Growing up in the shadow of intermarriage

US Politics
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Jack Ross responds to the recent campaign underwritten by the Israeli government to characterize American Jews who have intermarried as "lost" or "abducted."

I have grown up in the shadow of intermarriage and all that it represents, but I never realized it until I was an adult.

Both my parents are the only one of their respective siblings who did not outmarry. They are also the only one out of four who did not stay happily married, to put it mildly.  Only one of my mother’s two brothers had a child, and he’s lived with the same nice Jewish girl for 15 years but they have never been legally married and have never intended to have kids.  My father’s brother raised three great kids in a blissfully assimilated existence in Cobble Hill.

My mother appreciates this fact, but my father– never in a million years. Both of them well into their 30s were just eager to get out a few Jewish kids.  On both sides of my father’s family, all of my second cousins are "lost to the Jewish people" in the Zionist/neocon formulation, though on my mother’s side there are a handful of outmarried, a handful of Orthodox, but overwhelmingly they are Reform, over half of these having been raised Conservative.


Four years ago I went with my father to a family wedding in Colorado which bore an uncanny resemblance to the wedding in About Schmidt [pictured left].  I resented at first that our sole Jewish quadrant of the two families stuck out like a sore thumb, but I made it work for me as the urbane cynic, and yukked it up, pointing this out to the bride’s friends that nothing clashed with it like the one of them who was wearing a kilt. 

My father was miserable, and toward the end of the wedding I said to him that if there was one thing I was taking away from this it was the conviction to have a Jewish wedding, which naturally put a big smile on his face.  But a while later I had to explain to him that my saying that wasn’t about being Jewish but about looking down my nose at middle America.

So what, pray tell, does all this have to do with the current Israeli anti-miscegenation campaign?  Last night, I was prompted by all of the reporting on it to brush up on my Jack Wertheimer, who as an arch-traditionalist professor at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary and has gained the reputation as a sort of Cassandra of American Jewish apocalypse.  I first realized the grisly facts about my father’s family when some time after the aforementioned wedding I had my first exposure to Wertheimer in his article on birthrates, and I became convinced of his implication that non-Orthodox Judaism will be extinct in another hundred years.

My father’s response to this was half-right: as long as there are Orthodox Jews, they will have kids who want to be less Orthodox.  It seems that as much as half of my lefty-unaffiliated shul in Park Slope was raised Orthodox.  The growth in recent years of the Reform movement seems to bear this out, but not quite.  It is the Conservatives who have hemorrhaged, and it is mostly their kids, if they remain Jewish at all, who have become Reform.  As for full-bore disaffection from Judaism and its implied endogamy, this is coming most conspicuously from the Conservatives.

Let no one think I write this as a partisan of the contemporary Reform movement, far from it.  Their leadership, as their attacks on J Street make clear, are an extremely pernicious bunch.  But the direction they have gone in toward embracing the intermarried will only naturally lead to an end to the worship of peoplehood, so critical to fostering Zionism.  One of the items I came across regarding Wertheimer last night was an exchange he had with Joey Kurtzman of, who, though spouting a lot of Eustonite nonsense about Darfur and the anti-Israel left, was virtually resurrecting the ghost of the saintly father of American Reform Judaism, the anti-Zionist Copperhead Isaac Mayer Wise, in his calls for a universalistic Judaism.

Finally, I would refer readers to the current Commentary symposium on the latest installment in the living legend of Norman Podhoretz, Why Are Jews Liberals?, which confirms in spades my suspicion of the book’s significance as the ultimate recognition by Podhoretz that he has lost his life’s cause.  Not for these neocons, apparently, are the enduring bonds of Jewish peoplehood, with their eagerness to leave their enlightened brethren behind and preserve the remnant of Jewish nationalist Orthodoxy on their own.  In short, all any anti-Zionist Jew needs to do to avoid despair and know they are on the right side of history is to read Commentary, and particularly the Cassandra’s cries of Jack Wertheimer.

So let me conclude by quoting one of the last loyal defenders of the faith of Isaac Mayer Wise, Irving Reichert:  "Racism can never be a substitute for Judaism.  Racism is a boorish impostor.  At best it is bigotry wearing a mortarboard, at worst it is the resurrected ghost of Hitler."

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