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“Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood”

When an interfaith couple marries, there is a good chance they have discussed some of the more complicated points of sharing a life together. This includes how to raise their children, how to celebrate holidays, and how to navigate general family drama. Sometimes the road is smooth, sometimes bumpy, often times it’s a mixture. What can’t be anticipated is where the road will take you – and that’s the story told by Sally Srok Friedes in her upcoming book The New Jew: An Unexpected Conversion.

Friedes describes herself as a “lapsed Catholic from the Midwest” who married an upper-class Jewish man in Manhattan. At first she had no intention of converting, but did agree to raise her children as Jews. As we sing on Passover, Dayenu (meaning, “it would have been enough”). But as a lapsed Catholic, she had a dream of “finding a meaningful religion.” This is where the story turns sour. She found herself “confused, disappointed and alienated at the many doors that were closed to her.” As she embarked on her Jewish journey, she had numerous encounters that made her feel like an outsider. It took her ten years, but she eventually reached the end of her journey and became a Jew. For that we say thank you and welcome to the Jewish community.

Conversion was the decision Friedes made, but not every spouse in an interfaith marriage is going to make the same choice. They shouldn’t have to. Intermarried couples who are raising Jewish children are already doing their part by instilling a strong Jewish identity in their children. That’s why they deserve our gratitude.

Whatever decisions a person makes, the worst thing we can do is make them feel like an outsider. We need to increase points of access, not close doors. In an age of increasing diversity, do we really want to find out what will happen to the Jewish community if we continue to keep the same barriers to participation experienced by Friedes?



8 Comments

  1. What’s the point of preventing someone who wants to be involved from being involved? Who can explain this widespread, peculiar, baffling phenomenon? What is that about, exactly? Judaism is a wisdom tradition that can heal the world - if people have access to it. Isn’t that high on the list of Jewish priorities?

    Comment by Sara — March 25, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

  2. GENTILES CAN NEVER RAISE JEWISH CHILDREN! IT’S IMPOSSIBLE FOR A GENTILE TO INSTILL ” A STRONG JEWISH IDENTITY” IN THEIR CHILDREN WHEN THEIR CHILDREN AREN’T EVEN JEWS? YOU ANTI-SEMITIC PEOPLE WOULD SHOW “GRATITUDE” TO A BUNCH OF GENTILES WHO ARE DESTORYING JUDAISM. YOU PEOPLE MAKE ME SICK!

    Comment by anti-intermarriage — March 26, 2009 @ 1:09 am

  3. Really don’t want to dignify the last comment by commenting, but one cannot sit back and listen to this bit of anti-semitism ( I’m assuming from a jew )
    A Jewish woman remarries out of the faith…her children by ALL definitions ARE Jewish. her new husband can certainly help to raise the children with Jewish values ( as Rashi said on his view of Torah..”..Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, the rest is all commentary. ”
    WE shouldn’t say thank you to the non-Jewish spouse who keeps a Kosher house - who is active in the daily Jewsih lives of their children - who instills the core values of Judaism into their children??? I would much rather have that person as a role model than someone who was born Jewsih - davened every morning - went to schul every Shabbos - but didn’t spend anytime with their children , beat their spouse, stole from their business and was basically an immoral person…but they were born Jewish - so that’s ok???
    It’s not inter-marriage that is eroding the Jewish community, it is the lack of compassion for ones fellow human beings. Every Friday night we sing Shalom Aleichm - I suggest that the commentor from above read the English. Abraham opened his tent to all - he didn’t pick and choose who he would let in.
    Just so you don’t think I’m a flamimg Liberal ( not that there’s anything wrong with that! ) - I’m a Conservative Jew who is not in favor of inter-marriage, but realizes once it is done we HAVE to be accepting of the family - it is the only decent thing to do. To turn our backs is a disgrace to the essence of who we as a people are.
    Ell

    Comment by Ell — March 26, 2009 @ 6:57 am

  4. I am the product of an intermarriage. By Jewish law I’m Jewish. I was not raised religiously. I want to come back and create a Jewish life and hopefully set an example for my children. Their father is not Jewish, either. God is not Jewish, for that matter. But Judaism has been around for this long because it is a wisdom tradition that brings light to the world. It is worth preserving. Someone please explain WHY converts should be excluded. What purpose does that serve? Who benefits? Moses married a non-Jewish woman - his children were not born Jewish. Ruth converted. What’s the problem? I want to understand.

    Comment by Sara — March 26, 2009 @ 11:50 am

  5. Sara- I wanted to wait and see what responses the you received from the nay-sayers. Obviously, the truth hurts and they can’t handle the truth. There is a line from a Who song that I use for myself.. ” I don’t have to fight, to prove I’m right, I don’t need to be forgiven.”
    You have my permission to use it - you know you’re right - just go one being you and don’t let ” them ” intimidate you.
    While I was saying Kaddish for my mom I went to a schul near work for morning minyan - not one person would even say good morning to me because I wasn’t wearing a black kippah, mine was white with a little design on it!! I was at a local schul for evening minyan- 9 men - one woman, she asked why they couldn’t start and she was told ” you don’t count” - I turned and said “then neither do I” and I walked out.
    It is a strange mixed up world we live in. Don’t give up - don’t even question why they won’t accept you, it is more of should you accept them???
    Have a Great-Joyous - Peaceful - Shabbos

    Ell

    Comment by Ell — March 27, 2009 @ 11:16 am

  6. Ell; If anyone is anti-semitic it’s you and this website. You are scared of Judiasm being too “Jewish.” You want Judaism watered down and basically become “Christianized.” You believe that Jewish woman have no value and that Gentile women can actually do a better job at raising Jewish children. That notion is ridicoulous because Gentile women can’t have and can’t raise Jewish children. If anyone is scared of the truth it’s you and pro-intermarriage groups like JOI.

    Comment by anti-intermarriage — April 8, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

  7. I guess by leaving no name you are afraid to stand up for what you believe in and hide behind the cloak of anonymity. Obviously you don’t ” read ” either. It was I who walked out when the congregation said that the woman didn’t count. I am constantly at odds with the leaders both in our synagogue and at JOI regarding inter- marriage, but there comes a point in time when one has to realize the reality of Jewish life. For us not to recongnize the existance of the spouse of a Jewish member is both dumb and childish. They do exist. In my own Conservative Egalitarian ” welcoming ” synagogue - the Non- Jewish spouse’s name doesn’t even appear on the membership list - how ridiculous is that???
    The truth is on Shabbos at our schul of 400 families in suburban NJ the average age of attendees is 60 +. For every one new member who joins we lose three….you tell me where the future of Conservative Judaism is headed. If we don’t open our doors soon to the entire Jewish community those doors won’t open at all.

    Ell

    Comment by Ell — April 13, 2009 @ 6:26 am

  8. Hey anti-intermarraige i got some news for you,
    My mom is the one who wrote this book and she happens to be more jewish than my dad is. she’s the one who takes me to temple and celebrates sabbath. My dad goes to temple twice a year and has matza on passover, Thats ALL. I respect my dad for how he’s jewish, but on passover me and my mom stay away from grain for the 8 days. I am 100 percent jewish and NOT ““Christianized.””

    Comment by Harrison Scott Friedes — April 20, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

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