Saturday, August 30, 2008

Choosing not to choose?

I recently recieved a copy of Jewish publication arrives in my mailbox at very unpredictable and irregular intervals. I know it doesn't get delivered monthly, or even every other month, but I feel like I get it more than once or twice a year. I don't really know. Maybe it only comes once a year. Hm. Anyhow, I clearly have forgotten to take my Adderall today. But, all I know is I just find it every now and again, very unexpectedly. I love to read anything that is offered from a Jewish perspective, but I gotta say...this publication really stinks. They typically fall into one of several categories: the contrived category, the boring category, or interesting-topic-but-article-fails-to-actually-follow-said-topic-and-therefore-loses-me-half-way-through category. However, after reading a certain article/letter this afternoon, I realized I need to create a new category: the really-bad-articles-that-are-intellectually-dishonest-and-make-me-bristle category.

The one I read today was about interfaith marriages and the Conservative movement's "stand" against them. You know, for a faith base that is made up of so many people who still walk around claiming to be persecuted, prejudged and misjudged, we certainly have our fair share of people who are more than happy to offer their prejudiced (and might I add, ignorant) viewpoints about members of their own faith. I am DISGUSTED by this article, not neccessarily by its specific message but by the general narrow-minded, judgemental, uneducated manner in which the author attempts to lay a solid ground for his argument. Okay. And I'm not happy about the message either. But I can't believe that this guy shares the same faith as me. Seriously. Do we not encounter enough people outside of our faith that treat us as though we are the losing team that we feel the need to treat our own this way? Let me share some of the "highlights" (and I do use that term loosely).

First of all, the name of the article ticked me off from the get go. "Encouraging a Jewish Choice". Since when do Jews proselityze??? I must've missed this day at Hebrew school. (I actually didn't go to Hebrew school. I was just trying to add emphasis, but then I felt like I was being a poser and should tell you that I didn't go to Hebrew school so you didn't think I was lying....anyway...again...the Adderall...gotta take that tomorrow...)

The article starts off by offering this comment: "Inmarriage must continue to be a high priority for Conservative Jews...Although we must continue to promote inmarriage aggressively, our efforts are not always successful. Even with the best education, a positive home life, and exposure to the richness of Judaism, some people will intermarry." I think it's the term "even with the best education" that sent me over the edge as its inference clearly is that only the stupid and uneducated Jew would marry a non-Jew. Nice.

It goes on to say, "In the past, when an intermarriage occurred the couple often was shunned by the Jewish community. Fortunately, we have learned the folly of this strategy." Uh, excuse me? This smacks of a back-handed compliment to me. We've learned the folly of this "strategy"? What about learning what's wrong with you? How about rephrasing that to say, "Fortunately, we've learned what a bunch of jerks we were being by thinking that we can tell someone else who they should or shouldn't marry and making them feel ashamed for their choice of a partner." Since when do we walk around thinking that someone isn't worth our time, praise, love and committment simply because they aren't Jewish? Since when is that sort of thinking acceptable?

In the next paragraph, the author offers this, "The first step we can take is welcoming the intermarried." Um. Do you think we could start by not calling them the intermarried? I mean, really. Might as well say let's welcome the diseased. The second step that is offered is to "create an ambience in which the intermarried will feel comfortable and accepted." Okay, so other than continuing to call these poor folks the intermarried, this seems reasonable. Except, that the author offers up the reasons why we should create this "welcoming" ambience to "the intermarried", which is that Jewish law tells us to. So we shouldn't be nice for the sake of being nice? We should only be nice because we are told to be nice? Huh. I'm not really okay with that. And remember, this perspective is coming from me, once a member of the dreaded intermarrieds club and now Jew by choice. You'd think I'd be all for this, trying to get people on my bandwagon. But I'm not. I don't agree with this message and I think that says a lot.

And now apparently, the Conservative movement is encouraging "congregations to passionately and compassionately inspire non-Jews within an intermarriage (GASP! THE INTERMARRIEDS!) to convert." I'm sorry. This isn't cool with me. This isn't cool at all. But apparently, the guy that wrote this article has done his research because he states that whenever he talks to a Jew by choice, they invariably have said that their reason for conversion was the result of their Jewish spouse who "consistently and sensitively continued to raise the issue of conversion" with them. I'm sorry? Does this sound like a good reason to choose a faith? Because your husband or wife harped on you over and over and over again and finally wore you down so you said "FINE! Let me forsake my savior just because you said I should" and jumped in the Mikvah and then maybe never stepped foot in a synagogue after that?

I have to say, as a member of a Conservative congregation, I just don't see this happening and I definitely don't see this flying. Though I am no Rabbi and certainly don't have the life experience that this guy does, I have taken a lot of classes with people who were considering, were in the process of, or recently converted. And not one of them was converting because their spouse was pushing them to do it. Of course, some of the individuals I met were converting in preparation for a wedding, but I don't think it was because they caved under the pressure of their "consistent and sensitive" partner. I'll tell you what, if Adam began to "consistently and sensitively continue to raise the issue of conversion" with me I would've headed for the hills. And even if I didn't head for the hills and just went along with his demands, I mean requests, my Jewish practice would almost certainly not have flourished the way it has been able to because I came to the decision to convert all by my very own self. Imagine. It is something I wanted to do. For me. Largely in part for my family, but also for me. And that decision was made by me. I didn't have anyone telling me why I should do it. And it wouldn't have flown in my house to be made to think that the happiness and richness of my family would be hinging on my choice to be Jewish.

I think that our Jewish marriage and Jewish life is an excellent example of why it is appropriate and beneficial for a spouse to allow their non-Jewish spouse to come into their own decision regarding conversion. I had the freedom to continue my life as is and that was perfectly acceptable for Adam. After all, he married ME, as I was. He didn't marry a Jewish girl. And he could've. But he fell in love with me and who I was and our life would've been just lovely if I'd not become Jewish...because...and here's the heart of the REAL issue...I would've participated in every single Jewish tradition that Adam wanted me to participate in. I would've supported him and our children in the faith journey that was important to him and them. I would've done this happily with Adam and our children. And THAT'S the issue. The goal is to raise a cohesive, mindful, loving family. I could've done that just as well not being Jewish. I think the problem lies not within having one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent, I think it lies within having two parents who don't support each other and aren't on the same page in terms of their values and how they pertain to their family. Judaism certainly provides guidelines for parents to raise their children, but you can still follow those guidelines whether you're in the club or not! It's when there are NO guidelines or conflicting guidelines that problems arise.

And here's a question: Is it better to married to someone who is "passively" Jewish (meaning that they say they are Jewish but don't go to services, don't observe the holidays, don't participate in Shabbat, etc.)? You know my answer of course will be a resounding NO! Do you see what I'm getting at? The issue isn't whether or not we, as a Conservative movement, should be trying to convince people to convert....the issue is whether or not families as a unit are choosing to be Jewish, not individuals within the family. How about as a movement, we try to strengthen what we already have rather than try to strengthen the chain with weak links? And I think that we could start with opening our minds just a bit.

1 comment:

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