Growing up in the shadow of intermarriage

US Politics
on 12 Comments

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."

12 Responses

  1. DavidF
    September 5, 2009, 11:32 am

    Thanks, Jack. This was a very fine post.

    • Citizen
      September 5, 2009, 11:59 am

      I didn’t grow up in the shadow of intermarriage, but I married a Jewish woman and so did my brother (both by municipal civil marriage); OTH our two sisters did not intermarry. Further all of us had children. I have a niece married to an African American who claims he’s part Native American, and another going with a Jewish guy. There are other racial/ethnic couples in my extended family, various Protestandt denominations, some Buddists, etc. I was an altar boy in the 7th & eighth grades; both my sisters are now Scientologists. My dad was in the Knights of Columbus and my
      mother said a rosary every night… So it goes.

      • Citizen
        September 5, 2009, 12:09 pm

        PS: It’s really easy to look down one’s nose at middle America, no matter the ethnic/racial group comprising it at any given time, place, or occasion. Even more so if you’ve lived in Europe and watched Americans there–I discovered that at age 18. I’ve never
        even worn a wedding ring. I did offer half-heartedly to wear a wooden one, but my wife didn’t really care either.

  2. Citizen
    September 5, 2009, 12:43 pm

    For those who have not seen it, and those who did and forget it, here’s a brief summary of About Schmidt–one key thing is that our middle class anti-hero thinks his daughter’s
    financee is below par, not deserving. It’s hard to caputure the middle class gentile American, and that is why this movie is important. Note especially how Jack’s character
    reacts to his daughter’s choice for marriage, and how her future hubby is presented.
    link to

  3. VR
    September 5, 2009, 1:27 pm

    The mixture of Orthodox with Zionism is the deadly combination, any mixture of the brand with Zionism is deadly. Any mixture of most forms of theistic religion with Zionism is also poisonous, see Christian Fundamentalism. If indeed there is “religious sincerity” the very abandonment of the religious tenets of Judaism and a return waiting for some supposed Mashiach bears no resemblance to historic Judaism. What does this say to the rest of these ‘brands’ with Zionism? It becomes merely opportunism with a religious tint. That is why any “crisis” can bring a surge to Zionism, the perceived loss of something basic, in this current economic debacle can swell the ranks of the “faithful (as the Holocaust did, or more recently the economic reality of the fall of the former Soviet Union).” To be frank, none of the so-called “leaders” in Israel probably have even the slightest “religious” sincerity, but are no better than the common murderers and thieves of other aggressive nations. Sorry to disappoint some, but Israel bears all the markings of other developed countries of a tiny moneyed elite ruling the roost – it is a racist and ethnic state.

    Perhaps at a certain time there was a modicum of “nobility” in the Zionist course, looking for a homeland for us because of the obvious prejudice and antisemitism that hurt advance in other countries – but not now. As a group we have risen to high and modest means, and there is no haunting ghost of antisemitism threatening anyone on any significant scale. For this specific reason these imbeciles bring us the “new” antisemitism, which is absolute nonsense – tailored to anyone who criticizes Israel. Indeed, it is the atrocious acts of Zionism and its siren song of being the proto-Jewish paradise and all who disagree either being antisemitic or self-haters that try to threaten the complete acceptance of our presence in any developed nation. Or the deadly influence inside of the bosom of the US power structure, giving the appearance that we control everything, that may threaten another diaspora. Other than that we should both dissent and resist these internal activities in the USA, and employ BDS on its (euro/American) warped child Israel.

  4. Sin Nombre
    September 5, 2009, 6:48 pm

    Jack Ross wrote:

    “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.”

    Admirable honesty. One only wishes there could be more of same in the world without the name-callers piling in. Maybe people would then really talk to one another instead of seeing each other as demons.

    • Citizen
      September 6, 2009, 4:45 am

      Do those on the ends find anything at all of value in middle America? Perhaps the
      physical beauty of the girls next door always found for Girls Gone Wild dvds?

  5. Duscany
    September 5, 2009, 7:04 pm

    In the Commentary Symposium, Michael Medved says Jewish liberalism is mainly a function of Jewish fear of and contempt for Christianity. Being a Hindu Jew or a Buddhist Jew or agnostic Jew doesn’t disqualify you from being a Jew, he points out. But try joining Jews For Jesus and you’ll be out of the tribe faster than knish on a hot tin roof. Deeply religious Jews, on the other hand, he says, are comfortable with the deeply religious Christian right and get along well with them.

  6. Citizen
    September 6, 2009, 7:41 am

    Are you sure they’re so comfortable? I wonder how many fake it, thinking the enemy of my enemey is my friend? The pernicious evangelical con man is a fixture in film history, especially
    from Hollywood.

    • Duscany
      September 6, 2009, 11:47 pm

      You’re certainly right that the pernicious evengelical con man is a Hollywood staple. But it’s liberal Jews who run the show in Hollywood (and perpetuate the stereotypes), not conservative religious Jews.

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