----- Original Message -----
From: Alejandra Dominguez
To: eshemtov@hbdl.uy
Sent: Saturday, June 04, 2004
Subject: Question

Dear Eliezer,

My name is Alejandra Dominguez, I am Argentinian, 24 years old. I live in Buenos Aires.

I was born into a Catholic family, I was baptized, had communion and was confirmed. I never really had much faith and today I find myself completely distant from faith and the church.

About two years ago I met a boy in a bar in Buenos Aires. I later found out that he was Jewish... Our relationship continued, he lived for a while in Australia and our long distance relationship continued via email. He then returned to Buenos Aires and our relationship continued happily. We met our respective families and friends and right from the beginning he brought up the subject of circumcision and having any boys born to us circumcised.

Right from the outset he addressed the issue of his need for raising a Jewish family... I, having little knowledge about the matter, always said that we would be able to reconcile the two cultures. But the feeling in him was very strong, so strong as to sometimes be totally incomprehensible. I was willing to cede and have my sons circumcised and join a Jewish club according to his wishes... but I think that it wasn't enough for him because about a month ago he decided to break off the relationship. I still feel much pain because of the whole situation and I cannot stop thinking about Judaism and what it means to be a Jew.

I came across your article about Intermarriage and although I understand intellectually the explanations that you give, I would like to ask you something regarding the Old Testament. I was reading the book of Ruth. How do the Jews explain the story of Ruth the Moabite who marries a Jew and is accepted?

I repeat, even though I understand rationally the reasons that you give as to why a Jew must marry a Jewess... I cannot understand it from the point of view of love. I deeply believe that when one has love and desire to share one's life with someone, it's more than enough of a reason to "rebel against the holy writings".

These issues are very emotional and very personal... as was my boyfriend's decision.

I believe that the freedom to choose the person with whom one wants to share one's life is something that no one should be deprived of. I feel that the weight that Judaism transmits to the children from a very young age is very great, and the conflicts and contradictions that a Jewish man that falls in love with a woman that is not Jewish encounters are very deep and painful.

The bitter feeling that I have is great. Excuse me for invading you with personal matters about which I cannot stop thinking.

Thank you for reading my letter.

Best regards,

Alejandra.


(2)

eshemtov@hbdl.uy replied:

Dear Alejandra,

Thank you for your mail. I would like to assure you that you haven't invaded my privacy with your letter and you have no reason to apologize.

I can imagine the emotional torment that you must be going through. "Why should I be deprived of the love of my life because of some rules defined thousands of years ago by who knows who?"

It must be very difficult for you and I would like to attempt to help you.

In your mail I perceived two concrete questions:

1) Why did your Jewish boyfriend reject you as a marriage partner if we see that the Scriptures tell us that Ruth the Moabite was accepted as a Jewess?

2) How does one reconcile the conflict between the mind and the heart?

As far as the story of Ruth is concerned, the answer is very simple. Ruth converted to Judaism. "Your people is my people; your G‑d is my G‑d." (Ruth, 1:16).

As a matter of fact, one of the reasons that we read the book of Ruth during the festival of Shavuot is because Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and its acceptance by the Jewish people, and Ruth personifies the personal acceptance of the Torah.

Judaism does not forbid the Jew to marry someone from a non Jewish origin who has converted to Judaism. Of course, the conversion must be carried out according to the requirements of Judaism.

As far as the rational/emotional conflict:

It is very common for the mind and heart to disagree; they have totally different natures and points of reference. Judaism insists that the one that must rule is the mind. Sometimes a person can convince his own heart through persuasive means and channel the feeling properly; at others one has no choice but to be authoritative and impose upon one's heart with a personal discipline of steel.

I don't know if these brief lines are of any help to you. In any case, I would welcome your comments and I am at your service in order to continue clarifying this matter or any other that may be within my ability.

Sincerely,

Eliezer


(3)

From: Alejandra Dominguez
To: shemtov
Sent: Saturday, June 04, 2004
Subject: Re: Question

Dear Eliezer,

Thank you for your response to my email.

It's just like you describe it: the emotional torment that I am going through is very great.

Thank you for your explanation regarding the book of Ruth. I will continue reading the books. I would like to know if I can send you more questions when they come up as I study, because it is much easier to study when you have a guide.

I am very interested to be able to understand all of this. I do not like the idea of going through life without understanding what is happening around me in general and especially that which is happening to me. Besides, I have my heart in engineering and, as a good engineer, I cannot refrain from thinking about the whys and hows. This time it is regarding my own personal emotional life and it touches the deepest part of my soul.

I understand what you say regarding the mind/heart conflict, but from my point of view, when someone loves... the poor little mind loses its authority. I don't understand how the mind can dominate the heart. Actually, I do understand it, but I just can't take it!!!

My boyfriend always talked to me about the importance of maintaining the Jewish traditions and the effort it implies to be able to do so in a country such as Argentina where the majority of the population is Catholic and if someone wishes to maintain his Jewish identity he must remain in a Jewish environment, otherwise the Catholic environment will simply swallow him up. To marry me would imply a very big effort (for me as well).

When a Catholic marries a Catholic or when a Jew marries a Jew, I suppose there are well trodden paths through which those with faith or those who don't question too much traverse without complicating themselves too much. Our situation implied creating and building new and different paths. Building these new paths meant to him that he would be abandoning the dreams that he had since he was 14 years old... dreams that were born at his Bar Mitzvah... to have a Jewish home. He always told me about it.

