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Private Practice

A group of intermarried Jewish women gather for Shabbat but pack away their identities

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(Photoillustration: Tablet Magazine; photos: iStockPhoto.)

We were invited to a Shabbat dinner, my daughter and I. It was at a brand-new home in a brand-new development in one of those suburb-of-a-suburb places where streets curve off one another in a seemingly infinite fashion, creating the sort of pattern you imagine might look like a leaf if viewed from space.

When we arrived we found ourselves in a group of seven; three moms and four children aged 2 through 11. Where were the men? Playing golf, working, making art, anywhere but here. The men in this particular configuration are not Jewish, but we, their wives, are, hence our Shabbat evening out, a Judaic experience that felt a little sneaky, like a backroom poker game. Nobody to see us, nobody to witness, just us women, our offspring, a loaf of challah, and some wine, marking the holiday as we did as children but cannot do or do not do in the presence of our non-Jewish spouses. Our husbands don’t object to the keeping of Shabbat; they just don’t care about it. They would all prefer not to look on.

You might wonder how we ended up married to men, so a-Jewish, so Jew-avoidant. Simple: When you are young you think you can handle anything. You think you can climb tall mountains, starve for your art, marry for love. What you don’t think of is what it’ll be like when you have children and want them to experience the same relationship with Judaism that you enjoyed as a child. Suddenly, having lived for art, married for love, climbed mountains, you find yourself living a paradox. Hiding your Judaic thoughts, objects, even your prayers.

The hostess at our Shabbat dinner, a lovely woman, a mother of two small children, admitted as much. Granddaughter of survivors, born in Israel, she showed me where she stores Jewish heritage in her home. “This is the drawer,” she said, opening a tall and broad wooden drawer in her designer kitchen, with its Sub-Zero fridge and Italian marble countertops. “Everything Jewish in this house goes here.”

The Judaica does not fit with the house’s design scheme. The interior is sparse, with a brown accent and a nature motif. In one room, there’s wallpaper of twigs and trees, a rug that looks like brown autumn grass. Amid such a landscape, havdalah candles, menorahs, seder plates are stashed away.

Oh yes, we nodded. We know about that. In my home there is a Jewish cabinet, in another’s home, the artifacts of Judaism are kept in boxes. A heritage stored away for another time, possibly even another generation.

It isn’t always like this, of course. There are plenty of mixed marriages where the spouse gets involved, shares the traditions, looks on with something like admiration, maybe even converts. But for many of us who married our shiksa boys, it’s a carefully guarded, discreet practice. After attending a few early seders, my husband started ducking out at Passover. At Sukkot, he might bring over a few branches for the Sukkah but then gets a call from a friend and excuses himself. He will buy a challah on Fridays but is somehow absent when the time comes to bless it.

How does this happen? How does a way of life become so marginalized as to have its own hiding place in a home? We all blushed at our Shabbat gathering with the deep recognition that a heritage in hiding echoes a people in hiding. It was the evening’s super yikes moment, when we admitted that we don’t discuss or mention Jewish topics with our significant others. It’s not that they are not anti-Semitic, because that could not work. They are Semitic-neutral. Semitic-bored, perhaps. “Don’t you ever get tired of Holocaust-themed movies?” my husband once asked me.

This is not a story of the undoing of Judaism, but of its cancellation through silence and storage.

The Jewish drawer, I realized that evening, is the place in the house that mimics the place in the soul where we let heritage retreat. The little corner of spirituality we keep lit, like a small fire, carefully and quietly tended, year after year. Each of us has our own set of circumstances. One has a husband who feigns interest from time to time in her observance and makes a lot of jokes. One has a husband who shows some hostility about organized religion. What we share is our willingness to let our own Judaism be marginalized and our unwillingness for that to be the case in our children’s lives. All of them are enrolled in the same Jewish day school. Their Hebrew is impeccable. Their understanding of Torah and mishneh is profound for grade-schoolers. And it was they who led our Shabbat, singing prayers aloud, blessings as second nature as those their grandparents uttered.

For us, it is OK to negate our Judaism, but do not dare touch my baby’s Jewish soul. That is our message.

