non-Jew is not the same as abstaining from sex.

  • Paul:

    My wife is also “Jewpanese”. We have been married for more than 30 years and I am about to be a grandfather (for the first, it is to be hoped, of many times).

    My wife is from Japan and we converse almost exclusively in Japanese. (I work primarily as a translator-interpreter). We eat mainly Japanese food (kosher, of course). My two oldest children are completely bilingual, having spent the first 10 years of their lives in Japan, as well as being Shomer Shabbat and yeshiva-educated in Israel.

    One of my sons was thinking of marrying a Japanese woman he met when he was working in Japan, but she could not bring herself to convert, so he broke it off.

    Anyway, my point is that it is quite possible for there to be all sorts of “interracial/intercultural” Jewish families. The issue is whether these are interracial and intercultural Jewish families or whether they are interracial/intercultural families that just coincidentally happen to have Jews in them.

    Miso soup can be kosher or trayf depending on what you put in it. Is your fiancee planning on converting properly? Do you insist that she do so? Are your children going to be brought up to observe Shabbat, kashrut, and the commandments? Or do you think insisting on this would be tantamount to disrespecting your finacee’s culture?

    These are serious questions. How you answer them will determine whether your children are actually Jewish or “Jeiwshy” (you know, “truth” vs. “truthiness).

    Obviously, since I am maried to a Jewpanese myself, I obviously cannot object to you marrying one, provided that she actually is halachically Jewpanese.

  • Paul:

    I doubt very seriously that an Orthodox Beit Din would convert only the children of a secular Jewish man and a lapsed Catholic mother if the mother herself did not convert and if the Beit Din knew that the family wasn’t going to be shomer mitzvot. Are you citing an actual case of such a conversion or offering it as a hypothetical situation? It seems like you are offering it as a “what if” sop to the Orthodox, as you seem to admit yourself.

    Also, I do not see how the Jewish community can be accused of “pushing away” interfaith families if and when the non-Jewish spouse intends never to convert. The Jewish community is not rejecting such a person, such a person is rejecting the Jewish community, saying “I plan on remaining a goy, but you’re racists if you reject me. I mean, look what I have sacrificed for you: I’m raising my kids ‘Jewish’, what more do you want?” Hardly following Ruth’s example.

    That is quite like the recent Arab “peace” proposal to Israel: “If you don’t accept this ‘peace’ proposal we will attack you”.

    The Jewish community has the right and the duty to set its own entrance requirements. We do ourselves no favors whatsoever by relaxing these requirements to spare the feelings of gentiles. The solution to this is proper conversion before marriage (in which case it is not an interfaith marriage at all) or for Jews to marry other Jews. Post-marriage conversion is not impossible, but it is extremely difficult.

    I agree that it is very often the converts who push the born-Jewish partner to become more Jewish. This is a good thing, and I have seen it many times. But this only happens when the non-Jewish partner really wants to be Jewish. This is not the norm in most intermarriages, and really shouldn’t be relied upon.

    Our Orthodox cimmunity has many converts in it. So far as I can tell, they suffer no discrimination whatsoever. My son is very obviously Asian and could easily pass on the stereets of Tokyo as he used to do. He told me that there was only one time that someone took issue with his status as a Jew: this person just found it hard to believe that there could have been a kosher Beit Din in the area where we lived. What my son looked like was completely irrelevant to this person: the only thing he cared about was the staus of the authority who had done the conversion. This is how it should be.

    On intermarriage and identification: I am myself the product of a mixed marriage (Jewish mother, gentile father). I have three siblings and about 15 1st and 2nd cousins on the Jewish side of the family. My sister and I are the only ones out of that entire group who identify as Jews to the degree that it actually has an effect on the way we live our lives. Every single one of my other siblings and cousins are intermarried or completely secular and no longer are part of the Jewish people in any meaningful way. I doubt if any of their kids have even the faintest idea that they’re Jews.

  • Hi Tzipi,

    First, thanks for acknowledging that there is such a thing as a community of committed intermarried families.

