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Dear Rebecca . . .

Dear Rebecca . . .

A Letter on Intermarriage

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Dear Rebecca,

I know that when we were growing up, I wasn’t such a good sister to you. Most days, I caused you to cry in one way or another. You tried to spend time with me, and instead of being a friend to you, I would yell, “Leave me alone!” Looking back, I realize that it must have been very painful for you to be despised with such passion by one of the people you most looked up to in the whole world, your older sister.

I would still like to ask for your forgivenessI am not a person who has so many big regrets in life. But I regret with all my heart the way I treated you for so many years. The way I acted when we were younger is, I believe, the worst thing I have ever done.

Both of us have been grownups for many years now. Today, I am married with several children, and you are already a professor. It is 20 years too late. But I would still like to ask for your forgiveness. I wish there was a way to turn back the clock and redo what was.

In recent years, our blossoming friendship has been a huge blessing in my life. It’s true that we live on opposite sides of the country, and neither of us is the best correspondent. But when we are together, I feel happy in your company and hope that you feel happy in mine as well. I hope that our newfound relationship has made up, at least in part, for the way I treated you.

In light of our past difficulties, it is awkward for me to get to the point of this letter. I so do not want to criticize you, as I did far too often when we were children. I hope that you will understand that the following paragraphs come from the opposite pole of my heart altogether. The following words, as painful as they might be for you to hear, are coming from a place of love. I wish that I did not have to say anything, but I feel that I have no choice.

I would like to talk with you about Mike.

You and Mike, in most ways, appear to be a match made in Heaven. You are both brilliant, yet so effortlessly humble that people who meet you outside of the workplace would never have any idea. You are both young and rising stars at your respective universities, yet impeccably kind-hearted and gentle. You are both so happy together, yet always able as a couple to make others comfortable in your presence in your own quiet and understated way.

I think you know that I like Mike a great deal. I really do. I think he is a wonderful person. I would be thrilled to have him as a brother-in-law . . . except for one thing.

Your very existence is a testament to their sacrificesRebecca, I know that being a Jew is important to you. I know that you travel across the country every year to attend the family seder on Passover. I know that when you were younger, your beloved Jewish summer camp pushed you to develop a sincere and profound connection with the Jewish people. I know that you were a leader of the Jewish community at your college, organizing events and getting people excited about being Jewish, even when most of your fellow Jewish students were getting excited about everything but.

I was recently thinking about the fact that the only reason either of us is Jewish today is thanks to the courage and determination of our ancestors who, for 3,700 years, withstood persecution, abuse and threats of death so that one day they would have a Jewish great-great-great-granddaughter named Rebecca. Your very existence is a testament to their sacrifices, to their devotion to the Torah, to their intense prayers that their descendants would stay loyal to Judaism.

You, Rebecca, are the fulfillment of all their dreams. A Jewish descendant! A Jewish descendant with a strong Jewish identity, no less! You, Rebecca, are the link in the chain between your ancestors and your descendants. You are the link in the chain between our family’s past and our family’s future.

According to statistics, if you marry Mike, there is only a one in 10 chance that your children will even identify as Jews. If you marry Mike, there is almost no chance that your grandchildren will be Jewish.

If you marry Mike, the dreams of thousands of our ancestors will die on your wedding day.

Over the past few years, you have been so busy with your studies, and now your career, that Judaism has been relegated more and more to the margins of your life. At this stage in your life, it might seem that you don’t have the time or feel the need to turn your positive feelings towards Judaism into actual observance on an ongoing basis.

But when you marry and become a mother, with G‑d’s help, I think that once again, you will want Judaism to play a central role in your life and the life of your family. You will want to raise your children in a Jewish home. You will want to raise your children, as Mom and Dad raised you, with Hebrew school and Jewish camp and the holidays.

I want to cry tears of happiness at your chuppahTens of thousands of Jews have married non-Jews with similar worthy intentions, only to realize when it is already too late that raising a Jewish family with a non-Jewish partner is a near impossibility.

You are my sister. I want to dance at your wedding. I want my daughters to be your flower girls. I want to cry tears of happiness at your chuppah.

