Merry Christmukkah, my ass.
It must be the holiday season that comments about multifaith/interfaith families are more frequent, because I’m going mad about this. Even well-intentioned people are making the mistakes that put me, my friends, and 50% of Jewish people under the age of 25 into a stereotyped box. My people, a subset of our people.
The stereotypes need to go. The “indecisive” parents who “can’t or won’t pick” one religion over the other. Their children who are “confused” and “have no religion”. We are more complicated than most of you, the darlings of Jewish continuity, can understand. These kids defy ALL stereotypes. Let me give a couple examples of participants off the Birthright trip I led:
Benjamin. 25 years old, dresses like Slim Shady, enrolled in the US Air Force, and has two giant tattoos sprawling across hugely muscled triceps: on the left, a gigantic Magen David with the Sh’ma in Hebrew which he cannot read, and on the right, a gigantic Catholic crucifix with dying Jesus and hellfire flicking beneath.
Eliza. An loud and proud African American Jewess. Left the room crying when Israelis and certain American Jews started talking about how Arabs in Israel shouldn’t have national rights, had no hesitation in describing Israeli society’s discrimination against Bedouin and Arabs as “racist” — and for damn good reason.
Rachel. Japanese American Jewess from a Christian family. Only came on the trip because her friend was going.
Me. Two-generation product of intermarriage, 1/4 Costa Rican native, 1/4 Warsaw Jew, 1/2 seventh-generation Spanish Catholic; usually the only Jew my age across 7 states like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon and Washington; my Judaism came from books because more Jewish people blog on Jewschool in a given week than I ever befriended before the age of 18.
This is also the Jewish people. We’ve never been or rarely attended your Reform summer camps, your NIFTY conventions, BBYO clubs, day schools, or Sunday schools. We take the Holocaust just as seriously, because a sliver of Jewish “was good enough for Hitler” and it counts as extra baggage in the identity milieu. We suck at Jewish geography.
There is a cabal, an in-crowd, of self-selected and self-certified Jewish spokespeople who have declared that this kind of Jew is hybrid, mixed, intermarried and unusual. This is overlooking the fact that if you’re Ashkenazi, you’re the descendant of unwelcome (by the same token) interracial marriage with Poles, Germans, Brits and Prussians. Same with Mizrahi Jews, or as I believe is a more accurate label, “Arab Jews.” Back up the family tree, Catholic, Muslim and Protestant religious attitudes entered the family with foreign semen and ova. We are all unwelcome, if this is the assumption. We are all intermarried.
There is no one Judaism any more than there is one Christianity, and sitting between two religions — Catholic and Jewish in my case — we can see the uniting factors of religious communities. We see the in-fighting, bickering, claims to exclusivity, wrestling of liberal and less liberal interpretations, and the xenophobia. All of it the same on both sides. Worse, all of it in our families.
We also see the postive similarities: ethics and morals, care for life, models of selfless service, worshipful piety, poetry and music, and if not a belief in God then at least a straining for something spiritual. Rather than “confused” about “which” faith to “pick” we understand that God is more universal than your damn particularness. Though I understand that Judaism is what speaks to me, that is my window dressing, not yours and I don’t expect yours to be the same. To be intolerant would be to hate myself.
And I’ll tell you a big secret: we mixed feel sorry for those who lack the self-confidence to be proud of their combined heritages and instead run panicked into the arms of religious fundamentalism. Chabad may be welcoming, Aish may posit answers, but their communities are founded on the same thing as “straight camp”: denying a part of you. They offer false absolutes. Our own lives speak to life’s intertwined, betwixt and between reality. Nothing is pure, nothing is clean, nothing really is kasher.
We are not their the community’s “problem” — we are your solution, for a society dying and dwindling, starved of new ideas. Contrary to Jewish communal in-speak, cultural fusion is the only way out of stagnation. Judaism is shot full of Christian ideas and precepts the same way that Jewish food is a stew of local foods sometimes adjusted for kashrut. There is no such thing as purely Jewish and we’re the new model. (Except maybe matzah, only we would invent that.)
In a few decades, we’ll be the norm, whether the nervous spokesmen and women like it or not. And the recognized purebloods can die out, having convinced themselves they’re all alone. Looking back centuries later, the normative Jewish scholars of that day will describe how differently Jewish was defined. And the orthodoxy will still consider them infidels. Plus ca change.
Or, we can be embraced, and a very rich fusion could take place sooner, quicker, with all the resources we have now. We can move past the uneducated, prejudiced and xenophobic stereotypes as a starting place.
I’m soliciting articles, proposals and rants from intermarried Jews and products of intermarried Jews. You can reach me at [email protected]. Guest posts will be shared between now and New Year’s.