I must say that it is painful for me to think this way. I always told him that I never dreamt of falling in love with a Jew... It wasn't in my plans... Since I was a little girl I dreamt of the white dress and the church... But I always told him that the love is concrete, it is real... It is not a dream that comes true... I always told him that I would not be able to convert because a conversion of such a nature, as you well point out in your article, would not be sincere.

Diego is the first Jewish person with whom I have developed such a personal relationship. I was educated in a Catholic school and then in the University of Buenos Aires. Of course there are Jewish students at the University, but I never had close contact with them and never knew anything about Judaism, its holidays or its feelings.

I always told him that if he truly loved me, it's because he loved Alejandra, and that Alejandra comes with a history that is different than his and I am the Alejandra that I am as a result of my history and my personality which is different than the Jewish history.

Diego used to tell me that I was a breath of fresh air; that for him a Jewish girlfriend was very oppressive... Wow! I am getting dizzy from all these different contradictory feelings... Many say that love should be easier... I don't know if that is true... I always had the conviction that with work and struggle you can build... Obviously only if there is love!! Dunno, maybe the love wasn't enough...

But how can one measure it? How can one measure Jewish identity and culture which are also a deep feeling and the responsibility to be Jewish and the need to have Jewish descendants is very strong. This was obviously the most important issue. Diego wanted a guarantee that his children would feel Jewish... Or at least do everything within his power that that be so... And 'doing what is possible' does not include marrying a girl like me...

This whole experience feels like bumping into a great big wall which has been built many years ago... When I met Diego, I thought the wall had doors (other than conversion), but, O.K., I realize that for a Jew it is very difficult...

I know couples that are interfaith, they are happy and where able to reconcile their lives. But I guess every person is different and feels differently. No?

Thanks for reading what I have to say. I would like to receive your comments.

Best regards,

Alejandra


(4)

eshemtov@hbdl.uy replied:

Dear Alejandra,

I read and reread your mail several times, in an attempt to distil and identify the most essential elements.

I will begin by trying to help you "understand all of this."

Your boyfriend's rejection can be explained in two ways: 1) that he gave into an external, social pressure; 2) that he gave into an internal, personal conflict.

There is a world of a difference between the two possible scenarios.

If his rejection of you were to be a result of ceding to external pressure, your confusion and anger can be very well understood. "How can it be that the love you had for one another couldn't resist the external pressures? Is it possible that I was fooling myself all this time regarding my feelings for him and his for me?"

But there is a different possibility. It is obvious that you appealed to a very deep part of him. I have no doubts about the intensity and authenticity of his feelings for you. I do not know him personally, but most probably he is agonizing over this as much (or more than) you. "What happened, then?" you might ask yourself.

Perhaps this is what happened:

Up to a certain point he was totally possessed by his love for you and yours towards him. He was very sure about the fact that he loves you. But, perhaps he wasn't very sure about who he was. Perhaps his Judaism wasn't very profound nor very articulate (it is a very common occurrence amongst Jewish youth that have been deprived of a true Jewish education) and he didn't see any irreconcilable contradiction between his being Jewish and his love for you. Maybe he also thought that he might be able to find a point of entry (or escape...) in that millennia-old wall that separates between Jews and non Jews. But, in spite of all the logical, rational arguments he realized that it was a no-go. It is irreconcilable. One had to choose and discard one over the other. And he made his choice.

You might ask yourself: What is it that he saw in his Jewishness that was so strong as to make him choose that over you in spite of all the pain that it implies? Was it simply a matter of wanting to see his Bar Mitzvah dreams come true?

I doubt it.

According to Jewish beliefs, every Jew is born with a soul that has certain characteristics that distinguish it from those that are not Jewish. The Jewish people as a whole, and each Jew as an individual, have a special mission to fulfil. Even when a Jew is not aware of all the details, s/he feels it in the deepest recesses of his or her being. It may be that in his daily life he might not be very practicing, but that is due to the fact that he doesn't believe or feel that he jeopardizes his condition as a Jew if he neglects to fulfil this or that precept. But every Jew has his red lines. Every Jew has a clear idea of where the limit is; that by crossing over it, he would be disassociating himself from his G‑d, people, his own very essence and his very own children!

Wanting to have Jewish children is not necessarily egoistical. It reflects a deep-seated feeling of responsibility towards one's past and towards one's own children. You have come up against a very deeply rooted instinct. He probably would like to marry you; he simply cannot.

He does not want to betray his people and he does not want that his children be disconnected from their own father's People.

Another point:

According to Jewish mystical teachings, marriage implies a reunion between two halves of one unit. There cannot be a reunion between two souls that are essentially different and incompatible. There might be compatibility up to a certain point, but not on an essential level. True, there can be friendship. But marriage entails more than friendship and cannot function when both are essentially different.

I agree with your aversion to cosmetic conversions. There is no reason for you to convert to something that you are not and do not share in the depths of your soul. True conversion is meant to give expression to one's deepest beliefs and feelings, not deny or hide them.

The following sentence in your mail made me laugh:

"I understand what you say regarding the mind/heart conflict, but from my point of view, when someone loves... the poor little mind loses its authority. I don't understand how the mind can dominate the heart. Actually, I do understand it, but I just can't take it!!!"