If we were Latino our children would be called “mestizos,” mixed ones. In Portuguese-speaking Latin American, their miscegenation might signal a lower rung in an unacknowledged but very real caste system. But we are Jews, which means they are as well. Here, in the 21st-century United States, our miscegenation is different. It is about family style. It is about the way we decorate. While all three of us mothers won the mezuzah wars, we lost the battle of displaying other elements of our heritage. Hence the stuffing away of what defines us, in terms of family and religion and past.

Our hostess was proud of her home and her husband’s careful attention to detail. Everything in it had a conscious effort behind its choosing. Every tissue box, every lamp, every book, every window. It seemed to me that even the unseen was planned. The absence of a ketubah, candle sticks, art with Jewish motif was conspicuous, intentional.

“My husband once said he wanted to be buried beside me and asked where I thought we should be buried,” our hostess said. “How could I tell him it could not happen? Because I need to be buried in Israel, where I was born. He could never understand that.” Nor would he want to be buried there, even if he could.

In much of American culture, the most important thing is family identity, that island created by marriage and children. But for Jews it can be terribly hard to let go of the larger membership in a cultural or religious family. Membership there seems less important before children come along, and then suddenly it becomes paramount. What am I teaching them? What message do I send by not keeping Shabbat or celebrating high holidays? That there is shame or insignificance in this heritage? And lastly, what will they think, when they are grown and look back, of the Jewish drawer? Or cabinet? Or box?

“We are all descendants of Adam, and we are all products of racial miscegenation,” Lester Pearson, a former prime minister of Canada, once said. It sounds reasonable and true, this philosophy. The “pure blood” concept reeks of racism and antiquated ideas of self identity in today’s world.

But the truth is the women at our private Shabbat long for our cultural and, yes, even racial, Jewish identities. My own husband paints like Chagall, and plenty of it is hung in our house, but I have yearned for a home where my actual Judaism is displayed on the walls, too. We want to live the traditions we grew up with and love. So, we devise our own Shabbat, with candles and children and simple foods, songs and prayers. Our husbands know we’re doing this—they just choose not to see us. And after the flames die out and the food is put away, we return to our other world, our Jewishness neatly stored once again.

Elizabeth Cohen is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Plattsburgh and the author of The Family on Beartown Road: A Memoir of Love and Courage.

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hi, i am on the other side, my Russian husband had to hide his Jewishness, I want to embrace it with him. I am a Gentile, I want to
learn more and bring it into our home!

excuse making for spouses who are less than positively disposed to Jews…this is not a problem in our home…

Bernard Lichstein says:

Sad. So sad. Needs to be distributed widely, e.g., Hillels on College Campuses, articles in other papers, Hebrew schools, Synagogues of every denomination. Please add to the list. You know how to get the word out better than me.

Rebecca Shepard says:

I was a hidden jew, didn’t know I was one and raised Gentile.

I am gaining my new culture, however I am what is called a messianic jew, which would almost have me thrown out of the Tribe. Sorry cuzs, I am a natural descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and I can’t be thrown out even if you think I worship the wrong Messiah!

So I know how these women feel! I am being treated the same way from my “cousins”. I have to “hide” my belief system to comfortably be around orthodox or conservative members of the Tribe (as long as it’s in Yeshua but I could be an atheist or Buddhist and be a good reformed jew). I find that hypocritical.

It’s time all Jews accept all Jews, After all we are outnumbered and need all the numbers we can get.

Also it is true, there are few “pure blood” if ANY jews in the world now!! Even in our history, we married outside the “race”, Joseph married an Egyptian!

Sorry, but anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as his or her personal savior
is not Jewish regardless of heritage. You are a Christian. That is the definition of Christian. We did not invent this, Christianity did.

Christianity had its roots in Judaism. Jesus was Jewish and the first believers in Jesus were Jews but overall, Jews did not accept Jesus as Messiah and Paul (formerly Saul) turned to the large otherworld of Paganism as his breeding ground for new converts. As Jews rejected Christianity so then did Christianity reject Judaism until it was not long before Constantine’s acceptance made Christianity the dominant and then anti Jewish religion.

From then on Jews were continually oppressed.

Unfortunately that is your religion’s history.

You can Jewish or you can be Jewish. You can even practice Jewish rites and rituals but you are not Jewish. You made that decision.

