When I met my husband, I was astonished when he told me his sisters were intermarried. I loved being Jewish, and as far as I am concerned, becoming a Jew is the best thing I have ever done. However I did not realize how badly many Jews felt about their own religion. As someone on the outside, I thought that Jews had this great pride and belief in themselves and G-d, and as such would never consider a non-Jewish spouse. I believed that the Jews had the box seats and the rest of us had general admission. I was raised that the Jews had a special relationship with G-d and the rest of us should be so lucky.
When I met his family, it was a rude awakening. My mother in law had sent all of her kids to “Hebrew school,” and my husband and his brothers had Bar Mitzvah’s, but she refused to educate herself about her religion. She was “too educated” to worry about religion. It was something she didn’t need. She was a “happy” assimilated Jew, and her harshest words were for Jews and the religion she knew nothing about. never educated herself. That is something she has in common with every assimilated Jew I have ever met.
I didn’t visit my in-laws in California very often. I knew I was not welcome. We kept kosher and she went out of her way to serve pork when I was there. It bothered her that I had found something in “her” religion that was special, and wanted a closer relationship with G-d. She caused unbelievable fights between my husband and I and she enjoyed it. She made him choose between her and me, and without exception, he chose her. However, she was upset when I finally threw in the towel and told her she could have her son. I no longer wanted him. After that she left us alone. When my husband realized she just wanted to control him, he became a better husband. This is not an indictment of Jewish mothers. She didn’t want him married to someone who who was more Jewish than she.
As distant as we were, she would confide to me her feelings about her family. I think it was because she didn’t have anyone Jewish to talk to. She told me that her grandmother, Sarah, was the most religious woman she knew. She adored her, and spoke of her with pride. She gave me an article published in the San Francisco Chronicle that was an interview of her father. In the article, she pointed out that her great-grandmother, Leah, would go to a frozen river in Latvia, and her son, (my mil’s father) would punch a hole in the ice so she could use it as a mikveh. She showed me the sentence where her Leah wore a sheitel (wig), because “as a married woman,” she said, “she covered her hair.” Then she told me how it broke her heart that her daughters had married out. I was stunned. I thought she was a self hating Jew. She went on about how she never thought it would happen to her. “I raised them better than that. I sent them to afternoon Hebrew school and gave them a good Jewish education. My boys had Bar Mitzvahs.” Then she went on to recite the mantra of millions of Jewish parents with her last comment in our conversation, “at least their children will be Jewish.” When I got up the nerve to ask her why she didn’t make her expectations clear, she replied, “I thought they knew what was important to me.” When I asked why she participated in the marriages, she replied, “I didn’t want to lose my daughters.” What she didn’t (or refuse to) understand, was that by marrying out, she had already lost them. They didn’t give a rip about their parents. She raised her baby boomer children to be selfish and spoiled.
She felt she really tried. She had received no Jewish education at all. It was hard to feel bad for my mother in law, but as she emptied her heart out to me, mine broke for her. She would spin a cartwheel in her grave if she could read the Facebook page of her granddaughter. “Having a Christmas tree makes me happy!” My niece (her granddaughter) announced that each year, her sons get a new ornament they will hand down to their own children. So much for “at least the grandchildren will be Jewish.”
Next the Pew study.