It reminded me of the definition I once read regarding the difference between a psychotic and a neurotic. The psychotic thinks that 2+2=5; the neurotic knows that 2+2=4 but he just can't take it... :)

As far as the interfaith couples that you know who seem to be happily married: 1) One never knows what happens in the private lives of others; 2) sometimes people are forced to make peace with situations that they would rather not have created to begin with, but it is already too late...

I hope that the ideas expressed in this mail are useful.

Anxiously awaiting your reply, I remain,

Sincerely,

Eliezer


(5)

eshemtov@hbdl.uy replied: replied:

Dear Alejandra:

Did you get my mail of yesterday?

Eliezer


(6)

----- Original Message -----
From: Alejandra Dominguez
To: shemtov
Sent: Monday, June 06, 2004
Subject: Re: Question

Dear Eliezer,

Yes, I received it. Thanks. I read it this morning very attentively. I will send you my reply this very evening. Due to the fact that I work all day, I cannot reply earlier.

Regards

Alejandra


(7)

----- Original Message -----
From: Alejandra Dominguez
To: shemtov
Sent: Monday, June 06, 2004
Subject: Re: Question

Dear Eliezer,

Thank you very much for your mail. Reading your words helped me to understand more clearly the depth of Diego's decision.

As I said in my previous mails, when I started dating Diego I had absolutely no idea whatsoever about Judaism. For whatever reason, my whole life experience had taken place inside the bubble of the Catholic world. That is why it has taken me several months to realize the true dimension of what has been going on and I think that I am beginning to understand those feelings somewhat. The third time that Diego and I dated, he asked me if I would be willing to have our future sons circumcised. Wow! What a question! It seemed pulled out of a magician's hat. Why was he asking me that? I wondered. I remember thinking to myself at that time: whatever for? Why circumcise?

I remember answering: Dunno, I never thought about something like that... Months passed, spending hours discussing religion, culture, circumcision. I learned a lot about Jewish beliefs, traditions, holidays, community, Hebraica [sports club], etc.

He always emphasized that he wanted to create a Jewish family and would say that it was impossible to do so with me because I'm not Jewish and even if I would want to and would give everything of myself... I am not Jewish, neither is my womb, nor my parents, nor my brothers... This barrier is very painful because, as I mentioned before, I had told him that I was willing to have my sons circumcised and have them brought up as Jews... But, of course, that was all I could offer him, and nothing more... I could not offer him to be a Jewish mother that would take care of the home as a Jewish mother would... He would have to do almost all of the work... I would not be able to transmit anything of Judaism... and our children would grow up having questions... who knows... but the differences cannot be erased... for me it was very painful to feel that Diego wanted to somehow erase the differences. He once asked me if I would agree to convert just "on paper' in order to avoid our children having these kinds of confusions. I said no, I was not capable of doing that because I did not feel it, and besides one cannot pretend to be able to guarantee beforehand the feelings of children that will be born in the future.

You can imagine the confusion, the crisis... I always felt very helpless...

One day my mom saw an ad in the paper advertising lectures for "interfaith couples." They offer workshops that are organized by Jewish psychologists that try to revisit certain attitudes that couples who are trying to reconcile both cultures might have. The lectures were very inspiring for both of us... They awakened within us our deepest religious identity... It only served to remind me of my childhood, my adolescence... But even before meeting Diego I was pretty much decided that I would not baptize my children... That I would not be getting married in church.. That I do not identify with the catholic faith. I suppose that for him the lectures did awaken his deepest essence... That day we celebrated the baptism of one of my nephews... So we both went to church and then to the party. That same evening was Passover, so we went to his parents' home and I shared the celebration with them. His parents read a text that explains the meaning of Passover and the feelings that Passover awakens in the Jews. They did it for me and I felt welcome. But, of course, it was the first time that the parents did something like that... There I was... The difference in person. Our relationship advanced and we shared more and more, until one day he told me: I don't know if I want to have children with you.

For several days after that Diego cried a lot, every time we met or that we spoke on the phone he cried rivers of tears... and I as well... He told me that he had considered himself to be a "light" Jew, but that he realized that his Judaism was very deep and that he felt controlled by it...

But a few days later something unexpected happened... He told me that the decision had nothing to do with culture or Judaism, it was simply due to the fact that he no longer loved me, that he no longer felt love... Wow! I flipped... Today I think that that was the easiest way out, because when you are told that you are no longer loved, you have no way to respond and to try developing the relationship. I don't really know. I suppose that, as he told me several times, he is full of contradictions and very little clarity... I suppose that with time his thoughts will clear up and he will realize that which you say: who he really is in essence.

I know that wanting to have Jewish children is not a matter of ego; of course not. Many members of my family were telling me, "I understand Diego. I would never be able to marry a Jew because of my beliefs."

I guess one has to give up and think that it's better that it happened now rather than later, like everyone out there is telling me.

I guess that, like everything else in life, these days of great pain and sadness will pass and will become part of my memories...

Thank you, once again, for your comments. As I said before, it was very helpful to me to read them; they helped me to better understand and organize my thoughts.

Best regards,

Alejandra


(8)

eshemtov@hbdl.uy replied:

Dear Alejandra,

Thank you for sharing all that you did in your mail.

I am very curious to know how what I wrote helped you.

If you have time and the inclination to do so, I would be very thankful were you to clarify that to me. The reason being that this is a topic that I encounter very often in one way or another, and I try to learn something new each time.

