When Intermarriage Happens To 'Good' Parents
05/12/2010 - 11:52

Undoubtedly the two most vexing theological questions are the issues of bad things happening to good people and free will versus destiny.
While most of us are all too aware of the randomness and injustice in the world, we nonetheless are quick to credit ourselves for our good fortune and blame ourselves (and others) for bad fortune.

Fundamentalists are especially good at this little exercise. 9/11? God’s punishment for permissiveness and homosexuality. The Holocaust? A punishment for assimilation and Reform Judaism. Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War? Divine intervention.

On a much less dramatic scale, but among those who are generally a bit more rational than the typical religious extremist, is the whole blame-the-parent game in which we all love to partake.

While I don’t think intermarriage is necessarily a bad or blame-worthy thing, among many Jewish parents their children’s marriage choices are frequently viewed almost as a test of whether the parent was a good-enough Jew.

Karen Kasdin’s very entertaining recent column in Faster Times explores some of these issues:

When your faith and heritage are important to you, and your child chooses to marry someone outside of the religion and culture you have known all your life, you wrack your brain for any clue you can hold onto as an explanation ...

We sent our son, Dan, to Jewish day school through the fourth grade. After that he attended Hebrew school three days a week. After that he had a Bar Mitzvah. After that we went to great expense to take our family to Israel to visit the land of our ancestors, and after that he fell in love with a blond, green-eyed beauty named Kristen.

I recently spoke to a mom who lamented how she thought she’d done everything “right” — observing all the holidays, sending her kids to Jewish schools and camps, encouraging them to participate in Jewish youth groups and so forth — and now that her children have intermarried she’s wracking her brain and second-guessing herself to figure out what mistake she made.

Meanwhile, a fellow congregant in this woman’s Conservative shul seemed eager to take credit for his daughters’ decisions to marry Jews. “I told them marrying out was simply unacceptable,” he told me, knowing full well that I am intermarried.

“When they started dating gentiles, he bought them one-way tickets to Israel and that that straightened them out,” his elderly mother proudly chimed in. “Now all three are Orthodox and live in Israel.”

OK, so his hard line (which could easily have backfired) paid off with his desired results, although I imagine many, if not most, liberal American Jewish parents would prefer their child intermarry, stay close to home and not become Orthodox, at least not ultra-Orthodox. But in any event, was this man’s “success” the result of effective policy — or just plain luck?

I’m not going to argue that nothing makes a difference, that parents and Jewish upbringing have absolutely no influence on the way their children turn out. After all I’d love to take credit for my 6-year-old daughter’s kindness, good manners and compassion as well as her general enthusiasm about all things Jewish.

But I’ve encountered too many nice kids raised by horrible people and horrible people raised by nice parents — not to mention the myriad directions that kids with rigorous Jewish educations (and nonexistent Jewish educations) take, to see parents and "doing everything right" as more than one of many factors in a person’s development.

As my favorite Yiddish proverb goes, “Man makes plans and God laughs.”

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Actually we Jews do not need all the people we can get. Maybe your reform temple needs all the members it can get to pay its sociology professor rabbi his $400,000 salary. The Jewish People is a matter of quality and not of numbers. We are a unique people, culture and religion. It destroys the closeness of the communities and families to bring in people who are not Jewish or insincere "converts". American Jews who feel no obligation to marry a fellow Jew are uneducated in Judaism and at worst traitors. They should look a Jew about to be gassed and cremated at Aushwitz and explain to them why they are intermarrying. But in the end, it is the people who intermarry who are the losers - they are losing the privilege of being a member of a magnificent people and culture. A huge percentage of these intermarried situations end up in tragedies in divorce situations. Divorce is bad enough - but divorce from a person from a different cultural background is even worse. G-d should have mercy on these lost souls.

If you don't want people to make unfair generalizations about the extremes of intermarried, don't make unfair generalizations about the extremes of fundamentalists. If you'd bother to speak to them, very few believe what you say they do.
In these times when there is so much antisemitism in the world and so many vitriolic words and deeds against Jews and Israel by rabid antisemites and anti zionists,, we need all the Jews we can get. A gentile who chooses to become a Jew by choice is a good thing. We should welcome them instead of marginalising them and gently encourage them. After all it is not easy to become a member of the most exclusive club in the world! So stop being mean and nasty, but welcome them aboard.
Very beautifully said. G-d bless you.
I know, I know. My Catholic daughter married a wonderful Jewish man. Where did I go wrong? Much to my delight and also the delight of my son-in-laws family I'm sure, their beautiful children are being raised in the Jewish faith. I am honored, (really glad they have faith, any faith) that my daughter is honoring her husband in this. Watching my grandson say prayers during Sabat with the candlelight shining on his face brings tears to my eyes. It is no failure, it is a blessing.
As the parent of 3 children, 2 of whom married out I do feel as if other Jews behave as if somehow I have failed to ensure that my children married Jewish and produced Jewish children. Have I failed? I would say there is a pause, a long pause, if ever I meet Jewish people who find out I have not managed to get my kids married off to Jews. I do not personally feel I have failed because the younger people today in America feel really far removed from the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. They are not living in the backwoods so do not feel discriminated against in the big cities. Plus most of us live in religously integrated communities today with a social atmosphere where kids do not want to be told what to do. Attempts to instill what was instilled in myself--Holocaust guilt, and all those who died defending our religion so that we might be born--did not work for my kids. I feel it necessary to throw any "guilt" right back onto Judaism and ask, what is Judaism as a religion not providing for young people these days? And then I have to ask what did it provide for me? The answer is nothing except Holocaust guilt. Perhaps Judaism needs to be updated--something the Rabbis will not do. Plainly these are Hellenistic times. What kept us together was persecution. On Shalom TV the Rabbi says we are a "people", not so much a religion. Do we then not have a religion? I do not see Judaism saving ultra Orthodox surviving way into the future. And I am not happy my kids married out. But that is no matter for they did and they produced non Jewish children.