This piece in the Forward saying that 58 percent of American Jews are now marrying out brightened my day; it occurred to me that I feel less guilty now about marrying out than I ever have, that I even feel a certain pride in marrying out: that I am part of a great moment in Jewish history in which Jews turn out from self-absorption.
For centuries Jews were a nation inside other nations. Thus the longstanding Jewish question in Europe: how to deal with this cohesive minority that had ancient laws and its own language and customs but played an important part in the modern state. The answers were assimilation, anti-Semitism, extermination, transfer (emigration/Zionism).
Those answers are all over now. Jews are fully integrated in American society. Our former importance as alien professionals– doctors, lawyers, bankers, scientists to the goyim even during the days of Gentlemen’s Agreement– has given way to full participation in the American Establishment. And with that power, we have helped build a nation in the Middle East that is a regional hegemon that tyrannizes a minority.
And so the great challenge to Jews right now is to come to terms with this new identity, as fully-empowered.
Yet the leading spokespeople for Jews, most of them formed by the Never-again commandment, are all concerned with that old encapsulated question: What is good for the Jews? Thus a Jewish chauvinist like Jeffrey Goldberg has a very successful career as a journalist. And neocon politicians like Joe Lieberman have incredible power. All speak for that Jewish feeling of being an outsider minority. When the reality couldn’t be more different.
To repeat, that is the great challenge to Jews in history right now: the acceptance that the 2000 years in which ‘we governed ourselves, and were semi-autonomous, responsible only for ourselves‘ (as Michael Walzer put it), are over. We have entered an era in which we are the governors of others, and in fact tyrannize nearly 5 million Palestinians; a racism we rationalize through an ideology of superiority that I grew up with, that Jews are smarter.
Our challenge is to learn to treat the non-Jewish world with respect. That respect means: When international human rights standards are invoked, ala the Goldstone report, we don’t scoff and say, No one can judge us. When non-Jewish scholars critique Jewish power in America, we don’t conduct forums calling them anti-Semites. We cease to treat the Palestinians as animals, and we accept that what fairly comes with American wealth/status/power is scrutiny by journalists and citizens (not to mention marriageability).
So I see my choice to marry out in that larger historical context. Jews are turning their faces to the outside world and meeting others as equals. Yes, some Jews who married other Jews are undertaking that work, too. But I understand my own decision as reflecting interest and respect for other cultures, at a time when Jewish life is in desperate need of those qualities. (Not to mention Jewish intelligence, which is being destroyed by the necessity of arguing that apartheid and permanent war are good things.)