There is a sentence in your mail whose meaning I am not sure that I understood:

"He told me that he had considered himself to be a 'light' Jew, but that he realized that his Judaism was very deep and that he felt controlled by it... "

If you have the time and are in the mood, I'd appreciate some elaboration.

Sincerely,

Eliezer


(9)

----- Original Message -----
From: Alejandra Dominguez
To: shemtov
Sent: Tuesday, June 07, 2004
Subject: Re: Question

Hi Eliezer,

Your words helped me to think these past few days. (This does not mean that no one ever told me: the Jews think like this, are like that, feel this way, that way, but it was only in a general terms.). Seeing things written out helped me to think.

First and foremost it helped me to think about myself, about what is important for me, about my feelings, about my own desires as well as about my "red lines" and limits. Why would I be so willing to give up so much for the sake of the love for or future with Diego? Why did I want to continue with Diego even though deep down I knew that nothing I would do would ever be sufficient for him?

Diego once told me: "I don't want our children to mix with your brother's children." When he told me that, during one of our countless conversations about how we would reconcile our differences, I started crying. It is very difficult to have that said to you. And in spite of it all, I still wanted to continue. I don't know, it's as if I wanted to continue with the relationship at any cost.

As you see, it is something that I must analyze: why was I willing to sacrifice so much? At that time I wasn't willing to believe that those barriers would divide us... I thought that if we loved one another we would be able to accomplish it. The price is to suffer. I don't think that that is the way of love and happiness with someone. I doubt it. Anyway, I don't think it makes any sense to fill myself with remorse and think: why didn't I react earlier? The positive thing to do is to continue on towards a future relationship.

Diego would always say that was a "light" Jew, meaning that he didn't believe in G‑d or didn't really think about Him very much. He would go to the Synagogue on Yom Kippur and that's it. He celebrates the traditional holidays with his family, which are charged more with traditional content than religious. For example on Passover no one had their kipah on. Traditional food was eaten but the Seder was not conducted according to the letter of the law.

As far as his friends are concerned, some are dating Catholics, others are living together with Jewish girls. It's mixed.

Since childhood he has gone to a Jewish school and his parents have always gone to Hebraica [Jewish sports club]. That is where he spent his childhood during weekends. He went to Israel, Plan Tapuz at 16. His best friends are from then.

He calls himself a "light" Jew. But of course, he wants a Jewish home, dreams about family life the way he had it and well, I don't know what I was doing there... he-he... in the middle of this whole situation... Not very "light", is it?

In addition to all of this, he now tells me that he is not in love with me and that is why he doesn't want to continue with this relationship.

I guess we both wanted the impossible: he wanted me to almost become Jewish and I wanted him to change his feelings towards me.

What I don't understand is why he feels controlled... he couldn't explain it to me at the time. He cried a lot and then I didn't ask him again.

What hurts me the most is that this whole big important matter is now being trivialized by him. He tells me, well, yes, it is an issue like all others... I don't know, I'm all confused! I tell him: how can you say that it is an issue like all others? Compared to what?? But he is now trying not to make a big deal out of it. I don't know why.

I always used to think: OK, you with your beliefs, can celebrate your holidays and I with my beliefs and my holidays. Even though I may not be religious, I celebrate Christmas, my family gets together and we give one another gifts like many Catholic families... right? That may be pretty reconcilable. The big issue was always the kids and living together.

I have much more to tell you, and since you are interested, I will continue to do so. I suppose that you have had couples such as us come talk to you. Right?

Best regards and thanks.

Alejandra.


(10)

eshemtov@hbdl.uy replied:

Dear Alejandra,

Thank you for your clarifications.

I think there are two big subjects in this saga: 1) you; 2) him.

Quite perceptive of me, no? :)

The matter gets more complicated due to the fact that besides the Jewish/non-Jewish component, we are also dealing here with a man and a woman. By their very natures, the perspectives and needs of men and women are different. For a woman, the most important thing is commitment and stability; for the man the most important thing is conquest and power.

That might explain why you were willing to sacrifice everything for your love (commitment, stability) and he was willing to sacrifice his love for the sake of social standing and generational continuity (conquest and power).

It gets more complicated when you add to that equation two very different histories and identities. You say, very correctly, that you did not want to go through a false conversion just in order to please someone. That wouldn't be coherent with your own true self.

I find that statement to be very interesting. It means that you know that being Jewish is more than a lifestyle; it is a condition, a definition of what one is in essence. It therefore follows that if you are not Jewish, why fool yourself with a senseless conversion?

I say that I find it interesting, because many people do NOT have it that clear and as a result ruin the lives of many. They think that by taking a course and paying a few pesos for someone to sign a "membership certificate" that's enough to make them Jewish, and in the case of a woman, enough to make her children Jewish.

But whom are they fooling? They might be able to join a community that does not know or care about the truth and accept them as Jews. But 20-30 years down the road, when their son or daughter will want to marry, they will then find out that they have been fooled and are essentially not Jewish. Is that right? But, of course, the only way to understand the magnitude of the farce is if one accepts the premise that being Jewish is a condition and not merely a lifestyle. One is not Jewish because he celebrates Passover, for example, but the contrary: one has the obligation to celebrate Passover because he or she is a Jew.

Many people believe that by making it easier for the boyfriend or girlfriend to convert we are gaining two souls instead of losing them. This argument would make sense if becoming Jewish would be like joining a sports club, where the less requirements made, the more members sign up. If, however, we are talking about an "essence," then by lessening the requirements, we are not gaining anything; we are simply redefining and diluting the character, the raison d'etre, of those that are already in (thereby doing them a great injustice)...

