Ger Tzadik (Sorta)

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Severe Intermarriage Problems in My Family. Help!

I know what you must be thinking (I say that a lot, don’t I? I guess I go out of my way to mislead people with my post titles.): “But you’re not even Jewish yet! How can your family have an intermarriage problem?” The answer is that it depends on how you look at “family” of course.

So let’s look at the facts. Being raised in the greater Tri-State area, there was not exactly a dearth of Jews around. Much to my surprise, when informed that I was seriously thinking about a Jewish girl, my father admitted that before he met my mother, he only dated Jewish girls. He has the kippas to prove it too. He liked Jews, they liked him. It was familiar, but different. Jews in the area were American, but all the same very Italian (from his viewpoint) in familial relationships, mannerisms, and many other ways. (Except food of course. Sorry, this is one area I will never be a true convert. Thank goodness Rambam didn’t make that one of his ikkarim.) He knew he didn’t want to date an Italian girl, so this was the next best thing.

Next: As I have mentioned elsewhere, my family is of the Italian Catholic persuasion. That means birth control is out (so says the Pope), and large families are in. My father is but one of eight siblings, all of whom now live in the United States, and all within about an hour of each other. They all have families, and all have the requisite number of children. That means the average “small” family function has a minimum of 25 people, and the “large” ones regularly hit 200.

Given all those family members, and the essentially interspersed Jewish population, it seems inevitable that there would be some problematic relationships. The scope didn’t really sink in until a few weeks ago though, when I started doing the numbers. Out of the 20+ something first cousins (of which I am one), four of them are married to Jews, and one other is in a very serious long term relationship. Imagine the discomfort when this realization sank in: My family was doing its small part propagate the intermarriage problem! And that’s not counting the larger family, where the count is unsure at this date, but has to be even larger. (Never bothered to keep track.)

To add some salt to the wound, these are all female cousins, meaning their numerous offspring are not Jewish. Not that this ever mattered before, of course. All of these men were accepted into our family, which is large and loving. As long as the child is baptized and gets married in the church…uh, oops. Still, some of them have been part of our family for almost as long as I can remember (being one of the younger cousins). The idea that there was something off about the arrangement never came to mind before.

Now, however, I am faced with a difficult and uncomfortable situation. You can be certain the topic will never be raised from my end of the conversation, but inevitably they will come with questions, comments, and possibly even sneers. What to do? What about when one of my precious little second cousins comes to talk about THEIR Jewishness? Ignore the topic? Push it aside? Lie? Tell the truth? I have no idea.

There are many accounts of how Ba’alei Teshuva have dealt with these kinds of issues within their own families, but it’s a bit of a strange and awkward one coming from a ger. After all, these guys,( who were slight observant at most, entirely secular at least) might well think they have claim to a more authentic Jewishness….Which is true when relating to heredity. How do you tell them the truth about their decisions and not offend them? I’d be thrilled to hear suggestions, but for now I am going to stick my head in the sand and pretend it will never come up. There are more important things to worry about.

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