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: email@example.com
I am an unmarried 32- year-old woman who is very ready to settle down and have kids. At the beginning of this year I met a really great guy. I am okay with his non-Jewishness because it will not interfere with my Jewishness or my kids’ Jewishness. I am not okay with his politics on Israel, which he calls an apartheid state. I tell him he hasn’t read enough, but he says the military occupation, settlements and large numbers of Palestinians who have died are all he needs to know. I am a Zionist, my father was born in Israel, and I am wondering if this should be a dealbreaker, or if that is ridiculous and I should just get over it.
HAROLD BERMAN: In the midst of an otherwise satisfying relationship, many find it easier to overlook red flags, hoping they will go away. But red flags only get redder, and you are wise to be addressing them now. First, you don’t know that his “non-Jewishness … will not interfere with” your or your future children’s Jewishness. Although there are certainly examples of relatively tension-free interfaith marriages, many otherwise strong interfaith relationships still must labor hard through myriad issues that aren’t apparent before the wedding. What you envision is not a sure thing.
What is a sure thing, however, is that your boyfriend’s attitudes toward Israel will have an impact, likely adverse, on any long-term relationship you develop with him. I write this as three Israeli boys were just found brutally murdered by Palestinians, and groups like the Presbyterian Church have expressed much the same attitude toward Israel as your boyfriend. As someone who calls Israel home, and who every single day interacts with Palestinians at close range, I can say unequivocally that your boyfriend doesn’t have the facts.
But this isn’t about getting the facts right. Your boyfriend has made clear he’s already made up his mind. He is not interested in considering facts or discovering the nuances of one of the most complex situations on earth. For your part, Israel is in your heart and soul. This is not as if you were a Democrat, he were a Republican and you had mutually exclusive opinions about health care reform. This goes so much deeper. It is part of who you are, and is also integral to the Judaism you want for yourself and future children. It may be painful to recognize now that this is a dealbreaker, but it will be exponentially more painful down the road. Cut your losses. This issue isn’t going to go away.
Harold Berman is a veteran Jewish communal professional, and the Director of J-Journey.org, which provides mentoring and support for intermarried families exploring the possibilities of observant Jewish life. Harold is also, with his wife Gayle, the co-author of “Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope,” about their “intermarriage gone Jewish.”
LAUREL SNYDER: In my opinion, this isn’t really an intermarriage issue at all. I know plenty of Jewish folks who’d agree with your boyfriend about Israel, and plenty of non-Jews who’d agree with you. This is, in the end, a political difference, not a religious one. And I do think a marriage can withstand extreme political differences.
I know a couple who’ve been married for decades who joke about how they both always go to the polls, because that way they cancel out each others’ votes. So part of me wants to say that this is mostly academic, and it’s a question of whether you can find a way to mutually respect the difference.
But that only works if the argument is academic. Is it? This guy’s rhetoric sounds pretty strong, and you sound pretty committed to your Zionism. If he sees your beliefs as supporting apartheid, will he feel the need to convince you? Will he disrespect your dad? Or can he respect you both, and continue to hold his own beliefs?
It’s okay to “get over” the idea of agreeing with your husband on all political issues. In fact, it’s recommended (since no two people agree all the time). But if your man is critical of you as a person, because of this difference, I’d move along. You shouldn’t have to “get over” being criticized that way.
JAMES PONET: First let me ask you, if your man were a Jew but held that Israel is an illegitimate state, would it be any easier for you to imagine building a family with him?
Perhaps you prefer not to think about the significance, challenges, and possibilities of the State of Israel for the Jewish people and the world. But maybe you are ready to deepen your own way of understanding and relating to Israel.
Consider two divergent ways Jews today think about Israel:
Israel is the exclusive bulwark against the impending extinction of Jewish people: This view finds vigorous expression in Israeli journalist, Ari Shavit’s recent book, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel. Shavit acknowledges that Israelis have committed crimes and atrocities against Palestinians but finds that these crimes, were inevitable, given that modern Jewish history is an ongoing war against the existence of the Jewish people and the State of Israel is the Jewish people’s last hope.
Israel represents a grand yet flawed experiment in Jewish culture and politics: By this view, the rebirth of Hebrew language, the resurgence of Hebrew literature, the establishment of a vibrant Jewish polity, energetic innovations in music, painting, film, dance, technology—all these achievements must be judged in light of how the Jewish state navigates its historic struggle with the Palestinians for control of the land, and this notwithstanding the region’s indifference to democracy and routine flouting of civil and human rights. You see this view manifested in courageous Israeli documentary films like “The Gatekeepers” and “The Law in These Parts,” that explore the way Israeli authorities have explained to themselves the law of occupation and their implementation of it.
So what does Israel mean to you? Why does criticism of the state’s policy upset you? How does having an Israeli father shape your sense of what it is to be a Jew?
James Ponet is the Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain at Yale where he also is a visiting lecturer at the Law School. Fortunately he has been married over 40 years to Elana Ponet with whom he has 4 children and 2 grandchildren.