A touching article last week about Michael Kellogg, a 24-year-old Birthright Israel participant who tragically died on the trip, offered yet another reminder of how outdated and inaccurate much of the old conventional wisdom about intermarriage is.
The Jerusalem Post piece, written by former Jewish Week staffer (and now blogger) Sharon Udasin, notes that Kellogg, raised secular, started attending synagogue a few years ago when his non-Jewish fiancée, Hope Fargis, encouraged him to research his roots and explore his faith.
Himself, the product of intermarriage (his father was Christian), Kellogg went on to became a regular (along with Fargis) at a Reform temple in Greensboro, N.C., and began making annual donations to Magen David Adom, the Israeli emergency rescue group.
In addition to owning about 300 books on Israel, Kellogg displayed an Israeli flag on the wall of the couple’s apartment, always wore a Jewish star around his neck and was considering joining the Israel Defense Forces, Fargis told the Jerusalem Post.
Kellogg’s experience — in which becoming engaged to a gentile woman actually spurred a deeper engagement with Judaism — may not be the rule when it comes to interfaith relationships. However, it’s also not the exception: I am constantly hearing of Jewish men and women whose gentile partners encourage them to think more and learn more about their Jewish heritage.
In their dated assumptions that intermarriage is an express ticket to Assimilationville, many Jews overlook just how philo-Semitic and open to Judaism many gentiles are, particularly ones who fall in love with Jews. While Fargis was apparently interested in converting (wasn’t clear to me if that’s something she is still pursuing or not), even partners who don’t convert (like the women from The Mothers Circle who I blogged about last week) frequently take an active role in bringing Jewish activities into the home and ensuring the children get a Jewish education.
My deep condolences to Hope Fargis, Kellogg’s family and to all other loved ones this young man left behind. May his memory be a blessing.
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