So, I congratulate you for having so clear what it means to be a Jew and that you are not one.

I would like to point out that interfaith marriage is not only wrong for the Jewish partner, but also for the non Jewish one.

The Jew and non-Jew have two completely different roles to play in the global scheme of Creation, and neither one of them can carry out his or her mission adequately with a marriage partner that does not share the same essential condition and role.

They might be able to live with apparent harmony as long as they suppress their real differences. The day either one of them 'wakes up' and wants to express their true identity, it becomes intolerable (for both of them).

The example I often use is that of a bird and a fish that become friends while vacationing on the surface of the lake. They are very attracted by the freedom that they see in each other ("Breath of fresh air"). The bird admires the ease with which the fish is able to swim in the depths of the lake and the fish admires the capacity that the bird has to fly to the greatest heights. They want to marry and live happily ever after.

It is self understood that this relationship can function only as long as they are both on the surface, without expressing their respective natures. As soon as either one of them decides to express its nature, the other one will remain abandoned...

OK, one thing that has been established is that you are not a Jew. The question remains, then, what are you?

Where do you come from? Where are you going to? And, what is the purpose of your existence?

Perhaps, once you have answers to these questions, you will realize that it is not only that you were not good for him but that neither was he good for you.

What do you think?

Sincerely,

Eliezer

P.S. No, there are not that many couples that come to consult with me about this matter. I guess it is due to the fact that they imagine what my position will be and they are not interested in hearing it either because they disagree with it or because they do not want to hear something that might interfere with their plans and philosophy (maybe because deep down they know that what they are doing is incorrect, like the "neurotic" I described to you the other day...)


(11)

----- Original Message -----
From: Alejandra Dominguez
To: shemtov
Sent: Wednesday, June 08, 2004
Subject: Re: Question

Hello, Eliezer.

Thank you for your mail.

And yes... that's the way it is. Diego was not for me. I couldn't, and wouldn't be able to, be happy with him.

The answers to the questions at the end of your mail are being 'processed'...

At the beginning I didn't have any clarity regarding what it means to be a Jew. I gradually learned... basically through Diego... and today I can see it with much more clarity... without my vision getting clouded by love, I think.. he-he..

I really like this exchange of ideas and feelings with you. They are enriching. When I read your article on Intermarriage, I obviously realized that you do not agree with them, based on what you wrote as well as your previous emails.

That is precisely the reason that I wrote to you, looking for deeper explanations as to why not. It is very important to me to be able to understand the depth of people thoughts and then to analyse them.

In one of those meetings on Interfaith Marriage that we used to go to, one of the coordinators mentioned that a couple made up of a Jewish man and non-Jewish woman were married and had children. He never cared about his Judaism. Today his children are 3-4 years old and today he feels that he would like to express his Jewishness and have Jewish children. At this point it is much more complicated.

In the introductory class, there was a 40 year old woman, Jewish, separated from her Catholic husband. She was there because her daughter, already an adolescent, doesn't feel Jewish and this causes her much pain. And today, like you said, it is a little late to 'untravel' some roads...

The more I got to know Diego the more I came to realize the strength of his very special feeling of identity. There was something in that being Jewish that always attracted me, the feeling of community, belonging, attachment. Like everything else, it can bring great happiness and at times it can cause lots of sorrow. But, what can I say, one does not get to choose where to be born; one is born, is educated, made and formed and it is very unlikely that one can change that which one carries deep within himself... because he would be changing his very being...

Question: Do you prepare children for their Bar/Bat Mitzvah? What does the preparation consist of? And what is the significance of that particular stage in the life of a Jew?

Cordially,

Alejandra


(12)

eshemtov@hbdl.uy replied:

Dear Alejandra,

I will patiently await the answers to the three questions... : )

In the meantime:

Since you give me the impression that you don't mind sharing with me your internal process of this whole 'situation,' I will dare the following comment.

I am curious to understand how is it that you made peace with the situation so quickly. In less than a week you came from feeling (in your first mail) that "love... is more than enough of a reason to 'rebel against the holy scriptures'" to saying (in your most recent mail) that "yes... that's the way it is. Diego was not what I needed".

It seems to be a pretty sudden change. Wouldn't you say?

I realize that it is a pretty audacious question, but I am asking it in order to better be able to analyse the phenomenon that people tend to call "love." Did you have it and then lost it? Did you perhaps never really have it? Was it a mirage? How can one tell if the love he feels towards someone is real or imagined?

Before sharing with you what I think about it, I am interested to know your personal perspective.

With regard to your question about Bar/Bat Mitzvah classes: It has been many years since I have given formal Bar Mitzvah classes. Tonight, one of my own children will be becoming a Bar Mitzvah. I understand that we have been preparing him since he was born, and even before then. Bar Mitzvah means "son of the commandments." It means that the commandments of the Torah (mitzvahs) are the points of reference that define him. Bar Mitzvah is the natural step in a life led according to a Torah-true value system. When a child reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah, it is the natural transition between the period of 'training' to the stage when he 'plays for real.'

For many people, the Bar Mitzvah celebration is a good bye party, whereby one is liberated of Judaism; for us it is a welcome party, welcoming the boy into a life of responsibility and subservience (to G‑d).

