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The Non-Jewish Girl in the Jewish Youth Group

The Non-Jewish Girl in the Jewish Youth Group

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My friend Betsy and I have been best friends since kindergarten. She is wonderful—funny, kind, supportive, and would give me the shirt off her back. My family is Jewish; Betsy’s is not.

Growing up around the corner from each other, Betsy and I were honorary members of each other’s families. Betsy joined us for Passover Seders and for my bat mitzvah, and even went to templeMy family is Jewish; Betsy’s is not services with us a few times. She felt comfortable around our family, and with Jewish rituals and ceremonies.

When I was in high school, I joined the temple’s youth group. We had regular meetings and all kinds of social activities. About once a month, we did something with several of the other youth groups in our region. There were hay rides and cruises around the local marina, social-action activities and pancake breakfasts. (Now that I’ve become religiously observant, I’m thankful that my children participate in social activities with kids of the same gender and don’t have to deal with boy-girl politics. But in my temple growing up, the norms were quite different.)

The activities were fun, and I wanted to share the fun with Betsy. I lobbied the youth group advisor to let Betsy come along. The advisor was adamantly opposed; he explained that lots of groups are just for a certain clientele. They didn’t let girls join the Boy Scouts. There were no Jews in the Mormon youth group. That’s just the way it was.

Well, what if the parents said it was okay?

No.

Of course, “no” does not work for teenagers. I continued to needle the poor man. Finally, he told me that the idea of a Jewish youth group is for Jewish kids to get together. The idea is to promote a sense of community, where we enjoy each other’s company. Teens are at the age when many start dating, and having non-Jews in the group could, of course, lead to interfaith dating. And that could lead to interfaith marriage.

“But Betsy never dated anyone!” I protested. “She just wants to be with her girlfriends at these things!”

The advisor didn’t budge. Once or twice, Betsy did sneak in, when the advisor wasn’t there. When she did, she did not meet a romantic interest.

But Betsy did go Israeli folk-dancing with me. There was no supervision there. A friend who taught at a local folk-dance club would come around and pick a bunch of us up, and deliver us to the evening fun.

Betsy and I went off to different colleges, and I went to Israeli folk-dancing at mine, she at hers. After college, she continued dancing, and met her husband at a folk-dance evening.

I had a lot of mixed feelings when they got serious. On the one hand, I wanted Betsy to be happy. But on the other hand, I did not want to encourage her to marry a Jewish man. Had Betsy been Jewish, I would have discouraged her from dating a non-Jew. But she was the non-Jew. Maybe, I thought, I should be discouraging her boyfriend from getting serious with her. But I didn’t really know him!

By the time I got around toI had a lot of mixed feelings when they got serious clarifying my values—I did not want to support an intermarriage, no matter how great the couple seemed to be, because I knew that G‑d wanted Jews to marry Jews—it was too late. So I held my peace.

Betsy’s fiancé wanted her to convert, but she wasn’t sure how she felt about the existence of G‑d. She felt that although she loved all things Jewish, she would be dishonest to claim to be a believer when she was not. I give her credit for her integrity; Jewish conversion is quite an undertaking, and converting solely for the sake of marriage wouldn’t have been authentic.

My mother and I had a dollar bet on Betsy’s converting when she had children. My mother was certain Betsy would come around. My mom lost that bet.

Betsy and her husband tried to provide their two children with a feeling of a connection to Jewish traditions and the Jewish community. It was Betsy who schlepped the kids to midweek Hebrew lessons, Sunday school, and later to bar and bat mitzvah lessons. They became active members of an egalitarian temple, where Betsy joined various committees and helped run the Purim carnival. Although Betsy’s husband had wanted to join a more traditional synagogue—like the one he grew up in—his non-Jewish wife was not welcome, which offended him, though not her.

When Betsy’s daughter was about 4 years old, Betsy’s mother, a frequent visitor to their home, was there. The daughter said something to her grandma about being Jewish, and Betsy’s mother said: “Well, actually, sweetheart, I’m not Jewish.”

The daughter’s eyes got wide. “But . . . but,” she stuttered, “but Mommy is Jewish!” Betsy took her daughter in her arms. “Actually, honey, I’m not Jewish either.”

Her daughter pulled away. “You are too Jewish! You are too Jewish!” she demanded. She pounded the coffee table, then hid in her room for a long time.

The tragedy of the situation was that Betsy’s children were not Jewish either, since one’s Jewishness is dependent on the mother. But they weren’t given that message.