I love you. I admire and am very fond of Mike. But if you marry him, as difficult as it will be for me as well as for you, I will not be able to attend your wedding. I could not attend your wedding because, as Jews, what would happen on your wedding day would not be a happy event. It would be a tragedy of historic proportions.

I wish that this was not a letter that I had to write. I wish that I could just keep on smiling and acting as though everything is all right, like everybody else in our family. But I feel that, as painful as this is, because I care about you as much as I do, I must tell you the truth.

With love,

Your sister

By Anonymous
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Anonymous Glenwood Springs December 18, 2014

Continuation of the punishment of intermarraige. As i said before my son grew up without a Jewish father to guide him I had to discipline and give him Jewish values. I was a mom dad which was very straining. My non Jewish x who lived in Texas and who promised that he would let my boy be raised Jewish had no interest in Judaism . and he even celebrated Christmas with my son in Texas with his x girlfriend. I was horrified and had to explain to my son that we are not idolitras and we dont worship Chrismas trees and other symbols of chistianity. He understood. I couldn't even afford to barmitzva him because I worked 2 jobs to raise him. Today he doesnt believe in any religious or cultural groupl He is an aithiest even though I raised him differently. He says all religions say they are right. Oh boy what I wouldn't give to
remarry a jewish man and let him really have a zedi that would love and help him understand the beauty of the Jewish people whe they worship, love their children, work to support their family. Help teach torah. Reply

Jon Tulsa January 21, 2014

To anonymous Jewish concern with Jewish survival is far from a concern for "ethnic purity".

I married a convert. So did my brother. So did my brother's daughter. My child asked, "What fraction Jewish am I?" I said, "You are 100% Jewish." Which he is.

He is not upholding an "ethnicity" or a bloodline. He is maintaining a loyalty to those who stood at Sinai and said, "We will do and we will listen."

He keeps kosher. He keeps Shabbos. He keeps the festivals. So do my brother and his children.

And, of course, the comparison you made is odious. None of us goes about rounding up members of other groups for slaughter. We mind our own business and quietly preserve our own keeping of Torah mitzvos, without dictating what others should do or believe.

Save your censure for those who knock on our doors with the false claim that unless we abandon Torah and get "saved" by THEIR beliefs, we will go straight to "hell" for all eternity.

Reply

Anonymous Philadelphia January 19, 2014

All this importance placed on ethnic purity is an insult to the eleven million victims of a similar obsession just 70 years ago. Reply

Rob DC June 20, 2013

There is only one reason for a Jew to marry a Jew Because Torah says so, in Deut. 7:3. There is no other reason. It is an explicit religious commandment. Among the least ambiguous of commandments.

Torah is the sine qua non of Judaism. Without Torah, there is no Judaism. Not even the "social justice" attributed to and sometimes substituted for Judaism would exist if not for Torah. Anybody can be a good person and do social justice without Torah, but that is not enough to be Jewish. A Jew does social justice with Torah, because of Torah, otherwise, he's not doing it Jewishly.

Judiasm involves sanctification... elevating everything, people, actions, even preparation and consumption of food, and yes, MARRIAGE, so Jews can be closer to G-d and distinct from non-Jews, and that in turn elevates Judaism further as something unique, special and valuable.

So my Jewish friends... marry only Jews. Otherwise, why be Jewish? A difference (between Jews and non-Jews) that makes no difference is no difference at all. Reply

Leah Atlanta March 11, 2013

I married a convert And there were still difficulties.
My mother-in-law, rest her soul, was a tolerant and loving woman. She tried to provide kosher food for us, and she located a synagogue nearby where we could worship on Shabbos. However, she also criticized me for keeping kosher. She asked me to blow out the Shabbos candles so that we could all go out for ice cream. Mind you, she was a loving tolerant woman. She simply was unable to understand that Jewish observance is spiritual, that it is an expression of love for Gd, and that it matters.