OK, at this time of night my neurons are not functioning at their full capacity, so I guess I'll sign off by wishing you good night.

Sincerely,

Eliezer


(13)

----- Original Message -----
From: Alejandra Dominguez
To: shemtov
Sent: Thursday, June 09, 2004
Subject: Re: Question

Dear Eliezer,

Over a month ago one of my brothers told me: if you really want him, fight for him. It has been over a month that I have been going through all sorts of feelings. The first two weeks I couldn't stop crying... the pain... the sudden emptiness... the pain that is caused when the person that you love and with whom you imagined living the rest of your life doesn't want to continue... Today I do not cry like I did at the beginning... today I am much more calm.. but the pain is still there. How can one fight for someone who tells you no, who for whatever reason cannot or doesn't want to share his life with you... I am also angry because of those great barriers... and no, I did not make peace with anything... but I do have one thing clear, that if Diego cannot include me in his life... I can reason and realize that that will not make me happy. A couple, a marriage is made up of two partners... it must be reciprocal, and I want a life full of love... the pain you have as a result of feeling that the other party does not want or cannot be with you is great... I guess it is a defence mechanism for me to say: Diego was not for me...

Diego is one. And that Diego also includes the fact that he is Jewish... that is why I would always say: I loved you as a Jew... it is a package deal... what hurts me is when I realize that he wanted and wants to share his life with someone that will give him what he needs. I cannot transform myself, I do not want to be that which he needs. I am a person, not a piece of play dough.

But the fact of the matter is that he told me NO.

And inside of me that is what I am left with... with that NO. That NO helped me to continue on, to reason that with a person that tells you NO, one cannot be happy.

I don't think that what I felt for him has vanished, I simply believe that I had to start little by little to store it for myself; maybe to use it for myself, to take care of myself.

All these feelings together express themselves in contradictory statements... but I want you to know that when I go to sleep, when I connect myself with the happy moments, when I connect myself with the emptiness that I feel because he is not there anymore, I feel a lot of pain and a sense of not knowing what to do with what I feel.

I cannot go through the days and continue living with the hope that he will return, that he will change, that he might say: ah noooo... I don't care about anything, I love Alejandra. (Even though deep down one always keeps a space open for those moments where one imagines that life will change). Today this seems like an impossibility. Impossible, because I now understand a bit more (thanks to you, for example) what it means for Diego to be a Jew. I think I understand him a little more.

I now have a need to understand, to comprehend... but I also have a need to see what is happening to me... it has all happened very recently and my feelings are in a blender and when they stopped getting chopped up, one comes out different and says different things than before.

I hope all this explains why my changes appear to be so drastic.

What do you think?

Cordially,

Alejandra.


(14)

eshemtov@hbdl.uy replied:

Dear Alejandra,

Thank you again for the speed and extent of your reply.

It seems to me that we must still explore and define if in this whole episode you have lost something or gained something. Probably both; you lost an impossible love, but you gained the experience that will allow you to now look for and find a possible love. Maybe that is the benefit you can reap from the 'blender' situation...

The society in which we live today tends to explain love as something that happens to you rather than something that you generate. In other words, that guy/girl dazzled me and I became lovestruck. You can also hear the term "fall out of love."

Now, how does this phenomenon called "love" work?

People generally understand love as the most important acquisition in one's life; marrying someone you 'love' means having someone who will make you feel loved, who will accompany you and make you happy. In truth, it's quite the contrary. True love is synonymous with self-abnegation. When I love someone it is not because he or she will make me happy, but because I want to make that person happy.

Love that is caused by being dazzled is very vulnerable and is subject to change. If the other person doesn't interest me any more, I "fall out of love." If, however, my love is born out of a deep commitment to make the other person happy, come hell or high water, it is practically indestructible, because it does not depend on what the other person does or does not do.

A husband should I love his wife because of who she is, not because of what or how she is...

It is an unconditional love, not subject to change. 'All Transactions are Final. No Refunds or Exchanges.'

How can a person attain such a level of commitment with another person?

Tadal!! The million dollar question.... : )

Love is a conscious decision and a deep commitment. I decide to love that person because.... He or she is my spouse, parent, sibling, child, etc.

One usually loves oneself unconditionally. Why? Because. One does not love oneself because he considers himself intelligent, beautiful, rich or strong. It works the other way around: it is because one loves oneself that he thinks that he is beautiful, intelligent, wealthy and strong.

When we are dealing with love for one's spouse, belief in Divine Providence plays an important role. If she is my soulmate, the other half of my being, I will love and cherish her, no matter what she does, because she is a part of my very self. And everything that she will do is beautiful, valuable, precious and spectacular. Not because I ignore reality, but because love defines reality.

Did you ever see the smile on a father's face when his child brings home a "piece of art" from kindergarten? The love the father has for his child makes him see the scribbling as if it were the greatest piece of art in the world. Does he love his child because the child paints like Picasso? Or does he, blinded by love, think that Picasso does not come up to the ankles of his child in artistic talent?

Of course, one cannot have this type of love for someone that is essentially different than oneself. One may, yes, have a conditional "love" that appeals to one or more specific interests (physical, emotional, intellectual)... but he will never come to love unconditionally someone—who is essentially different—who does not anymore satisfy the original specific interest. He simply "falls out of love" (due to the fact that he was never really in love with the other person, but with himself...).

That is why I say: you lost an impossible love and you gained the possibility to look for and find a possible love...