    Sorry if you don’t like the safe sex analogy, but note that I said safe sex for TEENS, not “people.” Many devoutly religious folks, in their arguments for promoting abstinence rather than sex-ed, would say that it is not at all inevitable that teens will have sex. Just as you are saying it’s not at all inevitable that Jews will intermarry. But I find both positions equally untenable. I believe that whenever Jews are a tiny minority and fully engage with a larger society that not only accepts them but even in many ways admires them, then yes, intermarriage is indeed inevitable. And telling a non-Orthodox Jew not to marry the person he or she loves because it’s “bad for the Jews” is not a compelling enough message, just like telling teens to “just say no” to sex has little impact on the actual rates of teen sex. Even intensive education – in both analogies – may help lower rates but will not eradicate either.

    More importantly, even if we were able to stop intermarriage right now, you still have more married Jewish households that are intermarried than in-married in the United States. Not all of them consider themselves Jewish households of course, but still, it’s a staggering statistic. Ending intermarriage today does nothing to address those many households.

    As for the numbers, nobody knows for sure, and people use different definitions for what it means to be Jewish or identify strongly or whatever. But my cautiously-optimistic opinions are based in part on demographic surveys like the National Jewish Population Study of 2001 that showed that of students on US college campuses who identify themselves as Jews, 45% came from intermarried households and 48% came from in-married households (and a surprising 7% said neither of their parents are Jewish!).

    What kind of person identifies him- or herself to a random telephone interviewer as a Jew? I don’t know. I tend to go with the David Ben-Gurion measure, that anyone mishug enough to call themselves Jewish is Jewish. How strong is their Jewish identity? I’m sure there’s a vast range, among children of in-marriage and intermarriage. But the fact that so many young adults from intermarried families are standing up to say “Yes, I’m a Jew” – not just on this survey but on birthright israel trips and elsewhere – means we cannot turn our backs on them simply because we’re uncomfortable with the idea that their parents intermarried.

    When you say “a vast majority of them feel nothing for religion in general,” I wholeheartedly agree with you. Lucky for us, Judaism is so much more than a religion! It better be, because according to another national survey (the American Jewish Identity Survey, also from 2001), only 9% of Jewish consider themselves “Religious” and another 35% consider themselves “Somewhat religious.” That leaves the majority—a full 56%—that do not consider themselves religious at all (either “Secular” at 34%, “Somewhat secular” at 15%, or “Uncertain” at 7%).

    And that’s among ALL Jews, not just intermarried Jews. So it means that those of us who identify in the 91% of “Somewhat religious” through “Secular” Jews need to find ways to strengthen and engage Jewish identity for non-religious or semi-religious Jews regardless of if they are in-married or intermarried, because the religion itself is not the only thing that keeps Jews saying “I’m Jewish.” And since we have to strengthen those identity-building opportunities anyway, why not do it for all Jews?

    I still believe there is Jewish opportunity in your siblings’ homes, and rather than cut off our own family members from the Jewish people, you can actually serve as an emissary to them.

    Thanks again,
    Paul

  • Dear Ephriam,

    Thank you very much for the information, your story is fascinating to me and if you live in NYC I’d love to buy you some kosher miso some time.

    However, I think we will also have a lot to disagree about too, though I hope we can do so amicably. Put simply, I do not believe that Orthodoxy is the only way to be Jewish. Neither I nor my wife has ever believed in a God that answers personal prayers. I won’t rule out anything in the future, but I am highly skeptical that we ever will believe (though I’m still willing to try sometimes). In my family, God died along with my grandparents’ families when the Bialystok ghetto was liquidated. And yet, since then I am third-generation deeply-committed secular Jew, and second-generation Jewish communal professional.

    My guess is we are not going to change each others minds, and I won’t argue what kind of future secular Judaism has – or Orthodoxy, for that matter – because it’s all speculation. However, there’s plenty you wrote I’d like to know more about.

