A Sad Story, But Not Typical

A recent article in Tablet Magazine has elicited a lot of comment: Private Practice: A group of intermarried Jewish women gather for Shabbat but pack away their identities, by Elizabeth Cohen.

Cohen’s article is very sad. Three Jewish women meet for Shabbat dinner with their young children. Their non-Jewish husbands don’t participate. Turns out that each keeps her Judaica hidden away in a drawer, a box, a cabinet. Turns out they don’t discuss or mention Jewish topics with their significant others. The “cancellation [of Judaism] through silence and storage.” A grim picture.

But wait – all of their children are “enrolled in the same Jewish day school. Their Hebrew is impeccable. Their understanding of Torah … is profound for grade-schoolers. And it was they who led our Shabbat, singing prayers aloud, blessings as second nature as those their grandparents uttered.”

For me, this article doesn’t hang together. Sending children to Jewish day school is an expensive and serious commitment to Jewish life. Some of the comments on the article also question whether there are other issues in the relationships or the personalities of the author and her friends.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned at InterfaithFamily.com, it’s that every family is different, but there are patterns. I’m sure there are families where the partners who are not Jewish don’t participate in the Jewish life of their partner and children. From my point of view that is an unfortunate situation. But I wouldn’t want this article to be taken for more than it is, as representative of intermarriage in general. Some of the comments  on the article would do just that – one suggests that the article be required reading in every Hillel. As Cohen herself recognizes, “It isn’t always like this, of course. There are plenty of mixed marriages where the spouse gets involved, shares the traditions, looks on with something like admiration, maybe even converts.”

This post originally appeared on www.interfaithfamily.com and is reprinted with permission.