Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Jewish Choices

Dear "Emily,"

I've been thinking about you ever since you rushed up to me two weeks ago with the news that you'd broken up with your boyfriend. "I wanted to tell you because I knew that you'd be happy!" you exclaimed. "And I'm dating someone from school, which I also know would make you happy," you continued.

You're right -- I am happy that you are no longer seeing your former flame. Not because I wish you unhappiness or angst, but because I want you to marry a Jew. And even though you are only in high school, "Em," you are already establishing the dating habits that will one day lead to marriage.

Before you jump up and accuse me of racism or prejudice, let me point out that my desire for you to marry a Jew is not motivated out of a dislike of non-Jews. It is out of my concern to preserve our heritage. In other words it isn't "them" -- it's me!! A political conservative who chooses only to date other conservatives is not being racist. Nor is a vegetarian who refuses to date a carnivore. It is not racist to limit one's dating options to those who share certain interests or beliefs. When a certain position is important to us, it is understandable that we would choose only to date like-minded people. Remember also that anyone can potentially become Jewish through conversion. Racists wouldn't invite the people they hate to join their group -- and we do!

"Emily," I've had the honour to watch you grow from a cute little girl into a lovely young woman, and I care a great deal for you and your family. As one of your rabbis, I have partnered with your parents in instilling in you the values and teachings of our Tradition. And one value that is incredibly important is that you marry Jewish.

Your parents have done an admirable job in this area. They've connected with our shul and have maintained their affiliation as active members long past the Bat Mitzvah services of both you and your sister. They send you to a Jewish Day School, belong to the JCC, and support your participation in our local Bureau of Jewish Education programs. Judaism is a living part of your home, and they've done everything they could do to show you how Judaism is important to them.

Now it's your turn. From the moment you leave for college in the fall, you will determine your own Jewish choices. Hillel or not? AEPhi or another house? Missing class on the holidays or not? Dating exclusively Jewish or not?

The statistics are overwhemingly against you. Just under 50% of our young people are marrying out of the faith. So if you are committed to marrying a Jew, the odds are not in your favour. And for those who are not committed to marrying Jewishly, the evidence shows that Judaism will stop with them and not continue to the next generation. "The truth is, not more than about a third of the products of mixed marriage identify Jewishly," said Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. "There is a great fear that if a small Jewish community simply acquiesces to a situation of high intermarriage, that pretty soon, do the math, that a small community, which is really an endangered religious species, will simply disappear."

Given all of this, the most important reason for marrying a Jew is because I want you to find a life partner who will join you on your own Jewish journey. Not because I want you to rear Jewish children (which I do) or because I worry about statistics (which I also do), but because ultimately I believe that Judaism is the language of your soul and I want you and your soulmate, your b'shert, to speak the same language.

So yes, "Emily," I am happy for you. Happy that you came to your own conclusion to end a relationship with a non-Jew. And happy that you are seeing a "nice Jewish boy" from school. And proud that you are making good Jewish choices.

May the Holy One continue to bless you on your journey...

2 comments:

PepGiraffe said...

Comment from the Math Police:

If there is a 50% chance that she will marry a non-Jew and a 50% chance that she will marry a Jew, than the odds are not overwhelmingly against her; the odds are even that she will go one way over the other.

Rivster said...

While that is true as far as the straight numbers are concerned, given the fact that we are such a small group in the first place, the odds are certainly not good that "Emily" will end up with a Jew. And as you can see, if she doesn't marry a Jew, the odds of her children identifying as Jews is pretty darn small.

But I always appreciate the math help!!