December 25, 2003
A Passion Not Shared
I read the articles about interfaith marriage with a heavy heart ("Married to It" and "Couple Struggles Over Intermarriage," Dec. 19). I am not opposed to this, as I am one of the people you describe in the articles.
I was raised in very secular, Reform Jewish home, with little or no emphasis on my marrying anyone not Jewish. So, when I met the man I wanted to marry, who was from a Christian home, I thought little of it. I mentioned to him that I wanted to raise my kids as Jews, and since he saw me living as he did, Christmas trees; bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, and movies on Friday night, why should he have even worried?
So, when my first child was born, a son, he was circumcised by the doctor at the hospital. Same thing three years later with my second son.
But then, my older son wanted to have a bar mitzvah, and we were not members of any religious institution. I panicked, until I found a Modern Orthodox rabbi to teach my son and prepare him for his bar mitzvah.
We went to Israel for the bar mitzvah at the Wall, with an 18-day tour of the Holy Land. Upon our return, my son decided to follow Jewish law, practice kashrut, Shabbat and go to a yeshiva.
I became active in the Jewish community and learned how to run a Jewish home. My husband, darling that he is, adapted and went outside the home to have his treif.
However, the one thing that these articles cannot tell you is how I feel not being able to share my renewed love of the Jewish faith, my Zionism, my passion for the future of a Jewish homeland and a fear of rising anti-Semitism with a partner who does not have the same passion in his head or heart.
Nineteen years later, I have evolved, and this evolution is not shared by my mate. How I wish I could have known then what I know now. How much easier it would have been to share this love of Judaism with a man who could recite Hebrew verses. How I would love to watch a program about the joy of Yiddish with someone who could laugh with me and not at me.
These little things seem silly, but when you grow up older and wiser, you realize that sometimes these things become bigger. Rabbis who tell couples that it will be a challenge have no idea what it is like unless they, too, have married a mate of a different faith.
This is a marriage choice that should be made with eyes wide open, honesty on the table and the realization of the consequences of a change in feelings through spiritual growth.
Name withheld by request
I noticed that in your extensive discussion of intermarriage, you evaded the central issue, namely: whether there exists any real conflict-of-values between the intermarrying couple. Often, such conflict is undetected until the couple must deal with the many unforeseen issues that emerge in the months and years following the wedding.
Religion, including Judaism, is not primarily about ritual, ceremony, holidays, etc. It is primarily about upholding a set of values and fostering the rules that uphold those values.
These values are primarily about rights and duties in important relationships between husband and wife, between parents and children, and other relationships involving family, friends and those beyond one's private circle.
Many Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are not aware that religion is primarily concerned about the rights and obligations set forth in the doctrines of that religion, and such people simply look to the rules and practices that they believe to prevail in the general society.
The value system behind these general rules and customs has been described by sociologists as American civil religion. So, those who believe in the precepts of this value system may be thought of as believers in the American civil religion.
Many paired-parties contemplating intermarriage are both actually believers in the American civil religion, and when they get married, it is therefore not an intermarriage at all, regardless of the respective religious background of each party.
Sometimes such a marriage is successful, but often there are latent value differences -- value differences not contemplated within the scope of American civil religion. These differences may surface years later and bring about divorce.
Of course, this also happens in marriages between people who have similar religious backgrounds. Modernity has downgraded the importance of formal religious identity in general, and young people today may not even know just what the rules and values set forth by their religious traditions really are.
Larry Selk, Los Angeles
After 25 years as the Hillel rabbi at three different colleges in the Los Angeles area, I can recognize a campus witch-hunt when I see one.
A Hillel rabbi works with a heterogeneous and often contentious community. Rabbi [Chaim] Seidler-Feller at UCLA knows his campus scene. He is the single-most significant advocate of Jewish values on the Westwood campus, well respected by administrators, faculty and students. He understands that the honor and significance of Israel is often challenged, and he is committed to positive engagement with critical students. That commitment requires very special talents.
Rachel Neuwirth came to the UCLA campus and challenged the work of the Hillel rabbi. She is a self-appointed and self-righteous woman, who seems convinced that only she can save Jewish students from false ideas.
The friends of Neuwirth insist vociferously that Seidler-Feller should be fired from his Hillel position, because he allegedly expressed great anger at her intrusion into his conversation with UCLA students. I think that the community wants Seidler-Feller to carry on his important representation of Judaism at UCLA.
My anger is with outside meddlers who hassle the Hillel rabbi. My embarrassment is with Jewish single-issue extremists who want to crush the UCLA rabbi as a way to silence all alternative Zionist voices.
My dismay comes in response to a small circle of fanatics who insist that they must be the judge and jury of all Jews with whom they disagree.
Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein, Former Hillel Director California State College, Northridge; Valley College and Pierce College