“I Want to Marry a Jew”

Esther Kustanowitz is a writer, editor, prolific blogger and Jewish dating columnist for the New York Jewish Week who we’ve blogged about before. She was the “session artist” in one of the sessions about intermarriage where I was a “thought leader” at the recent PLP Conference. She wrote about the experience in her “First Person Singular” column, explaining that:

I read a piece from my book-in-perpetual-progress, a chapter considering whether it would matter if I intermarried: If my babies would always be Jewish, maybe it paid to expand the dating pool and be more open-minded. (To ruin the ending, I decided intermarriage wasn’t for me, and to this day I restrict my dating pool to Jews who are interested in living a traditionally Jewish life.)

…I underestimated just how personally everyone in the room would react. While people were polite, challenging me respectfully and non-confrontationally, afterward I became aware that some offense had been taken. Some people — themselves intermarried or children of intermarriages — had heard my personal exploration as a condemnation of their (or their parents’) choices….

I want to marry a Jew. Not because I hate non-Jewish people or think they have nothing to offer me in terms of love, personality, humor, advice or life experience. But because having a Jewish life is important to me — it’s a lifestyle and perspective I find personally resonant and I think makes a contribution to the world.

Esther blogged about this column on her website, which gave me the opportunity to post a lengthy reply (perhaps the longest blog comment ever!). It obviously raises a lot of important issues and I applaud Esther for grappling with it even as I might disagree with her. As to the crux of the issue, I wrote:

You still seem to be operating on the assumption that intermarried couples don’t create Jewish households, when there are literally hundreds of thousands of us who do. For example, you write, “I want to marry a Jew…because having a Jewish life is important to me.” Having a Jewish life is important to countless intermarried Jews as well – myself included, and others in that room at PLP – and who you marry is neither cause nor effect of doing so. You’ve set up a clear corollary that you must in-married in order to have a Jewish life, implying that those who intermarry no longer have a Jewish life. It’s just not true. And I think that was the major cause of the reaction you felt in the room that day.

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