I realize that many readers here also do not understand these things, and I can't argue with them. We reared our child Jewish and he became more observant than we were. He and his wife are rearing their children to love Jewish observance. The older one especially requested to be allowed to wear a tallit katan--something I would never have imagined. It's so cute! But it does scare me that my child wears his kippah to work. Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles March 10, 2013

Sounds like a big bully still!! She's such a big bully still!!! I hope that Rebecca marries who she loves not who her sister wants!!! Marriage is a holy covenant made between two people and G-d not 4 you overbearing sister! Stay home! Sorry but in my family there have been several interfaith marriages and they are still happily married! Reply

David Cohen February 6, 2013

Its all about control Rebecca's sister admittedly bullied her when she was young. Now that they are adults, Rebecca's sister tries to manipulate her with guilt. The sister's tactics may have become more refined, but she is still the same domineering, self-serving person she was when she was a child. After all these years she has not developed any sense of empathy at all, though she doe seem to be able to fake it.

I hope that Rebecca gets as far away from this woman as possible. Reply

Just A Thought Unknown via chabadalexandria.org December 28, 2012

"Do unto others as you would have done to you." If the world began with Adam and Eve and yet today there are billions of persons and countless religious sects that preach various systems of belief, one ideal for some being that marriage should take place within its own sect, this conversation trail on intermarriage portrays human beings alienating one another. The human race is derived from one origin, and yet all are unique.

Everything is as it should be.

It would seems that, conceivably, acceptance and genuine love for every living thing is like common sense: not so common. Perhaps in the future the human race can evolve to the point of fulfilling G-d's will, whatever that may be in His eyes, as opposed to self-righteously claiming it accurately interprets His word, something the human race is not privy to. Reply

Anonymous San Diego, CA March 2, 2012

Seriously? If I recieved this letter from my sister I would consider it a sealing of the separation between us. This is just plain ugly. Reply

Dr. Rosenbaum los angeles, CA June 10, 2011

she is an overbearing hypocrite
this lady is a hypocrite, apologizing for criticizing everything about her sister and then claiming this criticism comes from the other side of her heart

I think this lady has her own hang ups and probably unhappily married with a jewish guy and trying to force that same unhappiness onto her sister, and then guilt her with the fact she is not coming to her wedding

i think this woman sounds like a terrible person

in this case the kids will still be jewish, what is the big deal?? let's all marry our cousins, and keep the pure judaism alive!

does anyone realize the word judaism is made up?? and a misnormer? what does it even mean to be a jew is the queston that needs to be answered

is it because we believe in god?

this whole marry jewish thing has yet to be answered to me adequately

Reply

Leah NYC, USA June 7, 2011

Dear Shulamit Your apology is wholeheartedly appreciated. It is always hard to communicate the wholeness of our compassion and understanding for each other on the internet. Reply

Shulamit Melbourne, Australia June 6, 2011

Dear Leah I apologize if I came across as bigoted.I was only trying to to get across what the halacha (Jewish Law) says about who is a Jew and about conversion. A Gentile who is righteous is as precious to Hashem as the righteous Jew.I have a lot of admiration for Gerim (converts) such as Leanne and Yonatan.I can see that they have converted because of a genuine love for Judaism, not merely because they want to marry a Jewish partner.It is a big honour to have them in our midst. Reply

Leanne Commack, NY June 2, 2011

Answering a few things that were said to me! Yehonatan, You are completely right, anyone who is raised with religious uncertainty is bound to question their religious beliefs at one point or another (for example, me!)
Alex, I understand what you are saying about 11% but if for one reason or another, you children decide to marry an orthodox person, they will need to go through another conversion. That was the only point I was trying to make, so I apologize if that was not clear. Also, thank you for apologizing, I respect and appreciate you apologizing for what was said previously. Also, I know its not the 1800's anymore, but I did grow up with intermarried parents, so I understand that hardships you children must be going through. Changing ones identity to suite someone else's needs can be pretty damaging.
Leah, I do not really know how to answer your question, or what you are trying to ask me. I know that in my future, when i have children, my conversion certificate will need to be shown in order for them to attend school. Reply

Leah NYC, USA June 1, 2011

Dear Yehonatan I'm glad the Batei Din in London treated you as they did. That is 90% of what I've been arguing for. Heck, 99%.

The attitude of your Beit Din seems a far cry from Shulamit's attitude:

"There is no such thing as being "half-Jewish"...You will be doing your children a favour if stop trying to raise them as Jews."

According to her, your friend's education, the inner place from where he made his religious decisions, his feeling of connection to the Jewish people (despite the technical status of his birth), counted for nothing. Everything a ger's education is supposed to support and inspire, she denied about his own.