Loyalreader says:

If these husbands are so uninterested, how did these families, the writer included, make the family decision to send their children to Jewish Day Schools? That is quite a commitment to raising their children Jewishly, financially and otherwise. One wonders how come the experience if going to day school hasn’t permeated into the home, influencing the husbands to have shabbat in the home. Are the parents if the Jewish women subsidizing the day school education out of some kind of guilt because their daughters married out if their faith? Or, is making the decision to send their children to day school a way for these men to think now they don’t have to deal with religion in the home, that they can be religion-neutral in the home because the school has that under control. Isn’t this confusing possibly to the children?

Roisin Gorman says:

That’s sad. I have a friend who is not even Jewish who has a lovely display of Hanukkiah’s and plates with Jewish themes and even a lovely painting of a Jewish wedding. She has them proudly on display in their home.

Ken Besig Israel says:

First of all a non Jewish girl or woman is referred to in Yiddische as a shiksa, a non Jewish boy or man is referred to as a shaygetz in Yiddische.
According to the strictest Halacha, that is Jewish Law, a Jewish woman married to a Gentile man is still a Jewish woman, and all the children she gives birth to are Jewish as well.
Any Jew who voluntarily converts to another religion is no longer considered by the Jewish Community to be a member and is not allowed to either marry another Jew and if a man, to be considered part of a minyan for any reason, for davening, a brit, or as witness for a wedding.
The problems of intermarriage can be so great especially once the family has children, that probably no Jew would ever marry a Gentile if they only knew.
But a Jew who is intermarried is still required to be Shomer Shabbat, keep Kosher, and to observe the laws of family purity and modesty. In other words, a Jew must behave as an observant Jew even though they have married outside the Faith.

Beautifully written, but are these regrets? or warnings? I think both. Too many Jews prematurely relegate “Jewish” to the same religious category as Christianity, Islam, etc. without understanding that the “neutral” culture of the U.S. is by default Christian, whether secular or sectarian. I think Prof. Cohen’s insights into her experiences are wisdoms that many of us would like to share with others – but cannot do so without aggravation. Thank you for your courageous undertaking.

If being Jewish were confined to ritual and historic identity, I suppose Ms. Shepard’s request is reasonable. But I don’t worship any Messiah. Never did; never will. I worship One God – that was the revolutionary thinking of our ancestors that distinguished us from other tribes. The democraticization of Jewish ritual away from the priestly cult removed all intercessors between Jew and God. Should I be so blessed along with humanity when the Messiah (I like better “messianic era”) appears, s/he will be applauded – but I will direct my prayers, better within a congregation, towards God. Otherwise, I would be a Christian – and nothing wrong with that.

rebbe tex says:

The tone of this article gives me the feeling that there are other problems in this marriage and that maybe the marriage was entered into with unrealistic expectations that differences in general are easily handled.
In many intermarried couples, this problem doesn’t exist, and the non-Jewish spouse may even prod the Jewish spouse into more Jewish involvement.
The first part sounds patronizing, with the suburb of subrub bit. Sorry, Ms. Cohen, but likely most Jews live in such places nowadays. we all can;t afford luxury highrises, or elite suburbs that seem to meet Ms.Cohen’s likes.

Asher says:

The whole thing is very sad. How many of our landsman have been lost to assimilation.

Mary Ann says:

I agree this is beautifully written, clearly describing some of the issues of being married to a non-Jew (I was before my current marriage). However it is most of all very sad. Sad because it makes me wonder about the nature of the marriage(s) she describes. How is it a marriage if one spouse disrespects, or ignores, or avoids things that are central to the being/identity of the other spouse? We are not discussing taste in movies here, we are talking about belief systems, values, family, history, culture: things that are central to who a person is. My marriage to a non-Jew did not break up because he refused to participate in Shabbat or Pesach. If that had been the case, I would not have married him in the first place.

subrub tex ex says:

The first part of tex mex sounds as patronizing as the last.

The article is beautifully written, haunting in its implications, profound.

There are no rules, texrub, about intermarriages. Statistics prove that the vast majority of Americans aren’t marrying at all. Those that do share more than money. They are building family, and to see the diminution of the Jewish family is painful. As a prominent Reform rabbi observed, in America, rather than being hated, we are being loved to death.