    There’s an interesting contradiction; you seem to imply (as many do) that without a conversion to religious Judaism by the non-Jewish spouse, there’s no way the children can be Jewish. And yet, you say that you are the product of intermarriage! So aren’t you yourself dispelling that very notion?

    I think you might be surprised by some of the non-Jewish women raising Jewish children that I know. It’s funny you mention Ruth because I believe that many of these women have done as much as Ruth did to be considered Jewish – that have certainly thrown their lot in with the Jewish people – but the barriers to becoming Jewish have been raised so much higher today than in Ruth’s times. I know that the Rabbis have gone back and filled in the blanks in the Book of Ruth, I’ve had this conversation with Orthodox rabbis (“Of COURSE Ruth had a beit din even though rabbis hadn’t been invented for another 800 years.” “Of COURSE Ruth went to mikvah.” “Just because it doesn’t say it in the text doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”) Instead, I believe in the spirit of the text: Your people is my people (She says first, BEFORE mentioning God), Your God is my God.

    I also think that because you live in an Orthodox community, the issues around intermarriage and the way intermarried families are welcomed into the community is of no relevance, because they’re simply not part of your community. Conversion is the price of admission.

    The irony is, it makes perfect sense to most intermarried families why they will not be accepted into most Orthodox communities; it’s the other movements – where so few Jewish maintain halacha – that the unwelcome seems so hypocritical because it’s not based on religious law. It’s based on lots of other things, some of which I understand and agree with, but a lot of which I find very disturbing.

    (I thought that some orthodox rabbis will attend brit millah and do conversions at the same time for intermarried parents, but I’m not 100% so if anyone else has heard of such a thing, please chime in. If it’s really important I will do research but considering what a time-suck this blog has become, I’m happy to concede that point. 🙂 )

    Thanks again for your comments, Ephriam, it’s great to hear of your experiences,

    Paul

  • Paul Gollin wrote (and wrote, and wrote):
    using slurs not only weakens your argument

    I used one. Facetiously. So far in this comment thread, you’ve used three in reference to Jews, African Americans and Puerto Ricans. Apparently, you believe that mimicking such slurs can be instructive. I agree. You ought to extend to me the same consideration you expect of others.

    Paul again:
    mentioning the one Asian woman you kind of sort of know… doesn’t change the words that I still perceive as racism

    There we go with the presumptuousness again. I don’t “kind of sort of know” this family. They are long standing members of my synagogue. They also have 2 amazing daughters who also attend synagogue regularly. I assume they count as Asians too. My neighbors in Jerusalem are Filipino and East Asian, my mooting partner in Law School was Indian, a good friend in high school was descended from Chinese Jews in Shanghai and I’ve traveled extensively in Japan, Thailand, Vietnam etc. In fact, if you get the latest issue of Heeb magazine, you’ll see me and a Buddhist priest in a Temple in Bangkok reading Heeb. I could go on and on, but do I really have to? I assure you, my view on Asians and Asian women is not informed by Madame Butterfly. I know you’re taking this personally and all, but it doesn’t serve your argument one bit to be condescending and insulting.

    Just admit that your issue with me is based on our differing views on intermarriage. I acknowledge the existence of individual exceptions, but the statistics are very clear on this issue. Less than 20% of the grandchildren produced by intermarried families identify as Jews.

    This has nothing to do with whether they are in fact halachically Jewish. This applies to both religious and secular Jews as it uses the very lowest standard one can use to determine Jewishness – identification as a Jew – “Your people are my people” to quote merely half of Ruth’s declaration.

    Now, people are free to make whatever personal decisions they like. I don’t begrudge them that right nor do I hate them if they decide to marry out of the faith. But I am not going to pussyfoot around the issue.

    If Jewish continuity is something that one considers important, one ought to marry within the faith. That is the scenario most likely to result in children and grandchildren who continue to identify as Jews.

