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Ayelet Waldman on Encouraging Your Child To Choose a Jewish Spouse

Dear Ayelet,

We live in such a great, multi-culti time. I want my school-age children to have friends of every race, creed and color — and so far, they do. On the other hand, I want them to grow up and marry Jews!

Why? Because I love Jews and want our people to continue. I also think it’s easier to be married to someone from your own background. Also, Christmas sweaters? Ugh. But should I even mention this to them? (About marrying Jews, not reindeer sweaters.) If so, when? They are in fifth and seventh grade. I know — not quite what you’d call marrying material at the moment. But I don’t want them to suddenly find out my Jewish hopes and prayers when they hit 25 and are in a serious relationship.

How and when to broach the “nice Jewish spouse” topic?


Dear Conflicted Liberal,

Unless your children are uniquely filial, paragons of devotion, by the time they are old enough to troll the Internet for likely mates, they’ll be paying about as much attention to your Jewish hopes and prayers as they will to the Jonas Brothers. I love my parents, but did I care about their Jewish hopes and dreams when I dated the Guatemalan revolutionary? Or when I attended Mass with the Catholic who had worked out a deal with God that premarital sex was acceptable, but only if confessed weekly and enjoyed little? Did my husband care about his parents’ Jewish hopes and dreams when he married the shiksa who kept him busy while he waited for me? Not in the slightest.

The fact is that what you feel about intermarriage isn’t going to be relevant to your children, except insofar as they weigh the relative costs and benefits of introducing you to their boyfriends and girlfriends. They might care enough to lie to you, but honestly, who wants that?

Which isn’t to say that you don’t have any role to play in perpetuating the Jewish race. Rest assured there’s plenty you can and should do. What’s going to influence your children’s decisions, what will lead them to JDate rather than eHarmony, is not what you want for them, but what they want for themselves. The Jewish hopes and dreams that you can and should nurture are theirs.

The way I like to think about it is that Judaism is a gift we give our children. We try to include in our lives meaningful Jewish experiences. The fact that I ultimately chose to marry a Jew — and that his Judaism was no small part of the attraction I felt — had a lot more to do with the years I spent in Jewish summer camp than with my parents’ desires. As a child I suffered through Hebrew school (enough to drive most children from the arms of their co-religionists), but I also learned Israeli dancing and wept to the lyrics of “Eli, Eli” with the other hysterical teenagers in my bunk at Camp Ramah. I spent a year in Israel on kibbutz (not something I’d recommend, unless you have a deep desire to see your daughters acquire too familiar an understanding of the psychology and physiology of the average Israeli paratrooper). I joined youth groups. I watched Woody Allen movies and read Mordechai Richler. My parents gave me the gift of a childhood steeped in Yiddishkeit and Jewish experiences, and so when the time came for me to choose a mate, I chose someone with whom I could make a similar kind of family.

So, don’t hock your children about whom they should marry. Don’t burden them with your expectations. Just give them a happy, haimish life. (I know, I know: It’s easier said then done. But I can tell you’re up to the task.) And trust them to make the decisions that are best for them.

Ayelet Waldman is the author of the novels “Daughter’s Keeper” and “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.” She also penned seven installments of the “Mommy-Track Mystery” series. Her non-fiction book “Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace” will be published in May by Doubleday. Her Web site is

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