The Bintel Brief

Ayelet Waldman on Encouraging Your Child To Choose a Jewish Spouse

By Ayelet Waldman

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Dear Ayelet,

We live in such a great, multi-culti time. I want my school-age children to have friends of every race, creed and color — and so far, they do. On the other hand, I want them to grow up and marry Jews!

Why? Because I love Jews and want our people to continue. I also think it’s easier to be married to someone from your own background. Also, Christmas sweaters? Ugh. But should I even mention this to them? (About marrying Jews, not reindeer sweaters.) If so, when? They are in fifth and seventh grade. I know — not quite what you’d call marrying material at the moment. But I don’t want them to suddenly find out my Jewish hopes and prayers when they hit 25 and are in a serious relationship.

How and when to broach the “nice Jewish spouse” topic?

YOUR TYPICAL, CONFLICTED JEWISH LIBERAL

Dear Conflicted Liberal,

Unless your children are uniquely filial, paragons of devotion, by the time they are old enough to troll the Internet for likely mates, they’ll be paying about as much attention to your Jewish hopes and prayers as they will to the Jonas Brothers. I love my parents, but did I care about their Jewish hopes and dreams when I dated the Guatemalan revolutionary? Or when I attended Mass with the Catholic who had worked out a deal with God that premarital sex was acceptable, but only if confessed weekly and enjoyed little? Did my husband care about his parents’ Jewish hopes and dreams when he married the shiksa who kept him busy while he waited for me? Not in the slightest.

The fact is that what you feel about intermarriage isn’t going to be relevant to your children, except insofar as they weigh the relative costs and benefits of introducing you to their boyfriends and girlfriends. They might care enough to lie to you, but honestly, who wants that?

Which isn’t to say that you don’t have any role to play in perpetuating the Jewish race. Rest assured there’s plenty you can and should do. What’s going to influence your children’s decisions, what will lead them to JDate rather than eHarmony, is not what you want for them, but what they want for themselves. The Jewish hopes and dreams that you can and should nurture are theirs.

The way I like to think about it is that Judaism is a gift we give our children. We try to include in our lives meaningful Jewish experiences. The fact that I ultimately chose to marry a Jew — and that his Judaism was no small part of the attraction I felt — had a lot more to do with the years I spent in Jewish summer camp than with my parents’ desires. As a child I suffered through Hebrew school (enough to drive most children from the arms of their co-religionists), but I also learned Israeli dancing and wept to the lyrics of “Eli, Eli” with the other hysterical teenagers in my bunk at Camp Ramah. I spent a year in Israel on kibbutz (not something I’d recommend, unless you have a deep desire to see your daughters acquire too familiar an understanding of the psychology and physiology of the average Israeli paratrooper). I joined youth groups. I watched Woody Allen movies and read Mordechai Richler. My parents gave me the gift of a childhood steeped in Yiddishkeit and Jewish experiences, and so when the time came for me to choose a mate, I chose someone with whom I could make a similar kind of family.

So, don’t hock your children about whom they should marry. Don’t burden them with your expectations. Just give them a happy, haimish life. (I know, I know: It’s easier said then done. But I can tell you’re up to the task.) And trust them to make the decisions that are best for them.


Ayelet Waldman is the author of the novels “Daughter’s Keeper” and “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.” She also penned seven installments of the “Mommy-Track Mystery” series. Her non-fiction book “Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace” will be published in May by Doubleday. Her Web site is www.ayeletwaldman.com.


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Comments
Maria I. Gomes Tue. Feb 3, 2009

Go Ayelet. I love it. Good advice for any mother. It also prompted me to get to the store and buy your books.

charles sullivan Tue. Feb 3, 2009

funny as usual -and very, very insightful.

Susan Porter Tue. Feb 3, 2009

Responding to Robb: This isn't racist, it is how you teach your children and influence their decisions, save your sanity and your relationship while you are at it. Is a Christian parent "racist" for celebrating Christmas? Or a Chinese parent for sending his child to Chinese school and giving Lai see on the Lunar New Year? or is it just preserving a culture? You nailed it Ayelet.

Bill Wed. Feb 4, 2009

Very nicely done.

