The Conspiracy

Jewish Identity?

For as far back as I can tell, my family has been Jewish. I don’t necessarily mean that every relative kept the Sabbath or kept every commandment, but they, at least nominally, adhered to the Jewish religion. Sure, I do have relatives that converted to Judaism, but my direct ancestors, as far I as can tell, were all of the Jewish faith, born into it, and raised their children that way.

Personally, I’ve always been proud of the fact that my family’s Jewish, but I don’t think it would have bothered me too much had part of it not been so. The Jewish heritage can be preserved in many ways, not just via genetics. The fact is, many people still see an invisible smear, a sort of “taint,” on non-Jews entering a Jewish family. The outsider, as that person would be seen, would be bringing in some foreign blood. To me, that’s nonsense.

Part of what has made Judaism great is its preserved tradition, I will agree. The sense of inclusion can be passed on, though, not just through heritage, but through its sense of community and reverence of the divine. I don’t doubt that some of its preservation, to be sure, has been caused by Jews marrying other Jews and keeping the tradition alive, that of Torah and religion, study and faith, to their children. But what many old-school Jews fail to realize is that that very insularity is what threatens to bring down everything they so value. There is a great danger in keeping things completely “Jewish” in more ways than appear to the naked eye.

One of the most cited problems is Tay-Sachs disease among Jews of Ashkenazi heritage. The National Institute of Health website describes it as a condition affecting fetuses and children, most of whom with the disease “die by age 4.” That shocking statistic shakes me up a bit. Now, I’m not advocating that one should necessarily just marry a non-Jew just because of this, but it is a factor to keep in mind. I can’t even imagine the agony of losing a child and seeing one’s beloved baby be hurt by a genetic disorder. Other problems can result from inbreeding. Like most peoples in Europe, Jewish families intermarried. The problem with marrying your cousin is that, yes, genetic defects can occur. The more concentrated the genes, the more chances you have of such a problem. Similarly, any people in one concentrated social, ethnic, or religious group face the possibility of problems with children after intermarrying; in no way is this specific to Ashkenazis.

Often, a “stigma” of dating or marrying a non-Jew is one that carries even into today. As a young woman, I’ve found that I’ve been inclined to date boys of my own faith. Looking at this, I find that it’s not because I wouldn’t date someone of another religion or ethnicity, but because the entire family that surrounded me when I was growing up was one of one religion. Jews always married Jews, so I must have figured that I should date people of my own religion.

So, what should a young person of Jewish faith do? Ultimately, it’s your decision. Dating and marriage and children are all very different spheres. As long as you and your loved ones are healthy and happy, maybe even with a dash of Judaism here and there, something tells me that you’ll be fine.


4 Older Responses to “Jewish Identity?”

  1. Kim Kubilus
    October 2, 2009 at 10:50 am #

    Hello! Tay-Sachs can happen to anyone – even non Jews, just less frequently. It is a myth that interfaith couples do not need genetic counseling. The Tay-Sachs gene occurs in the general population at a rate of 1/250. Irish-Americans and people of British Isle descent have an increased risk of 1/50 and French Canadians, Louisiana Cajuns and Pennsylvania Dutch are also considered high risk with a carrier rate of 1/27. The majority of Tay-Sachs cases today are from non-high risk families.

    EVERYONE should seek genetic counseling prior to starting a family.

    I am available to discuss this further if interested.

    Kim Kubilus
    Director of Member Services
    National Tay-Sachs & Allied Diseases Association, Inc. (NTSAD)

  2. Tanya
    October 6, 2009 at 4:27 pm #

    Although I see your point, especially because I’m all about being diverse and inclusive (I’m a Latina Jew, and love my life with Color — my boyfriend is a Jamaican-Cuban Jew himself), I don’t know if I can be on board for the “you don’t need to date Jewish” boat. Well, you truly don’t NEED to, but it sure is beautiful when you can share the jokes, the culture, the synagogue hopping, and performing mitzvahs together. I’m not a super observant Jew — I do what I can and what I’m comfortable with, but I love watching my boyfriend do his morning prayers… there’s something about that, knowing that my children will one day be Jewish just like him and I… I love my culture and my religion, and I don’t think I could give it up for marriage. (and mind you, I have dated outside the religion and have considered marriage to a non-Jew. It just so happened that we didn’t happen to work out, and it had nothing to do with the Jewish thing).

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