October 31, 2003
Mixed Marriage Advice
I am normally a big fan of the Ask Wendy advice column, so I was very startled by her uncharacteristically stern response to an interfaith family in the October 17 issue (“Is It Time To Let (Bigoted) Bygones Be Bygones?”).
I am the adult child of a Jewish-Christian intermarriage — Jewish Orthodox mother, Episcopalian father. When an intermarried Jewish woman who is raising her kids as Jews wrote Wendy asking what to do about her antisemitic Christian mother-in-law — from whom she had been estranged for years — because her husband wanted to reconcile with her mother-in-law for the sake of the children, I was certain that Wendy would handle the situation with her trademark kindness and common sense.
I was very alarmed, therefore, when Wendy told the Jewish woman that since her mother-in-law hadn’t directly apologized for her antisemitic comments of many years ago, it was okay to remain estranged and allow the children no contact with their grandmother.
I must respectfully protest. Speaking as the child of a Jewish woman who ran away from home, cut off all contact with her (admittedly dysfunctional) Orthodox Jewish family and raised me and my brothers as Christians, it is incalculably damaging to raise children of an intermarriage with no contact with their other “half.” It makes them ashamed of part of themselves. While I now live as a Renewal Jew, my three brothers live as Protestants and two of them are not comfortable with being half-Jewish because my mother raised them in complete isolation from her heritage.
I am no fan of contact with abusers, alcoholics or antisemites. But when someone, after many years of estrangement, has reached out — however inadequately — it is possible to test his or her good intentions. Wendy could have advised the woman to arrange a short visit with her husband’s mother and the kids. Her husband could have warned her mother-in-law in advance that any future antisemitic comments would result in contact being severed. Then they could have given her mother-in-law a chance to behave better.
I speak from experience. When I located my mother’s family after a 40-year estrangement, most of them were still hostile and dysfunctional. I received many cruel comments from them about my mixed ancestry, and they eventually severed contact with me, over my protests. They did not approve of my having a Christian father, nor did they like my activism on behalf of Jewish outreach to interfaith families.
But my Jewish grandmother was thrilled to have me, and we established a very warm relationship which ended only with her death five years later.
I would respectfully urge Wendy to revisit the issue. If the situation had been reversed, and an intermarried Christian woman were raising her kids as Christians, and allowed no contact with their vocally anti-Christian Jewish grandmother — and I have seen such situations — would Wendy have advocated never reconciling with the woman so that the children might at least have some contact with their Jewish grandmother and Judaism?
Takoma Park, Md.
An Inclusive Fringe
Yes, “fringe” Jews have created new social and cultural outlets because they are frustrated with the expensive, conformist social options provided by mainstream Jewish community groups (“AlternaJews Take Life by the Horns,” October 24). Yes, Heeb, StorahTelling, Jewcy, Hub and the like are different from our parents’ Jewish organizations.
But that’s only half the story.
What is truly different about these “alternatives” is that they don’t shun interfaith couples, they don’t blink at queer inclusion and they don’t shrink from criticism of the Israeli government. They demonstrate that young Jews want an inclusive, justice-seeking Judaism —that’s the real story.
New York, N.Y.
I’m pleased that Rhonda Kaufman Malkin has been able to live her dream by working as a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall (“Life in the Kickline: A Rockette’s Story,” October 24). It’s also very encouraging that, given her rigorous schedule, she has been able to maintain her identity as a Jew and observe the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, albeit in her own way.
However, it’s misleading for her to identify herself as “Modern Orthodox,” given the levels of observance she has chosen for herself. No Modern Orthodox rabbi I know would permit working on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in order to dance at Radio City, or observing a “half Shabbat” by eating a Shabbat meal on Friday night but working on Saturday.
To suggest that this would be acceptable insults the tens of thousands of Modern Orthodox Jews who are extremely careful and rigorous in their religious observance. In addition, it creates a false picture of what Modern Orthodoxy is all about to the many Jews who might not be familiar with the term.
Malkin is free to choose her own level of observance, and prioritize the things that are important in her life. But let’s not attach a Modern Orthodox label to her lifestyle.
Support for Continuity
An October 10 letter to the editor, written in response to Rabbi Avi Shafran’s excellent October 3 article, suggests that only Orthodox Jews vigorously support and promote in-marriage (“‘In-Marriage’ Advocate Excludes the Faithful”).
In fact, the Jewish In-Marriage Initiative, a new, national group whose members represent all branches of Judaism, also believes that the vitality of Jewish life depends upon the successful formation of unambiguously Jewish families. We, and so many others in Jewish life from all denominational movements, seek to encourage, sensitively and respectfully, Jews to marry Jews.
With that said, we do take a somewhat different position from that of most Orthodox leaders. As much as we support in-marriage, we also are prepared to advocate genuine, ongoing efforts leading to conversion, and, short of that, we urge efforts to engage in Jewish life the Jews in intermarried families and to raise their children as Jews in an unambiguously Jewish environment. We understand full well that these varied approaches may be in tension at times. Nevertheless, we believe the Jewish community is best served by simultaneously supporting in-marriage, while welcoming the Jewish members of intermarriages.
Steven M. Cohen
Dr. Jack Wertheimer
Jewish In-Marriage Initiative
Sick Health System
The full-page advertisement taken out by New York’s Health & Human Service Union in the October 10 issue charges that the federal government failed to set standards of ethical conduct when so many of our health and welfare services were channeled into privately managed care.
The alleged discrepancy between the $18 Metropolitan Jewish Health System receives from the government to provide home care to New York seniors and the $7 it pays to it workers suggest that there is an overhead charge in excess of 60%. Paying $7 an hour to those charged with the care of our elderly is especially stingy considering the living expenses in New York City. This all the more unbelievable given that the salaries paid to executives exceed the salaries paid to the president of the United States and to members of Congress.
Who are the board members of Metropolitan Jewish Health System? Does Metropolitan Jewish Health System receive money from Jewish communal institutions? Why is no one asking these questions?
To judge by the numbers, Metropolitan Jewish Health System appears to be a welfare system only for its senior executives.
Memories for Mamele
The East Village Mamele’s October 24 column gave me a great deal of pleasure (“It’s a Small World After All”).
I am a 74-year-old grandma whose youngest grandchild is 10 and the oldest 20. All the pleasure of watching your child grow and develop is so well reported by the Mamele. Her column is always a welcome break from the very difficult times Israel and world Jewry are experiencing.
The Mamele’s experiences bring back wonderful memories of my own — we took our children to Disneyland in California before the Florida park existed.
I now spend a lot of time remembering our early parenthood — my husband died earlier this year after 52 years of marriage. The memories your words brought back are priceless.