Recently, there have been many articles delineating the obstacles placed in front of children born to interfaith parents who live in Israel. I understand the obstacles. I sympathize with them. At the same time, to think that the issue will disappear when you get to Israel is naïve. I would love for laws to change. I would love to find a way for my Judaism to be recognized, but more than that I would like people to not treat me like an anomaly.
In an op-ed posted last week on Ynetnews.com, Emily Bernstein, a child of interfaith marriage, powerfully states what we have heard again and again from children of interfaith marriage: Jewish children of intermarriage do not want to be treated differently or singled out.
Bernstein made aliyah (became an Israeli citizen) with full knowledge that her having grown up in an interfaith household would cause her Jewishness to be questioned. Despite many inquiries about whether she planned to convert and outright statements that she would never be considered Jewish unless she had an Orthodox conversion, Bernstein still moved to Israel and lives as a Jew dedicated to her community and her country.
Bernstein wrote her article in response to Roger Cohen’s op-ed in the New York Times, “The ‘Real Jew’ Debate.” Cohen describes the “Real Jew” debate as one between supporters of Israel no matter its government’s decisions and actions and those who may qualify their support for Israel with a disagreement with the government’s actions (and those who may be proudly Jewish but do not support Israel’s government’s actions). In response to Cohen’s understanding of “Real Jew,” Bernstein asks: “How could he link whether or not you support Israel to the issue of who is a real Jew? That manifestation of the question does not ask who is a real Jew, but rather, what is expected of a real Jew.”
According to Bernstein, the question of Jewishness is related to how we define it. She asserts that those abroad concerned about intermarriage and the decline of the Jewish community are doing themselves a disservice by rejecting children of interfaith marriage who indentify as Jewish. It’s time, Bernstein writes, to recognize these folks as part of the larger Jewish community.
Thank you, Emily, for your insights. We agree with your message and believe you are exactly right when you say: “If we are so concerned with interfaith marriages abroad, shouldn’t we try to make the people who choose a Jewish life feel welcome?”