OK, the only neuron that has still remained awake is about to fall asleep, so I guess I will say good bye for now, awaiting your response.

Sincerely,

Eliezer


(15)

----- Original Message -----
From: Alejandra Dominguez
To: shemtov
Sent: Saturday, June 11, 2004
Subject: Re: Question

Dear Eliezer,

When there are so many conditions, demands, and complaints towards the other person to be or feel a certain way in order to then be able to "love" them... and yes, that is not a deep love... it is not "I love you as you are and I want to make you happy"...

I myself am surprised by the mix of emotions that one can have in a span of a few hours... yesterday I read your mail and I felt very bad... not because of what I read... but because of my own feelings... the most painful ones come knocking at night... and this morning... I can say: yes, it's finished because it was destined to fail from the very beginning.

I imagine that time will have its effect, healing the open wounds... because today (as I mentioned) I have many mixed feelings... but I think that sometimes I can go out of myself and analyse things from the outside and ask myself questions from that perspective.

Thank you very much for your mails. They helped me think.

I would like to ask you: I know that Shabbat is a day of rest, but besides the ceremony on Friday night in the synagogue... do you get together with your family at night to eat? And, what do you do on Saturday?

Cordially,

Alejandra.


(16)

eshemtov@hbdl.uy replied:

Dear Alejandra,

Life is mysterious. The important thing is to learn from everything that happens to us and continue on strengthened by the experience.

Personally, I consider this dialogue with you to be Heaven sent. It forced me to articulate and express very important ideas and concepts.

Thank you for the opportunity.

I think that many people may benefit from reading this dialogue, being that it deals with topics that interest everybody but seldom do they have clear definitions or access to them...

As far as your feelings are concerned, all I can do is give you the space and time necessary for you to recover. Regarding the intellectual aspect, you still "owe" me answers to the three questions: Where do you come from? Where are you going to? What are you here for? The objective of these questions is to try and define what it is that you DO consider yourself to be, besides just the status of "non-Jew."

Regarding your questions about Shabbat:

Shabbat is the weekly reconfirmation of the fact that G‑d created the world in six days, rested on the seventh and sanctified it for all of posterity.

Divine rest has, obviously, nothing to do with resting from strain and effort, because we cannot apply the concepts of tiredness and depletion of energy to G‑d who is infinite. The Divine rest that we talk about and commemorate implies abstention from creating. Creating is not always synonymous with effort, just like effort is not necessarily synonymous with creating. If I turn on my car's ignition, I create combustion, for example, even though it does not require that much effort. If, however, I walk 10 kilometres, I have strained myself, but have created absolutely nothing. That is why on Shabbat, the holy day of rest, it is forbidden to use the car and it is not forbidden to walk 10 kilometres within the city limits, even though the latter is a much more strenuous activity than the former.

Shabbat, then, is the day we 'unplug' from our involvement with the conquest and transformation of the world around us, and in its place we dedicate ourselves to our own personal internal, spiritual world. In the language of Jewish Mysticism: the six days of Creation express G‑d's "spoken" words, while Shabbat expresses G‑d's "thoughts."

We do not use electricity on Shabbat. As a result of that, there are many distractions that do not compete for our time and attention on Shabbat and we can calmly dedicate ourselves to strengthening our relationship with G‑d, the family, the community and ourselves, through prayer, the study of Torah, meditation, song, time with the family and with oneself.

I hope that this has answered your question.

Sincerely,

Eliezer

P.S. I am curious to know: how did you find me?


(17)

----- Original Message -----
From: Alejandra Dominguez
To: shemtov
Sent: Sunday, June 12, 2004
Subject: Re: Question

Dear Eliezer,

Tomorrow, with more clarity of mind and time I will send you my comments.

I will just tell you that about a week ago I entered Google looking for information about marriage and intermarriage, and, by chance, came across the website of the Jewish community of Uruguay. I imagine that that is where you live.

I read your article about intermarriage posted there and decided to write you.

I must continue studying now... I have only three exams left before I get my degree.

Best regards and good night.

Alejandra.


(18)

eshemtov@hbdl.uy replied:

I am quoting your last mail in itallics. My comments will appear in regular type.

Tomorrow, with more clarity of mind and time I will send you my comments.

OK. I just want to inform you that beginning with sundown tomorrow until Tuesday night we will be celebrating the holiday of Shavuot and I will not be using the computer...

I will just tell you that about a week ago I entered Google looking for information about marriage and intermarriage, and, by chance, came across the website of the Jewish community of Uruguay. I imagine that that is where you live.

By "chance"?? No such thing...

I read your article about Intermarriage posted there and decided to write you.

Good decision. : )

I must continue studying now... I have only three exams left before I get my degree.

Good luck!

Best regards and good night.

Ditto.

Alejandra.

Eliezer


(19)

----- Original Message -----
From: Alejandra Dominguez
To: shemtov
Sent: Sunday, June 12, 2004
Subject: Re: Question

Dear Eliezer,

What a question! How do I define myself besides being a non-Jew? Truthfully, I never before thought of myself in terms of being a non-Jew (that is, until I met Diego). Thinking in such terms is like a negation, no? It elevates the Jewish Identity and leaves the others in the dust...

But in fact, wow, it is difficult to think about and define one's essence. I think that my essence and identity is a mix of many things... things that I was born with, that I was "nurtured," that were taught to me, that were transmitted through words, actions or omissions... and so many others that I myself chose later on in life, then rejected and ran away from in order to choose new ones that I liked, that attracted me and that I felt comfortable with...