Ron Abrams Wed. Feb 4, 2009

Ayelet I have a son-in-law who was so over saturated with Hebrew studies as a pre and post Bar Mitzvah that he is totally turned of to religion observence as an adult. His two children, ages 13 and 17 have had absolutely no Jewish training in our traditions except for a streamlined Passover Seder. He does acknowledge his Jewish heritage, more specifically, he takes pride in and identifies with, the cultural and scientific achievements of Jews per capita compared to other groups.Incidentally, he loved Kavalier and Clay.We were both reading it at the same time without knowing it. Larry's kids are achievers, particularly my 17 year old grandaughter. She was voted Most Valuable player in her basketball league,she's a great student, she's been playing piano since she was six and for my recent birthday she gave me a framed copy of a five stanza poem she wrote that is rich in her views about life.Her father tends to be over protective but she has learned that it's okay to be outspoken and challenging, provided it is expressed with respect for opposing views. My younger daughter lives in Charleston, South Carolina. She is a Berkeley graduate who met her non- Jewish husband at the Spoleto Music Festival where he was one of her media reps, a wire service photographer. Along with a few other girls from different parts of the country she was invited to Charleston to handle the publicity for the event. That summer she went to Europe for what was to be a two month trip that turned into eight and one half months. Six of those months were spent in Israel, first at a Kibbutz and then at a Yeshiva in Jerusalum. She came home a somewhat brain washed religious zealot, but that didn't last.She did marry a gentile but her three children did go to a Jewish school for a few years and are being raised as Jews. Jill, my daughter,is an observant Jew and clings to our traditions. Last year she became the treasurer of the Charleston Chapter of Hadassah. We think her identity with Jewish life is, in part, a way of staying connected to her family in Los Angeles. As her father I am a secular Jew who has great doubt about the concept of God. it's a good thing that I am Jewish because I don't think my agnosticism would be tolerated by other religions. Dennis Prager, a radio talk show host in Los Angeles who is syndicated in several markets, used to have a program on Sunday evenings called Religion on the Line. I happened to listen one night when his guests were three gentile clergymen and a rabbi. The question of the evening was,would you give your life for your religion? Each of the non Jewish clergymen articiulated detailed reasons why they would make the ultimate sacrifice. When it was the rabbi's turn to speak he said, "Absolutely not. My God would never ask that of me. Mine is a religion that celebrates life." I rest my case.

Joel M. Blatt Mon. Feb 2, 2009

If you really want to positively influence who your child marries - be a better Yenta. With Sparkbliss, you can play matchmaker and make romantic introductions but you child has ultimate authority as to whether or not to contact the introductee. There is a reciprocal privacy that mitigates hurt feelings. Sparkbliss.com was developed by a nice Jewish boy who wanted to give his mother an easy, effective, and private way to play matchmaker.

Robb Dew Tue. Feb 3, 2009

Wait! You both think of yourselves as liberal? You don't think of this as a racist notion? This makes me sad, Ayelet. I really thought you and Michael knew better than this.

Margaret Michael Tue. Feb 3, 2009

I'm saddened Mr. Robb's narrow definitions of things that are "sad." It would be a cruel reading of the definition of racism to say that folks who want to raise our children within their inherited culture are somehow exclusive, or missing any points. Raising them outside of Isreal, or outside particular neighborhoods expose my children a great deal to the outer culture, in our case of Northern California. There is a culture within the home and family, and to include other such families is richness in itself. To hope that my children have family cultures that continue the one in which they are raised is not racism. Ms. Waldman's advice was to teach, then let go. How can any mother, of any culture, want differently?

Aliza Hausman Tue. Feb 3, 2009

I won't argue with your message as I love your writing but I will argue with the use of the word shiksa to mean non-Jewish woman. Shiksa does not mean non-Jewish woman. It means abomination. It shouldn't be thrown around so lightly.

Aliza Hausman Tue. Feb 3, 2009

When Hispanics marry other Hispanics because they want to marry people from a similar culture do we call that racist? I am Hispanic and I married a Jew (after an appropriate conversion) and though I love my husband very dearly, the rockier parts of are marriage are a testament to how hard it is to marry someone from a different culture. Even when we're both speaking English, we're speaking a different language. And more than that, he can't help me teach our children Spanish no matter how many different ways he learns to cook rice and beans. So if your kids don't marry Jewish, they will be sacrificing things and it sounds like the one thing you don't want them to sacrifice or compromise is their Jewishness.

dj Tue. Feb 3, 2009

Ayelet, Can you clear something up for me? I always thought "jew", "Jewish" and "Judahism"(sp?) were religious terms. You call jews a race of people. Please explain or define the jewish race.

jcrn Wed. Feb 4, 2009

Based on results at a local Reform congregation, intermarriage is on the rise. Do the Jewish parents care? Have some of them urged their children to choose Jewish mates? Yes. But the trend continues. However, it seems far less so in the Orthodox congregation. I am no expert in this and base this only in talking to rabbis.

jcrn Wed. Feb 4, 2009

Based on results at a local Reform congregation, intermarriage is on the rise. Do the Jewish parents care? Have some of them urged their children to choose Jewish mates? Yes. But the trend continues. However, it seems far less so in the Orthodox congregation. I am no expert in this and base this only in talking to rabbis.

