The "Half-Jewish" Glass: Half-Full Or Half-Empty?
05/14/2010 - 11:54

 Jews in All Hues, a new-ish “peer-led program that provides a safe space for people from interfaith families to explore their identities as mixed heritage Jews,” is holding a conference in San Francisco on Sunday, May 30.

I attended their conference last year in Philadelphia and came away with mixed feelings, a no doubt appropriate emotion for an event focusing on the state of being mixed!

For a full report, check out the column I wrote about it  last June. (Due to problems related to revamping The Jewish Week website, the only online version I can find of it right now is on the Franco-American News and Events blog, which I guess took an interest in it because I mentioned my husband’s French-Canadian ancestry.)

In theory I applaud the idea of bringing together people who’ve grown up in interfaith families. After all, my own children and many of my friends (and their children) fit that profile.

But by definition, “half-Jews” (yes, I know this is a controversial term) are such a diverse and varied group — whether raised Jewish, nothing or something else and with vastly different experiences depending on what that something else is — that I’m not 100 percent sure if they have enough common ground to spark productive conversation.

On the one hand, it’s great to have a safe space to meet with people who, if nothing else, share feelings of not fully belonging in mainstream Jewish life. But are shared feelings of being excluded enough upon which to build a community? I wonder if, rather than ghettoizing themselves in a group exclusively for half-Jews (Jews in All Hues only allowed me in last year because I grew up with a gentile stepfather), those searching for Jewish connections might find more meaning in simply approaching the growing numbers of Jewish venues that actually are open and welcoming?

With intermarriage increasingly common and accepted in the liberal Jewish community, my sense is that the half-glass is quickly becoming more full than empty.

In any event, I’m eager to hear what others think — and will be interested to learn more about Jews in All Hues as it develops further.

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We forget...... we focus on writings and opinions of other people, but we forget what The Book, Torah, actually reveals to us. Who is a Jew? What makes one a Jew? If we assume that our father Abraham was a Jew, then it is right to ask, 'what made him a Jew?'.... People, it was Avrahams FAITH. Actually, Avraham was NOT a 'Jew', he was an Ivri (Hebrew). Scripturally speaking, outrside of tradition, "Jews" were the children of Yehuda, Yaakovs son. Traditionally, Jews became a mix of Yehudim, Benjamites, and Levites. Today, "Jew" is a loosely used term in terms of the actual meaning that Tanakh reveals to us. We say "Avraham was a Jew", ok sure.... But my point is that whoever has the faith of Avraham, and MOST importantly, the faith in the God of Avraham, he/she is the true descendant of Avraham. He is a Jew. How can one be a Jew and be an atheist? To be a Jew is to believe in the Mighty One of Avraham! :) Thank you.
Dear Julie: This is Robin Marglis, the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network. The sad truth is many of us half-Jewish people are not welcome in many Jewish venues. Many Jewish groups that claim to be welcoming to us welcome only the children and grandchildren of intermarriage who were raised Jewish. Those of us raised outside of Judaism are treated quite coldly in many Jewish settings--in many instances our phone calls and emails are ignored, or we are treated in a humiliatingly dismisssive manner. And many of us raised inside Judaism keep quiet about having intermarried parents for fear of being discriminated against. In some situations, once those half-Jewish people who were "raised Jewish," speak up, they are automatically "one down" and not considered as good as Jews with two Jewish parents. Even worse, many children who are raised Jewish are being taught to look down on those of us raised outside of Judaism, compounding our problems. You wonder if all of us have enough in common to talk with each other. I can assure you that all of us, no matter how diverse our backgrounds, have no trouble sharing our experiences. If you visit the Half-Jewish Network message board at: And you will see hundreds of postings from adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage from all over the world attesting to the harsh treatment we have received in many Jewish communities. Finally, I have heard this train of thought -- the glass is rapidly becoming full, no need for half-Jewish groups -- from interfaith couples since the early 1990s. I think it is partly because interfaith couples believe that if the Jewish community is now more welcoming to interfaith couples, this welcome must have extended to their children. But if half-Jewish people are really accepted by the Jewish community, why are we not being given the same resources as interfaith couples? Where the books for us? The shul-sponsored groups? the DVDs? The films? The outreach programs? There is nothing for us except my group, Jews in All Hues and a few other groups, all run by volunteers, and mostly outside the Jewish community. The fact that almost no programs exist for us is a very eloquent fact. Finally, I believe that many interfaith couples tell themselves that Jewish venues are more welcoming to half-Jewish people than those venues really are because they don't want to believe that their children will experience discrimination within the Jewish community. No parent wants to believe that. But it doesn't help us to have our intermarried parents remain in denial about our situation. It is difficult for me to hear interfaith couples -- over the 25 year period I've been doing this outreach -- tell me that half-Jewish people shouldn't be asking for outreach when interfaith couples are the beneficiaries of tons of books, CDs, films, groups and programs specifically for them. We need our intermarried parents to advocate for us that we should receive the same Jewish communal resources that they do. We need them to look clearly at how we are discriminated against and protest against it. My group has become so exasperated with the continuing discrimination against us in many settings that we have joined together to start the Inclusivist Judaism Coalition, a new denomination of Judaism that welcomes every descendant of intermarriage as a Jew, if they identify as a Jew. We don't ask them to convert. We also welcome disaffiliated Jews with two Jewish parents who want to be part of a new, more welcoming Judaism. Sincerely, Robin Margolis
Julie, thanks for blogging about us, I think ;-) Actually, I think you open up a great discussion here with two good questions: Why have a separate space for dual heritage Jews (or half-Jews as you put it)? Is it useful to that group AND the larger community or does it further divide us? As one of the founders of Jews in ALL Hues, my goal was to create a space where Jews with one parent of a different background could explore the different elements of their identities, together with others with a similar (although not identical) intersection. I have found that too often I have been asked me to cast aside my mother's family, to not claim that as part of my heritage, in order to be accepted as a full member of the Jewish community. Although I had an orthodox conversion as a child, I live a Jewish life and I have dedicated my professional career to creating an inclusive Jewish community, I have still been challenged when I mention my mother's protestant background. We want to help all Jews with a dual (or multiple) heritage to feel accepted as WHOLE PEOPLE, so that they choose to enter the Jewish community without losing a piece of who they are. We also want to share the information we learn from these gatherings with other professionals in the Jewish community so that we be sure the meet the needs and interests of this growing component of the community. We are trying to create ways in, not divide ourselves off. Just one note about conversion--we are not a religious group per se. We have no official opinion on the matrilineal/patrilineal conversion or affirmation, etc. I myself had a conversion as a small child. Others in our group have not. My conversion however, did not sever my connection with my maternal line. B'Shalom--as a whole person, Mira
So is the glass half-full or half-empty? My question is "what is the glass?" There are so many varieties of identity that the debate about "jewishness" can last unto the wee hours. Judaism is a culture, a history, a people, etc, etc.: there are so many ways to define us! But what has sustained us for generations is our relationship to God, our chain of tradition that goes back to Sinai, and a way of life defined by the Torah. Of course, there is much room for debate as to the specifics, but if you don't have God and Torah, you won't have the "glass" and all you'll be left with is a mess.
When you're really Jewish, you know it and others know it. If you're half anything, you're nothing of anything. If anyone wants to be all Jewish, all they need do is undergo an Orthodox conversion.