Virtually everyone who visits this website has had to deal with the subject of intermarriage, be it among family or friends. In my family, intermarriage is rampant on my mother’s side. Within the next generation, nebich, there will be no Jews remaining within some families.
So why is one particular case affecting me so deeply? Why is it making me feel so sad, and why am I so preoccupied by this sadness that I’m posting this. Unlike my cousins with whom I have infrequent contact, this time it’s the daughter of my oldest and dearest friend. A woman I’ve known since we were 8 years old, a girl I’ve known for her entire life. The young lady, a charming and beautiful 23 year old graduate of an Ivy League college (let’s call her Jill) has hooked up with a man who is not Jewish. After my friend (we’ll call her Susan) somewhat sheepishly told me about this, my first reaction was “well, that’s the biggest argument for the importance of Jewish education”. This family isn’t totally irreligious, they’re probably what would be called Traditional – members and attendees of their local Conservative synagogue, kosher in their home, and of course, their two children had the obligatory Bar and Bat Mitzvah. As Susan and I discussed this issue, I mentioned to her that in the typical American Jewish lifestyle, a child’s Jewish education, the afterschool Talmud Torah, ends just when in the Day School, Yeshiva and/or Bais Yaakov world is first starting to get into the meat and potatoes. In other words, the faucet gets turned off just when it was intended to start flowing. Now that these children have learned to read Hebrew and can read a Haftorah, let’s just turn them loose and hope that those 3 or 4 years of education will carry them throughout their lives in a meaningful way.
Jill lives on her own, so her parents feel they can’t influence her in the same way they did when she was a teenager. When she was in college, Jill was often at a loss in trying to explain to her diverse group of friends why she only could date Jewish men. After not being able to answer the question in a convincing way, she’s apparently stopped asking it of herself as well. Her paternal grandparents were both Holocaust survivors, and sadly, Jill’s dad attended yeshiva but no longer is frum. In fact, he and I sort of passed each other in opposite directions, because there was a time when he was the only Orthodox person I knew, and then many years later, I became frum, and he left. All of this means that the parents are in the unfortunate position of having offered too little, too late. Susan kept stressing how kind and thoughtful this young man is. No doubt, but that’s not the issue. Apparently, his kindness goes so far as to eat kosher food, since Jill does want to retain a kosher home. Susan says the Jewish fellows she’s dated have mocked her for wanting to keep kosher. Aren’t there Jewish young men who fall somewhere in between Reform and Orthodox? However, because of the dad’s personal feelings about Orthodoxy there’s always sort of an “uncomfort” zone when we socialize with them.
Statistically speaking, it’s inevitable that this ailment will strike us all in some manner or other. But when it hits those who matter so much, there’s a terrible sadness that sets in. Over the years we’ve tried to reach out to this family because they are our close friends, inviting them for Purim Seudahs, Succos meals, whatever we could. Most of the time, we’ve been turned down, and the few times they’ve come, Jill has never joined them. The sadness I’m feeling in my heart just doesn’t abate. Because I’m frum, shouldn’t I be able to do something? Or should I just accept that is life and be grateful that my children are thankfully on a different path. Obviously, this is putting a long term friendship in jeopardy because I just can’t seem to contain myself. When I see Jill’s picture on a social networking website (she’s not my “friend”) together with this man, it makes me feel so awful.