I for one think this is a love that should proudly proclaim its name – out of the closet.

Marianne Hightman says:

This is too sad- not for the commentary of worship in “hiding” per se ffrom their own families-but the utter disconnect! FOR SHAME on all who allow this to occur to themselves- yes, allow.

Lynn in Tucson says:

I find the larger picture this paints of the families involved to be positively heartbreaking. Any “us v. them” in a household (whether between the parents or between parent and child) is going to have ramifications for family harmony. The story speaks to me of marginalization, isolation and passive-aggressive power struggles. Speaking from inside a mixed marriage, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Washington D.C. Mom says:

Although heartbreaking, I am astonished and glad that the children who are Jewish are being given a Jewish Education. It is only through education that the next generation will continue to have a connection not only with being Jewish but with Israel.
The more positive experiences you give your children, whether these are formal or informal, the more they will come to love their heritage.
I hope the Moms will not only continue to have their Shabbos dinners, but will begin learning more themselves about the beauty of Judaism.

Lisa says:

Rebecca, you are wrong. You are not Jewish. The Sanhedrin ruled back in the early days of Christianity that Jews who believe that Jesus was the Messiah were no longer Jews. Why not be confident in your own beliefs enough to call yourself what you are, a Christian?

And if you convert to another religion, of course, you are not Jewish, which is what you have chosen to do. Not to mention that your proselytizing here is unacceptable and another mark of your unJewishness.

This is a beautifully written but sad article, but I was frustrated by these women, especially by the author’s contention that she was in this situation because she had believed she could climb tall mountains and marry for love. I believed that I could do the same, and I knew that enabling myself to be a strong person who could do those things would mean marrying a man who accepted my total self, as I am, and woud mean not hiding any part of myself.

This is one of the saddest articles I have ever read regarding intermarriage. I, too, wonder about how Judaism is hidden in their homes, but the children are attending a Jewish day school. How did that “compromise” come about? I also feel that there might be more problems in the marriages than religious observance. The houses are also the women’s. Why aren’t they allowed to decorate them they way they way wish to? Before my conversion, my seder plate hung on my wall, my husband’s kiddush cup was on one shelf in the hutch, our chanukiahs and dreidles on another. A mezzuzah graced our front door. Since my conversion, I have started to collect chamas, there is more artwork covering the walls, and a very special place for our ketubah from when we renewed wedding vows under a chuppah. Oh, and before my conversion, there was a shelf that held the statue of Mary, the Blessed Virgin, in the hutch. And rosary beads that were sent to me from a favorite aunt hung from a mirror in a bedroom. Nobody’s identity was hidden away. Neither of us was shamed. This is why I feel that there is more going on in the marriages than religious affiliations.

This is a fantastic article. It makes me think that it’s not just women who marry or are partnered with a non-Jewish partner, but also this rings true with many women I know who are partnered with people who are “less Jewish” than they are – maybe a Jew by birth but react in many of the same ways that you are describing. I think the key is to be able to have integrity and sustain the practices you want to practice while making the partner comfortable – don’t ask me what to do when child-rearing comes up though!

Extremely well-written. I agree with the sentiments of many that more than religion could be at play here. I am the result of an intermarriage and my dad is largely indifferent to both his religion (Russian Orthodoxy) and Judaism. However, this hasn’t prevented my mom from neither instilling a very, very strong sense of Jewish identity within me nor from putting up her hanukiyot, Shabbat candles, and plates of Jersualem up at our house, right next to my dad’s icons of the virgin Mary, nor has it stopped my dad from occasionally going to Shabbat with my mom or wearing a kippah at my Jewish wedding.

If Judaism has to be relegated to a drawer within the household, I think that says more about the personality of the author and the other women she connects with and overall interplay in the marriage outside of religion or ethnic identity rather than about the state of Jewish intermarriage itself.

