Crossposted at WWPD.

This Israeli news program about intermarriage in the U.S. raises an interesting question: if the goal was to show how there’s something specific to America about the phenomenon of Jews marrying out, if the point was to show America’s “love affair” with the Jews, what’s there to make of the fact that in the two main couples profiled, the non-Jewish spouse is not from America? The husband’s (at least originally) Irish and the wife is Japanese; their current nationality is not specified, just that they live in the States.

Not to read too much into two perhaps poorly-selected examples, but might the fact that the gentiles in question are from abroad mean that American Jews feel a connection with foreigners, that America’s Jews, however many generations American, remain on the margins of American culture? Just a thought.

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  • All the interfaith couples I know with one partner who is Jewish, except for one, have American born spouses.

    I guess I don’t understand what you mean by “margins of American culture.” I would say we’re in the thick of American culture. whether it’s Seinfeld, Spielberg, Roth, Dear Abby, Gene Simmons, Barbara Streisand, Thomas Friedman, etc., I’d say Jews were right in the thick of things.

    Perhaps the question should be whether Jews feel that they’re on the margins of society. I think many do but the process of assimilation is slowly eating away at this issue. After all, the child of an interfaith couple isn’t going to feel that Jews are disliked or despised by people whose faith is alien to him/her.

  • Another, more positive way to look at this is that American Jews identify more with the immigrant experience, however far back it was in one’s own family history, and are thus more open to those of all backgrounds, including those from other countries.

    I don’t see how the existence of Seinfeld makes Jews more central to American culture. A Protestant farmer or office-worker in Kansas is poorly-represented in the entertainment world, but for many, that person represents a non-hyphenated, ‘pure’ American identity. I’m not saying that such a person *should* represent anything particular, or that I think a New York Jew is any less American than a Midwestern Protestant. I don’t. But enough people do think this that when you try to summon “all-American,” your first thought will not be, “Barbara Streisand.” So you’re right that the question is about how American Jews feel, although it doesn’t make sense to completely dissociate this feeling with the behavior of the rest of the country.

    As for anecdotal evidence, I don’t know enough native-born Americans of any background to offer up a fair analysis.

  • Another, more positive way to look at this is that American Jews identify more with the immigrant experience, however far back it was in one’s own family history, and are thus more open to those of all backgrounds, including those from other countries.

    Possibly. Sure, why not?

    Seinfeld is central to American culture. If 20 million people are watching your show every week and then millions more watch reruns for years, then you can bet that some of them are that mythical mid-western Protestant farmer and it is influencing them and their lives no less than tv shows might influence non-mid-Western Protestants.

    And you know what? Fine, I’ll accept that Streisand wasn’t a great example, but I could have also said Harold Robbins. My point was that Jews have been involved in helping to develop what is the mainstream culture in the US. For every Spielberg there’s a Coppola or Scorcese, but we are well represented.

  • I read the post to suggest that there are Jews over here in Column A, and some sort of monolithic, “mainstream” American culture, represented by some hypothetical Kansas hayseed, in Column B. A strange take indeed on our polyglot reality.

  • I guess I didn’t explain myself clearly enough, but here goes: Many, many, many Americans have an idea of America according to which one is ‘more’ or ‘less’ ‘American’ however much one does or does not conform to the stereotype of a rural or suburban, white, middle-class everyman, with some connection, cultural or perhaps just racial, to the country’s Western European founders. Living on the Upper West Side is certainly more American than it is Spanish or French, but it is still not what comes to mind when one tries to summon what most people think of when they hear the expression ‘all-American.’

    This may be “A strange take indeed on our polyglot reality,” but I cannot begin to explain the number of times I’ve heard this idea of America. As in, it’s strange that people think this way, but you know, they do. If someone is looking to hire an actress and asks for an “all-American” look, what would you imagine is being looked for here? Do you truly believe that if a Hasidic woman (or, for that matter, an Asian woman) showed up, she’d get cast for the part?

    There are separate questions of what America is; whom we *should* be referring to as all-American; and who, in the world in which we actually live, is considered somehow to be the ‘most’ American. The comments to my post have blurred these questions, making me think perhaps I blurred them in the original post. So, hope this clarifies.

  • We’ve had this discussion here a number of times about early Hollywood. I’ve expressed the belief that many of the Jewish studio heads helped to create the idea of what an “all-American” is – often using Jewish actors, writers or directors to express this “ideal.” There’s no question that the media, and cinema and tv in particular, have shaped our impressions of groups and stereotypes. It is ironic that what those Jewish studio heads brought about, or at least helped to strengthen, is the notion of what a “true American” looks like or how she or he behaves. At the same time, Jews as Jews were rarely represented and when they have been, other than Exodus they typically are introduced as Woody Allen Jews.

  • “Jews as Jews were rarely represented and when they have been, other than Exodus they typically are introduced as Woody Allen Jews.”

    And Seinfeld changed that… how? Whatever the role of some Jews in defining ‘all-American,’ my point is that such a definition exists, is commonly accepted, and might do something to explain the couples profiled in the news program. Then again, as I pointed out, these are only two couples, and may well not represent any larger phenomenon. If not, the question must be asked of why they were chosen to illustrate *American* intermarriage.

  • The phenomenon of Jews marrying outside the culture probably carries a very different emphasis depending on the country the Jews are living in. In America, it perhaps means less – people are less defined by their Jewishness or non-Jewishness. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I personally have several gentile friends who married Jewish people, and even though the Jews were second generation immigrants, for them it’s not about being Jewish anymore. These couples have fun blending their various traditions and sharing things in a very comfortable way with their stepchildren without having to rigidly adhere to any particular behaviors or attitudes to “prove” their Jewishness. They’re Jewish, they’re partners aren’t, and everybody gets along fine without feeling that they have to stop being what they are.

    So I think sometimes we overanalyze this stuff. Let people be who they are. Let them love whomever they love. It all balances out.

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