My essence has to do with the deepest part of my being... with the values that I have, how I look at the world and how I live... and how I feel... but as far as a religious identity is concerned.. (which is also part of one's being, one can identify it analytically) I do not have it clear... a month ago I thought... how great it would be to be able to feel the faith... that way I would be able to pray and think that there is a reason why G‑d is taking Diego away from me and I thought that having that faith would help in moments such as these...

I suppose that the strength comes from the unconditional love that one has for oneself... and from the great shake-ups... I feel that I have been shaken up very badly... and it is in moments such as these when one doesn't know, at least I don't, where to grab on to!

I, too, thank you for the opportunity of this dialogue. Words are always very helpful.

Cordially,

Alejandra


(20)

eshemtov@hbdl.uy replied:

Dear Alejandra,

Now that you mention it, yes, it's does sound a bit strange to ask "What are you, besides being a non-Jew?" But the question was asked after pointing out that your incompatibility with Diego was a result of the fact that he is Jewish, which makes him essentially different than you. Now, if his essence is different than yours, it follows to say that your essence must have a definition (besides just defining it as 'not like his'), that makes you essentially incompatible with him.

In other words, my question was asked precisely in order to try and discover a deeper and more independent dimension in your definition of your identity.

If I understood your answer correctly, what you are saying is this: I do not have a defined essence. I am a conglomerate of ideas, values, sensations, desires, objectives, satisfactions, frustrations, etc. I change and grow according to circumstances. I am a circumstantial being; not an essential one. [In Spanish there is a difference between 'Soy' and 'Estoy', both meaning 'I am', the former referring to essential conditions, the latter to circumstantial ones. She writes in the original: No 'soy'; 'estoy'. Trans.]

Did I understand correctly what you wanted to say?

If that is what you wanted to say, I ask you: Is it true that we're merely circumstantial beings? Is it true that we have no essential reason for being?

Is it true that we are born into this world by accident and that we pass on from this world as a result of some other accident?

Are you sure that this is true? Or is that you are not sure that it is not this way?

What are the other alternatives?

I don't know if these questions will mean anything to you or not, so I will wait for your reply.

Sincerely,

Eliezer


(21)

----- Original Message -----
From: Alejandra Dominguez
To: shemtov
Sent: Monday, June 20, 2004
Subject: Re: Question

Dear Eliezer,

How are you doing?

First of all, I would like to tell you that I read your mail several times during the past few days and I did not reply because I was thinking about the answers... (especially to some of the questions)

Regarding the issue of essential/circumstantial being... I firmly believe that I am an essential person, that I have an essence... and contrary to what I may have said earlier, I judge and feel circumstances according to my essence and according to who I am... according to my deepest feelings.

I do not consider myself to be an accident... Neither do I know if I have a specific mission to accomplish in this life... I am not sure about that... I do not know if there is a G‑d or if there is a life after the one on earth... I don't know... I doubt it... About three weeks ago my Grandmother passed away... and it is the first close death that I have experienced... and one... at least I do ... asks oneself at a moment like this what is life and what are we here for? I do not know...

I suppose that today, in retrospect, I can say that Diego's essence and mine were incompatible... as a result of all that we have been discussing in our dialogue... and because of what I myself am feeling as time goes on.

I still have ringing in my head your words "possible love"... I have the hope and know that I will find that love... and when I will eventually find it, I will notify you by email.

And when I will find myself, and find answers to some of the questions (that is, if you want me to) I will also let you know.

Again, I am very happy to have had this dialogue and to continue it with you. I don't know why, but it occurred to me to send you a photo of Diego and me... so that you know the faces of the personalities of this dialogue... It is an old photo...

Thanks, again.

Cordially,

Alejandra


(22)

eshemtov@hbdl.uy replied:

Dear Alejandra,

Thank you for your mail and photo.

I will let you have a breather in order to allow you to think about the pending questions...

I am sorry about your grandmother... It must be difficult to 'process' the death of your grandmother while at the same time processing your own personal situation. On the other hand, perhaps the two events 'complement' one another and help put things into their proper perspective...

When you reach any conclusions, or if you want to explore any other topic, please feel free to contact me...

Sincerely,

Eliezer

P.S. I think that the concepts analysed and developed in our dialogue can be useful to many others. Would you mind if I publish it, changing your names in order to protect your privacy?


(23)

----- Original Message -----
From: Alejandra Dominguez
To: shemtov
Sent: Wednesday, June 21, 2004
Subject: Re: Question

Dear Eliezer,

The sorrows are different as well as the pains. Somehow one sorrow helped to contextualize the other, which does mean to say that it has diminished. As time goes on it assumes a different shape but the wounds and scars have not yet healed. Time and I myself will help.

Thank you very much for this dialogue. I am happy that I had it. It would not bother me if you were to publish it somewhere and if it is helpful to someone, somehow, they are welcome to it. Every experience is different, mine just happens to be a frustrated one. I would not expect it to serve as an example to discourage any interfaith couple, but yes as a catalyst to stop and think about certain things...

If you do publish it anywhere (obviously using pseudonyms) I would like to ask that you tell me where it has been published.

These days I have been a bit quiet. When I reach any conclusions or if I have anything to say, I will surely send it to you.

Cordial regards and, again, thank you.

Alejandra