Reva S. says:

I am filled with incredible sadness after reading this article – the saving grace is that the children are not having to pay for the parents choices – but in a sense they are – even though all of the mothers participate in the secret Shabbat with their children – what message is this sending by the fathers being absent and not participating in any of the Jewish celebrations? These children are growing up with unspoken messages about relationships and marriage and family and being Jewish – And I question what – if any – conversations went on with all these couples where the women didn’t take a stand for their Judaism in their own homes? Why do the non-Jewish husbands beliefs and values win in the way the home is structured and decorated? Sounds like something out of the last century – when does the wife not get a say in a marriage? The author sounds melancholy in her description of these women and their lives – I find it difficult to understand hiding their Jewishness in a drawer – why are they ashamed to display Jewish items in the home? The women need to take some responsibility here – not just blame their non-Jewish husbands – The women are the Jews with self-hatred on some level perhaps – they must stand up for being proud of being Jews – this sends a message to their children about shame of who they are – being Jewish is something to be proud of – having a menorah or other items displayed in the home reinforces that pride – it was only a few short years ago that people were told they couldn’t be Jewish or they would no longer live – if the Holocaust taught us anything, it taught us to take a stand for who we are and never be ashamed – I pray for these women and their children – that they will find the courage and strength to reclaim their Jewish identities in their homes – Shabbat Shalom!

My husband is not Jewish, but we have Judaica around the house. In fact as a woodworker he designed some beautiful menorahs and shabbat candleholders. He makes great latkes and items for a Sedar which he participates in.

Have you read Kerin McGinity’s book, Still Jewish? She researched for a doctorate and found many Jewish women still participate in Judaism when their husbands don’t and often raise the children Jewish.

How many husbands have other interests that the wife doesn’t share? Do they all enjoy the same sports, book clubs, choice of movies? Probably not. In most marriages I think there are bonding items and those interests that are not shared. Both can be happy. I just came back from a few hours at the beach with co-teachers.. My husband would have hated that. Instead he spent the day helping my elderly father uncover the pool and weed their garden.

keppele says:

If these women are so, so sad about having to “hide” their Jewishness, they should can the victim routine and take the memorabilia out of the drawers. Or are they, too, maybe a little worried about that menorah clashing with the earthy leaf decor? There’s an awful lot of woe-is-me going on in here, and I can’t help but wonder how much of it is self-imposed.

The comparison drawn with miscegenation is bizarre. “Here in the 21st-century United States, our miscegenation is different.” No it’s not; it’s non-existent: there is no sense *at all* in which Cohen’s or the other womens’ children are miscegenated. If the gentile husbands in these couples converted, then according to Jewish law there’d be no sense in which anyone in these families would be any less Jewish than any other Jew, and, as Cohen herself notes, even without the husbands converting, the children are Jewish. How is any of this comparable even to the Latin American example Cohen cites, not to mention the anti-miscegenation laws there used to be in parts of the US, which leap to my mind whenever I see the term “miscegenation” used? The answer is that *it isn’t comparable at all,* because you can’t convert to a different race like you can convert to a different religion. It’s true, of course, that Jews aren’t only adherents of a faith, that we are also members of a nation. But given that membership in that nation has nothing to do with race, and given that miscegenation is a term generally used either by racists to refer to a phenomenon they oppose, or by others to refer to racism, I can’t see what good purpose is served by its use in this essay. “I have yearned for a home where my actual Judaism is displayed on the walls…”, Cohen writes. That seems a reasonable yearning, but “cultural” and “religious” are terms sufficient for characterizing it. What would be “racial” about having a menorah hanging on the wall? Also: there’s one “not” too many in the sentence: “It’s not that they are not anti-Semitic, because that could not work.”

sonia morris says:

This article fills me with profound sadness. The only way to avoid these issues is NOT to marry ‘out’ There are enough problems within marriage without adding a non Jewish partner to the equation.

Cynthia Tyler says:

I am a Jew by choice. I am also single. No one looks over
my shoulder to see how observant I am – or not. But I cannot imagine
being married to anyone who would treat my religion and its customs with such open scorn. I may long for the Friday night family experience, but I’d rather be by myself lighting candles and reading the Torah portion for the next day than living with the cavalier behavior these women and their children experience. The husbands described in this essay may think they are men, but they are behaving
with the mean-spirited selfishness of rude children. I think I’d be asking for a get!

esthermiriam says:

Three women is not exactly a large sample of anything — but their stories as reported here are fascinating and frightening: such lack of
self-esteem, such lack of awareness of the image of (Jewish) marriage being passed on to their children, and such tainting of the potential of Shabbas joy and Jewish pride.

