Should I Tell My Son To Only Date Jews?

Lily Padula

Published May 21, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Seesaw is a new kind of advice column in which a a broad range of columnists will address the real life issues faced by interfaith couples and families. Join the discussion by commenting on this post, sharing it on Facebook or following the Forward on Twitter. And keep the questions coming. You can email your quandaries, which will remain anonymous, to: seesaw@forward.com

My Intermarriage Wasn’t Easy …

Almost 30 years ago I married a woman who converted to Judaism before our wedding. I have no regrets, but there were many struggles I didn’t anticipate along the way in terms of feeling like my home was truly a Jewish one. Recently my son, who is in his early 20s, has begun dating a non-Jewish woman. My instinct is to tell him that he should end things before long and really try to find a Jewish woman — he cares a lot about Judaism and may not understand what is truly at stake here. I know this is hypocritical, but as his father I feel it is my duty to share with him the wisdom I gained in my life. Do you think I should say something? — It could have been easier

His Story Will Be Different

SUSAN KATZ MILLER: In general, it is not particularly effective to tell someone else to end a relationship, even, or perhaps especially, when that person is your adult child. Your opposition is not going to dissuade your son, at least not without emotional repercussions. Rather, it could alienate him (from you, and from Judaism), not to mention the young woman in question. Also, keep in mind that even the children of converted Jewish parents come from interfaith families, in the sense that they have interfaith grandparents and extended family. And as children of interfaith families, we tend to react negatively when instructed that love cannot transcend religious boundaries, because we know that it can.

You could certainly have a heart-to-heart with your son about the challenges you have encountered in your own life, without crossing the line into the “normative” (what he should or should not do). I am sure he will take an interest in what you have gone through, as part of your shared family story. And he would probably benefit from listening to his mother’s perspective as well.

But also, consider the reality that in the 21st century, your son’s experiences will inevitably be very different from yours. You were married in an era when there was still very little support from family members, clergy or religious institutions for interfaith families. And this lack of support certainly made life harder for interfaith families. Today, there are many ways for interfaith families to engage with Judaism if they choose to do so, and many Jewish communities ready to welcome and support them, whether or not the partner or spouse converts.

Susan Katz Miller is both an adult interfaith child, and an interfaith parent. She is a former Newsweek reporter, and the author of “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family” (Beacon Press).

I Know Where You Are Coming From

JIM KEEN: At one of my book signings, a woman asked me the question, “What if your Jewish daughter starts dating someone who isn’t Jewish?” I felt a brief moment of pain—and I’m Protestant! So, I do know where you’re coming from.

I know that you said your instinct is to tell your son that he should end things. However, just the fact that you’re asking also says that you think doing so might be a bad move. My father-in-law struggled with my not being Jewish when I began dating his daughter. Over time, when he realized that we were serious and thinking of marriage, he said to me that it’s more important to him that his daughter finds someone who makes her happy. I could be Jewish, but if I don’t make her happy, what good is it?

Besides, who’s to say that your son can’t continue to have a Jewish home and raise a Jewish family? I never converted, but we are raising our two daughters as Jews. They are just Jewish—not “both.” They went to a Jewish preschool, religious school, Hebrew school, and have both become B’not Mitzvah.

Even though I am still Protestant, I have been integral in their Jewish education. I take great pride in their Judaism and in being a part of their religious and cultural life. Just take a look at my reaction to that woman’s question.

Jim Keen is the author of “Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner’s Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family.” He has been in an interfaith relationship for 28 years, and has been an active participant with his wife in raising their two Jewish daughters. They live in Ann Arbor, Michigan where Jim teaches in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Don’t Give Him Advice, Share Stories

SCOTT PERLO: Yes, you should talk to him. However, I don’t think you can just tell him not to do as you have done.

The nature of parental advice has shifted. Time was, parents — most people, in fact —felt free to tell you what they thought you should do. And it used to be that you wouldn’t take their advice amiss. Whether or not you listened to them, straightforward advice-giving used to be a normal, rather appreciated fact of life (well, except for that one relative who won’t give it a rest. That guy has been around since the dawn of humanity).

I’m not sure when, nor why all that changed, but changed it has. To flat out tell someone what they should do in our time - it’s not that he’ll get all that angry, it’s that the advice just won’t penetrate.

In our time, the bridge between people is built not on advice but on stories, and you should tell him yours. Tell him what it’s been like for you, not as a declarative sentence, full stop, but in a way that demands a kind of vulnerability that is difficult between fathers and sons. Don’t declare, relate.

The most courageous way to do it would be with your wife, as an open conversation about what it was like creating a family out of two different backgrounds. From that conversation your son will see the two of you as real people, with blood in your veins, just trying to figure it out. That is the story from which he will learn.

Some people would say that it really isn’t anybody’s business but his, and that you should stay out of it. To that I am opposed. We face a pandemic of silence about issues of identity, religion, and spirituality within families. Talk your son; if you treat him like the man he is, he’ll thank you for it.

Rabbi Scott Perlo is a rabbi at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington D.C, a unique institution that reaches out to Jewish and “Jewish adjacent” young professionals of all denominations and backgrounds.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.