    To those families who are intermarried, the response ought to be one of tolerance and understanding, especially if they evince an interest in maintaining some semblance of Judaism in their homes. Conversely, they too ought to be understanding of the limitations some of us might have with respect to including them in the community. If the household is not one that is shomer shabbat and keeps kosher, I can’t eat there. If their children are not halachically Jewish, they can’t have bar/bat mitzvahs in my (orthodox) synagogue or expect me to set them up on dates with other Jews, etc. etc.

    Otherwise, I will continue to be supportive of any interest they show in Judaism. I will always, as I have in the past, go out of my way to be thoughtful, sensitive, kind and giving without compromising my beliefs.

    Notice too the complete absence of race in this entire discussion.

    I of course acknowledge that my use of a patently ridiculous racial slur was meant to be provocative. But hey, it got people talking, important and interesting issues were raised, and it was instructive.

    There ya go Paul. Now can you please get over yourself?

    As for Ephraim and mhp, I never meant to hurt your feelings and I trust that everything I have written thus far has helped to shed some light on the issue.

  • Apology accepted. As for the statistic you quote about less-than-20% of grandchildren of intermarriage considering themselves Jewish, I would point out that statistics change. The one you’re quoting in particular needs to be placed into historic context. If you are measuring their grandkids today, think about when those grandparents intermarried: in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Back then, for the most part, intermarriage really was “marrying out.” There were no mechanisms in place within the Jewish community to deal with intermarriage other than conversion (not that the ones in place today are as effective as they could be).

    I believe the particular statistic about grandkids will increase dramatically over the coming decades. The 1990 NJPS said only 18% of intermarried families were raising their children as Jewish; the 2001 NJPS (methodological differences aside) quoted that number at 35%. Still not where it needs to be, but nowhere near as gloomy as 18%.

    I really believe that the attitude of the Jewish community toward intermarried families makes an impact on how many choose Judaism for their households. And I’m not talking about changing halacha, I’m only talking about attitudes. So I appreciate when you write that “To those families who are intermarried, the response ought to be one of tolerance and understanding…” But I certainly don’t find that attitude in your blog entry above.

  • Intermarriage is destroying the Jewish community. 70% of people with one Jewish parent aren’t raised Jewish and marry non-Jews. 90% of individuals with one Jewish grandparent marry non-Jews and lose all ties to their Jewish heritiage. Jews have been too accepting of intermarried couples and now we are paying the price.

  • Paul: I don’t recall apologizing. Certainly not to you. As for the statistic about grandkids, the only way it will grow is if we include as Jews those who consider strolling through the shelves at Strands on a weekly basis a “Jewish” activity. I mean what standards will we use to determine who is a Jew? I suspect that’s an area in which you and I will differ.

    You’ll celebrate when the number of grandchildren of mixed marriages who identify as Jews by your standards rises to 40% whereas I will mourn the increased number of people who are (innocently) passing themselves off as Jews when in fact, according to my standards, they are not. I will also mourn the other 60% who will in all likelihood be lost to us forever.

    But I will carry on. I will continue to warn against intermarriage. I will also continue to offer my hand in friendship to those families who are intermarried and to anyone who expresses an interest in Judaism. One thing I won’t do is compromise on my values and beliefs and allow anyone to make me do something I don’t believe in.

  • Paul,

    When I said that a vast majority of the intermarried couples I know or their kids feel nothing for “religion” in general, I could have substituted that word for “Judaism,” as a culture as well, and also any organized religion or culture other than “American Generic.” They do not seem to have any kind of commitment to raising their kids in a Jewish environment at all, or any other kind of environment, other than “American Generic.” Which may include Christmas presents, but probably will not include going to shul on Rosh Hashanah. And may include going to a seder as long as their parents continue to hold them (but have no interest in holding their own).

    But, I did not comment in order to join the discussion, I was just pointing out the problems with your argument. My own experiences contradict exactly what you’re saying, but that doesn’t mean I am going to reject and intermarried family or the kids who are the product of that family.

    But please don’t tell me to be an emissary to my family. I grew up as 1 Jew in 2000+ in school, while they grew up in NYC. I am sure they have seen many practicing Jews, but choose to not participate.