Will the Shabbat dinner be repeated? move from home to home? If the husbands aren’t there, so be it — others who would welcome invitation to share Shabbat: families from the school or synagogue, young single people, lonely elders, visitors to the community or colleagues from work… ? And what happens on holidays?

Perhaps there was something cathartic about writing this essay — now, perhaps, some further reaching out. Eventually these marriage may need counseling, but for now… hey! just get on with it!!

Zelda says:

My formative experience took place during the Six Day War, when I (Jewish) and my non-Jewish boyfriend, walking near Macy’s in Manhattan, came upon a group of youngsters with a huge sheet, each one held a corner, and people were throwing money, jewelry, anything of value into it for Israel. My boyfriend said – why do they make you do these things? That’s when I realized that he would never understand, and although I loved him, I knew I would never marry him.Even if he had converted, he would still never “get it”.

Dear Professor Cohen and Rebecca:

Professor Cohen, you are your friends are not alone. I urge you to contact a non-judgmental, friendly organization for interfaith couples:

There is much helpful support and advice on that website. I am sorry that your article has received such a harsh reception from most of the other commenters on this thread.

I remind my fellow Jews that affiliation with Judaism is best encouraged by not criticizing someone’s choice of spouse or marriage behaviors and showing kindness and support.

Professor Cohen, as the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, the largest organization for adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage, I strongly urge you and your buddies to reach out to There is no need to live with such tensions in the home, when other interfaith couples have found solutions for the difficulties.

Rebecca: I believe that the commenters on this thread are incorrect in their assessment of your Jewish status. I have read the entire Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (abbreviated version of Orthodox Jewish law) and it clearly states that a Jew intermarries and converts to another religion — intermarriages in the 19th usually worked that way — is still a Jew. The person is regarded as a “meshumad,” an apostate Jew, but still a Jew.

If you wished to join the Jewish community, you would have to abandon your belief in Christ as the Messiah, and return to normative Jewish belief and practice, but you are still a Jew. The relevant principle is: “al pi hu, Yisrael hu,” even though a sinner, always a Jew.

Anyone interested in a more welcoming form of Judaism than some of the commenters above have described may contact another group I lead, the Inclusivist Judaism Coalition at:

Robin Margolis

Bryna Weiss says:

It is sad. But I don’t think anyone has the right to analyze the marriage otherwise, as some have done in these comments. These women may love their husbands very much. You can’t know what other fine characteristics these men may have. I kind of blame the women. Have any of them discussed with their husbands how much it would mean to them to have him/them be part of at least some observance. Did any of them just put out or hang up, any Jewish pieces of Art or a beautiful menorah? Or is this a self-imposed “hiding away” because they assumed the husbands weren’t willing to accept their need to do so. It would be interesting to know.

anti-intermarriage says:

Sonia and Zelda are absolutely right. It’s impossible to have a Jewish household when you’re married to a gentile. These women knew what they were getting into when they got married so they shouldn’t complain.

At least their children are Jewish under Halacha but that doesn’t mean they will identify as Jewish when they get older. Having a non-Jewish father who views Judaism as something inferior will definately have an impact on these children. The truth is the majority of Jews don’t care about Judaism so they end up intermarrying. If Jews don’t respect Judaism why should we expect the gentiles to?

miller canning says:

it’s all so simple and complex at the same time. my mother hid her “jewishness”. as a child i thought all grandparents spoke yiddish. my sister and i went to our grandparents for what i understand now were jewish holidays. nothing was explicit. i became a christian in high school and walked away as an adult.

now i’m trying to find a way to connect to my heritage and develop my knowledge, as well as faith.

everyone’s journey is their own to wrestle with…similarities abound, but all are quite unique.

These are most interesting and understanding comments. I do hope Dr. Cohen reads the comments on her article, which is both tragic and out of the mainstream of Judaism.

We posted this article on the Jewish Ideas Daily Facebook page and got so many reactions. This is a really charged subject!