Sara Wed. Feb 4, 2009

In the meantime, bone up on focusing on their heart. Your children will come to you helplessly in love, with broken hearts, and with hearts that focus on sexual attraction rather than the dreams you have for them. Let them know that they have very big hearts that are capable of all these feelings, that they will learn from each experience and will be able to know true love from these experiences. Let them know that what's parked in their hearts will peek out once in a while and that that's ok for it will remind them of the experience of love and their capacity to love. When they know that you are there for them and understand them, they will get the rest of your message the same way you got it, but they won't get it if they think you don't understand the heart.

Aliza Hausman Thu. Feb 12, 2009

I was pleasantly surprised by your response. Altogether, I find the whole thing very amusing. I am a convert, a first generation America. Did my Catholic parents ever imagine they would come to America and their daughter would grow up to be a religious Jew? This is something so incredibly foreign to them. Yet, my family has been very accepting. The worst part of being a Jew is seeing how divided the Jewish world is. People don't just believe in their own way, they have really ugly ideas about the people that are following others.

Aliza Hausman Thu. Feb 12, 2009

P.S. No matter what you do, as my story proves, your child will find his/her own way in life.

Josh Thu. Feb 5, 2009

What a sad and misguided article. It's time to own up to the truth that you can't raise your child secular and expect that secular child to suddenly become traditional in regards to marrying Jewish. See the results in this study at http://www.whydatejewish.com/grandchildren.htm They speak for themselves. Torah is amazing, just give your children an authentic Jewish education, and a house that models the behavior.

David Mollen Thu. Feb 5, 2009

Congratulations, Ayelet! Your answer to this parent's question is one of the very few I have ever read that makes any sense at all. How is it possible for people who are supposed to be so bright and thoughtful to be so wrong about the issue of intermarriage?! Has anyone ever met someone who ceased to care about being Jewish because he or she intermarried? Is Judaism so weak and pathetic that it can be made irrelevant for a person by someone else's opinion? Both logic and experience show that it is obvious that the opposite is true: people don't lose loyalty to Judaism becasue they intermarry; they intermarry because being Jewish is unimportant to them! Another way to look at it: our ancestors came to America largely so their offspring could be free. Well, they succeeded, maybe beyond their wildest dreams! Our children are free, which means they are free to choose. Then the only way to prevent intermarriage is to motivate (not force) them to choose a Jewish mate! Why would they choose a Jewish mate if being Jewish is unimportant to them? Just the relative sizes of the pools of Jewish and non-Jewish prospects makes it clear that many of them will choose non-Jewish mates! Parents, if you want your children to marry Jewish, as Ayelet says, show them what's valuable about being Jewish. And since they are free, that means showing them what's valuable about being Jewish TO THEM! Not to you. That's what freedom means. And if we older Jews can't show future generations what is valuable about being Jewish TO THEM, then we will get the dissolution of the American Jewish community that we deserve. We're already on the way; the number of people who identify themselves as Jewish in the U.S. decreased by about 30% in the thirty years between 1970 and 2000. One final point: some of the earlier responses to Ayelet's column imply that the answer is to teach our children Orthodox Judaism. The data clearly shows that this is a non-starter. Despite Orthodox claims, they have not only lost more Jews from Orthodoxy than they have gained to Orthodoxy, but they have lost more Jews from Orthdoxy than they have!! (See the 2000/2001 NJPS.)

Lenny1970 Thu. Feb 5, 2009

To really increase chances of your children marrying Jewish, you would need to send them to Jewish Day School. And take them out of the Govt-run public schools.

Alexa Witt Fri. Feb 6, 2009

Ayelet, the fact that you don't realize your parents brainwashed you shows what an awesome job they did! "The fact that I ultimately chose to marry a Jew...had a lot more to do with the years I spent in Jewish summer camp than with my parents’ desires." Well, duh, whose desire was it to send you to Jewish summer camp all those years? Who named you Ayelet? Brainwash away, Jewish parents, and do it with love like Ayelet's parents did! Put your kids in Jewish settings. If you feel you're a hypocrite, go and deepen your own Jewish experiences. Your kids will feel the love and want to be a part of it. The alternative? Your kids marry out and the Jewish people ends with them. Don't let it happen!




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