What happens when the social issue that had the most energy for you in your middle age is suddenly over? The thing you thought about and agonized and shed blood for, poof– it doesn’t matter to any young thoughtful person? You won, the world moved on. Well then you’re a fossil, or a creaky veteran marching in some annual parade, and people ask what the symbols on your hat stand for, and you smile and trudge along.
That’s what’s happened to me on intermarriage. I used to think about it all the time, and write about it constantly, specially after I got intermarried myself. But this holiday season I realized it’s completely over. No one cares in the next generation, or notices; and if you call attention to it, they just laugh.
Like the time a few days ago that my in-laws spent the night and my neighbor’s son– who is half-Jewish; isn’t everyone half Jewish now?– drove them to the train station with me and on our way back asked me if they were Jewish. Are you kidding? I said. They’re Christians! But this difference that had loomed so large to me and awed me; it meant nothing at all to him.
It was the same thing over and over again at Christmas. I don’t know if you noticed, but a lot of Jewish groups had Christmas celebrations, and tweeted Christmas wishes. Jews are getting their arms around Christmas at last. Yivo Institute even had a Christmas song night. Then I went to Martha’s Vineyard with extended family, and both the young Protestants who were there were dating half-Jews, one of whom had been on Birthright recently, and of course just rolled her eyes about it. The brainwashing wasn’t sinister but laughable. We laughed about the one girl on the trip who drank the Koolaid, who cried when she had to leave and who had slept with the Israeli soldier.
I used to feel so Jewish in such surroundings, and chatter all about it. No more. That sense of difference is passe. My host and I went for a walk and you could trespass on the big estates because no one was there, and at one sprawling compound with a Jewish name on the sign out by the road, we stuck our noses in the windows to check out the (garish) furnishings, and someone came to the door to ask if we needed anything. “Oh we’ve been looking for my neighbors, X, Y, and Z,” my host pivoted deftly, expressing a social geography in the mishmash of names. The woman dropped her guard and said, Merry Christmas! I didn’t even ask my host which of the names were Jews. I used to do it with her in years gone by, but I can tell everyone’s sick of my shtik. They’re all mixing in. People don’t care. Among the secular, college-educated, no one gives a good-g.d. about who’s marrying who; and if you point it out, it’s a sure way of seeming old and stupid and in the way.
I could go on and on about what it used to mean to people. How non-Jews got shunned. How the 1991 NJPS– the National Jewish Population Survey — sent a fright into the Jewish community when it showed that more than half of Jews were marrying out. How Dershowitz wrote a book about it. How Dennis Ross chaired an institute to stop it in the name of Jewish peoplehood. How you were said to be doing Hitler’s work for him, by intermarrying. How you were only Jewish if your children married Jews. That’s all over now. No one cares. (OK maybe Dennis Ross.) If you want to be Jewish, be Jewish, especially if you’re half.
This is bad news for Zionism. This intense fight the establishment is now fighting over Zionism– it’s going to end with a wheeze and a sigh in a little while. Yes there’s a lot of excitement right now. All the Zionist columnists at the New York Times, all the Zionist-only panels on the future of Zionism, the Democratic Party’s rigid alignment with Israel and its friends, the anti-BDS resolutions, the appointment of endless Zionists to gatekeeping jobs in the Trump administration, the blacklisting of anti-Zionists…. It’s all frightening but it reminds me of those hard times in the 1990s, when the establishment threw itself into the fight against intermarriage with slogans and war cries. They were defending an anachronism that could not survive worldly awareness, and in 20 years the whole fight went poof. Forget about it, and move on.