What really makes a home “jewish”? Is hanging a mezzuzah on the front door and jewish art on the walls the key to jewish continuity?
Historically, shabbat, kosher and family purity have been the answer.
These ladies (and their children) have begun to get their feet wet… Mazel tov! May they all have continued strength and success in their journey…

I personally found this article very depressing. Not because the couples were intermarried. I have known quite a number of intermarried couples that created a truly happy and healthy family experince. But when one spouse has disdain for the others belief system, especially when those children are being raised in that belief system, what does that say not only about the marriage but about the wife’s self-esteem? I have one question for the womenw ho hide their Judaism, do they also hide their husband’s Christmas Trees away in a draw or cabinet too? I think these women need to wake up and see what is going on in their marriages.

Josh says:

Rebecca, if your mother was Jewish-you are Jewish and nothing can change that. A Jewish soul (neshama) remains Jewish under any circumstances. It is widely accepted that a Jew who (G-d forbid) away from Judaism, in our era, does so only because their status is like that of “kidnapped children.” I.E. that person is assumed to be ignorant and lacking the knowledge to really understand what he or she was doing. Once a Jew, always a Jew-no matter what. However, as a Jew, you are also obligated to observe the Torah and its commandments.

Lastly, if you just “feel” Jewish-that is another matter.

Sandra says:

I have a solution…just start displaying your Jewishness by draggin out your “Jewish Stuff”. If your husband doesn’t like it…divorce will quickly follow… soon enough. At least that’s what happened to me…lol. You might be very very lonely and sad at first..but oh! the joy that later can be your true self! No more living with such a negative influence or having your soul ripped apart and stomped on….:) And remember next time “Stand in love..before you fall into it” Its all good! :P

My read, like some others, is that the issue is not Judaism and intermarriage but is about the relationship between the couples and in this instance his power of empathy.

I am trying to find some other example (some deeply-held family history, belief, values etc) to draw the analogy. OK. Suppose you are from an old aristocratic family — titled — so by birth you are a Countess, the real deal with cousins who live in a genuine castle. You might have largely put aside your circumstance for a host of reasons — for one thing your husband is not remotely — but still (of course) you have deep roots and wished your children to know their heritage. But suppose your husband was so indifferent to YOUR family history the point he wouldn’t go to a family reunion, wasn’t happy for you etc etc and by turn you felt uncomfortable even acknowledging it.

See the analogy? Not perfect but some similarity. The issue is empathy.

Well maybe then time then for further discussion. You’ll always be a Countess and if he (and you) cannot discuss it and where he at least can feel some happiness for you, then there may be a more deep-rooted concern.

Certainly no reason for you to swear-off your own cousins and your children’s distant family.

Jeff Nero says:

When my familys came to the United States they hid their jewish heritage useing outher religions, now after more than a hundred years we have redicovered our heratige. It is strange yet comfortably familer for us too embrace where our familys ways and traditions began.I do have a hard time though trying too figure out just where I belong in the picture.

I grew up the product of an intermarried family, of a secular Christian father & a believing but non-observant Jewish mother. We had a Christmas tree but never went to church; we held seders but never Sabbaths. I became a bat mitzvah but have long since lost my Hebrew; I have, however, found my Judaism. As such, it saddens me to see so many comments casting aside interfaith marriages as being destructive to the soul of Judaism, particularly when these families have still committed to raising Jewish children.

Diff’rent stroks for diff’rent folks, right? No matter what Judaism is for you, the truth is that religion is never black & white & is ALWAYS personal. I commend these women for retaining their heritage & attempting to live it however feels most appropriate for them.

f there’s one thing I’ve learned at, it’s that every family is different, but there are patterns. I’m sure there are families where the partners who are not Jewish don’t participate in the Jewish life of their partner and children. From my point of view that is an unfortunate situation. But I wouldn’t want this article to be taken for more than it is, as representative of intermarriage in general. Some of the comments on the article would do just that – one suggests that the article be required reading in every Hillel. As Cohen herself recognizes, “It isn’t always like this, of course. There are plenty of mixed marriages where the spouse gets involved, shares the traditions, looks on with something like admiration, maybe even converts.” Read more at

Jybrid says:

I’m both Jewish and Christian, due to adoption.