I agree with this: "one has to be realistic... their identity [will be] questioned." The questions really always do come when the Jewish community entered is not culturally diverse.

It just gets my goat when I perceive cultural bigotry masquerading as religious discernment. Shulamit (inadvertently?) communicated that she just didn't want 'people like that' in her midst. Reply

Yehonatan London, UK May 29, 2011

Dear Leah Ok, let me let the cat out of the bag, I was born to Christian parents, who sent me to a Jewish day school in the town where I grew up. I learnt Hebrew, the Jewish Holidays, we had all the Chagim off, etc. When I decided to look into Judaism, I came from a stronger position then someone who read a book and thought this is nice. The Orthodox Batei Din here in London do take this into consideration, and will tailor the conversion program according to the knowledge of the candidate (I have a friend in Alex's kid's situation who went through one of the toughest Orthodox Beth Din conversions in the world, and he got through in 6 months). My point is, and will remain that one has to be realistic about the fact that children who are born to mothers who are not held to be halachically Jewish by the Orthodox world will face problems when their identity is questioned. Reply

Leah NYC, USA May 26, 2011

Dear Yehonatan But Yehonatan, that is exactly it. Someone whose only Jewish parent raises them as a non-Jew or both is going to be culturally closer to the local Gentile culture than the local Jewish one.

That being said, if one is raised as Jew in the local Jewish culture (as Alex's kids are!) receiving a formal Jewish education, then the situation is quite different. And deserves recognition of such.

If you truly believe in your heart of hearts that a Jewish eduction makes no difference in the identity of your children or others I think you have some soul (and statistical) searching to do. Reply

Alex Charleston, South Carolina May 24, 2011

Non-Orthodox converts & marriage Leanne, I applaud your commitment to Judaism. I do want to point out one thing: You mentioned, "those of a conservative conversion face problems later in life, especially when they are trying to get married."

According to jcpa.org, approximately 11% of American Jews define themselves as Orthodox.

Statistically speaking, almost 9 out of 10 American Jews are not Orthodox, and are highly unlikely to reject a Conservative convert. Reply

Alex Charleston, South Carolina May 24, 2011

Re: Be Respectful Leanne, your correction is well taken. When I first came across this discussion, it made me very angry, for the reasons Leah has expressed so eloquently. With the benefit of a little time to reflect, I admit that my initial post was excessively confrontational.

The fact of the matter is that we are not living in 1800 anymore. Intermarriage is not the exception, it is the norm. The Jewish community can either have a positive, welcoming attitude, and encourage intermarried families to explore and deepen their Jewishness (this is the approach normally taken by Chabad emissaries), or they can take the approach reflected on this forum, which I will paraphrase as, "Unless you're willing to do an ultra-Orthodox conversion and change your whole life, don't even bother trying."

There are two approaches to preserving the Jewish people:

Rejecting non-Orthodox converts, intermarried families, and their children.

or

Welcoming those same people.

We just disagree on which approach is right. Reply

Yehonatan London, UK May 24, 2011

Dear Leah Leah, your analogy of going from Adelaide to Perth to go to Melbourne misses the point, a better analogy would be that the Gentile with no Jewish parents is in San Fran and the one with a Jewish dad is in Seattle. That being said, the one in Seattle is closer to NYC, but s/he is still on the other side of America, in order to get to NYC s/he has to cross America. Sure his/her journey will not be as long as someone from San Fran, but they still need to be realistic about the fact that they are the other side of America. Once that happens they will be able to start the journey across. I think this is what Shulamit is trying to say. Not that they have to regress in their spirituality, but be honest with themselves so that they can move forward and become the Jews they were destined to be.

I know a guy who didn't come from 'pure' stock, and he had to go through gerut. He feels the stronger for it, and has been warmly welcomed into the community, as should all Jews. Reply

Leah NYC, USA May 23, 2011

To Leanne Leanne, I am glad to know you have found a Jewish community that welcomed you and helped you to come as far are you have. I doubt that Alex has been so lucky.

What are your thoughts on communities who use halachic struggles as a proxy for cultural ones? I mean those who exclude the children of intermarriage not because they are not as committed as they 'should' be but because they seem too culturally different and therefore are treated with mistrust and ultimately rejected? Reply

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