Roberto says:

This article further proves that religions set people apart. I am pretty sure that a family where one of the spouses is a non-observant Jew and the other a non-observant Christian, and where the children have a lay education, can be as united as a family where both partners practise the same religion. The offspring of a non-observant mixed family is not necessarily lost for Israel.Actually there are 50% chances that they will consider themselves Jewish (from an ethnic point of view) and if not, they would probably be still sympathetic to Israel.After all, 50% of the Jewish population of Israel is secular.

debbie shapiro says:

What a beautifully written article! Kol hakavod to those women for getting together to keep Jewish tradition. To the person who commented that a Jew who believes in J is not considered Jewish — a Jew always remains a Jew, which means that he can always come back to his religion, and be welcomed with open arms.

Rachael says:

to rebecca sheppard-

joseph did not marry an egyptian.

it is CLEAR in the Tanach that he married Osnat, the daughter of Dina, who was a HEBREW

I understand your opinion about being accepted as a Jew, but it seems that your “sect” is teaching you the wrong things!

Jamie M says:

An awful lot of people posted comments here against intermarriage. I find this attitude really disturbing and distasteful. If your son got dumped by his girlfriend because her parents refused to let her marry a Jew, there would be all kinds of outcry against what horrible anti-Semetic people they were. And yet you are doing precisely the same thing.

Don’t you see the hypocrisy there?

I do. I am entering an interfaith marriage. Initially I was open to the idea of having a Jewish home and allowing my children to be raised Jewish, but when I started researching the topic I kept finding this us-versus-them mentality that is the exact opposite of the values I want to instill in my children. I don’t want them taught prejudice against outsiders. That’s a terrible thing to teach your children.

Yossi says:

cute story but sounds more like a lament. Dealing with jews is difficult. They are way too paranoid for their weird ways but I can still respect that. While i can respect judaism i will not respect terrorist israel, what it stands for, nor the people that support it.

what fixing bath hot idea! like greatly a certain number amenable up to those in re us who don’t energetic goodwill fixer barrio in virtue of your bibliography, and sneakily diagnose your blog attitudinising (locus video would dwell sooo indelicate). hurrah!

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I don’t know. I think decorating the house with Judaica could be a simple choice of aesthetics. There’s a lot of awful art out there, horrific abstract, cheesy manifestations of Jewish culture. Being Jewish, I don’t crowd my house with a Judaica display. Ketubot and seder plates don’t have to be on display, especially if it does not jibe with the house designers’ aesthetic goals. I don’t think a house should be designed around Judaica; there are always other identities to a person. If these women would rather have a room decorated as a Jerusalem room with walls frescoed to look like palm trees and stone walls, so be it. But living where they do, I suspect that those aesthetics do not fit with their plan and may appear cheesy even to the Jewish women in this article. Sure, Marc Chagall is a great Jewish artist, but just because he’s a Jewish painter doesn’t mean he should be foisted into a room of earthtones. Just because art is Jewish doesn’t make it good or aesthetically pleasing in a room. Besides, why fill a room with art that has no personal connection to you besides being produced by jewish artists? An antique hannukiah owned by your mom is something to display. A Mark Chagall print you got at a thrift store is not at the same level of heritage and significance as a piece your family has some connection to. The husbands not participating is more of an issue than displays of cultural “heritage”. It sounds to me like these women have actually let their husbands marginalize them by ignoring and not participating in cultural events. Using displays of objects as a way to stake a claim for legitimacy is wrongheaded. The wives should work more on saying that their husbands need to put on at least a show of interest in the actual rituals and ceremonies and learn to enjoy them. Why do the wives even perform these things without their family participating. And if the husbands won’t participate in their events, maybe the wives shouldn’t participate in their husbands.

The regret and sadness, one could even say longing, conveyed in this piece is palpable. Her article demonstrates that it’s never too late to do Teshuva (repentance)even in small amounts.

Thankfully she has gathered enough strength to fight to send her daughter to a Jewish school. We can pray that one day she will have Torah observant grandchildren.

In the meantime, I wish Mrs. Cohen (interesting she presumably kept her given name) and her daughter all the best in their personal and spiritual journeys.

Alice says:

So terribly sad. Where to begin even.

Jews married to gentiles. Spouses who don’t allow their spouse to live their tradition. Children growing up with mixed identities. A person who doesn’t realise that her Jewish soul is just as important as her child’s.

More of these women need to speak out to save the next generation from intermarriage.

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