Now Betsy’s children are grown and out of the house. Her husband continues as a stalwart of the temple. He helps to lead Shabbat services, and reads regularly from the Torah. Betsy attends weekly Torah classes.

Their two children have drifted away from temple affiliation. The daughter married a boy who was not Jewish. He also has a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. He has no interest in Judaism.

Betsy’s daughter mentioned to her parents that if she and her husband would have a son, she didn’t think they would give him a brit milah, a ritual circumcision. Betsy’s husband was mortified, although there really was no reason to give a non-Jewish child a brit milah.

While Betsy and her husband are only one couple—and not necessarily representative of what alwaysTheir two children have drifted away happens—when I think of their bittersweet life story, I’m reminded of the possible repercussions and dangers of interfaith dating.

Betsy is still my very best friend, and I am so thankful that she is in my life. She feels happy the way things turned out for her family. I think her husband is still hoping that eventually his children will come to treasure the Jewish heritage he holds so dear.

In the meantime, he keeps busy practicing his Torah reading and leading Torah services. In these things, he finds meaning.

By Michal Kay
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Anonymous April 19, 2017

Don't chase your children away Thanks for sharing this story. I have been married for 20 years and have 2 children. My wife is not jewish, and I am. She was not religious growing up and my family was conservative. My family did not accept her. When she expressed that she wanted to convert to my family the answer was "you cannot convert your blood" "your blood hasn't endured the life we have" and continued to express their disapproval. Nothing was stopping us, and my family disowned me as their Rabbi suggested. It was the worst time of my life and I suffered a deep depression and nearly committed suicide. But my fiance stood by me and supported me as did her family. My fam eventually mended things and got back.I can write a book abut this, but the key is that I was heartbroken that my family's faith would chase me away. It didnt work, and we celebrate holidays as we did before. my children are jewish at heart, but truly dont have a religion. I just beg everyone not chase their children away. compromise and love Reply

reuven DC April 19, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

This is the exact reason that people should teach their children early. Your wife's conversion should have happened before you married. It's a sad situation, but your family did exactly what they were supposed to do.

There is no "compromise" on this. The mother of a child must be jewish, or the children are not.

If you want to see the results of intermarriage, just look at the Pew Research surveys on Jewish life in the US. Within 2-3 generations, there won't be any more non-Orthodox.

Teach your children to marry jewish and to be accepting of "jews by choice" - however, a person who converts should be sincere in the desire to be jewish, whether or not the result is a marriage. Too many people have converted merely to marry and the result has been disastrous for the children. THis is likely why your family had that reaction. Reply

K Toronto April 19, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Thank you for sharing your heart wrenching story.

You are so right!! .. "I just beg everyone not to chase their children away, compromise and Love". Reply

Sheri Mission Viejo August 3, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

(I hope you don't mind me replying as I'm not a Jew.)
As racist and discriminatory as "you cannot convert your blood" sounds, I get it. Such a history as the Jews have had, surviving through the years and outlasting many civilizations, I believe there is something very unique going on between G-d and his people.
I was married to an "ethnically" Jewish man for 17 years. When he asked me to marry him he also asked me to convert. I wasn't particularity religious, so I had an open mind. After taking classes and reading such books as 9 Questions by Prager, I gained a sincere respect and desire to become involved with at least Reform Judaism. My husband didn't want anything to do with it and I couldn't even ask my mother in law for help because she wasn't interested, and didn't even know who Abraham was!
My conversion I believe was the assurance of my not being "Christian". He and his parents see them as the enemy. In the end, I divorced and now happily married to a fellow gentile. Reply

Anonymous August 4, 2017
in response to reuven:

"but your family did exactly what they were supposed to do."


disowning someone is not what any family is supposed to do. it's a shame you feel that way. Reply

reuven August 10, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

The survival of the Jewish people is more important than me or anyone in my family. Ignoring the reality of intermarriage and what it has done is why there will be no reform or conservative Jews in a generation or two.

Intermarriage has done more to eradicate Jews than Hitler could ever dream of doing.

My parents made it very clear to me even when I was a very young child. Be friends with everyone. Be fair with everyone. But when it comes to marrying and having children, you must marry someone who is Jewish. It doesn't matter if they were born that way or if they become Jewish, but they must be Jewish before you marry them.

If people really value their Judaism then they want Jews and Judaism to survive. The way to do that is to ensure their children marry Jewish. Reply

Anonymous November 8, 2016

if Betsy were accepted into the youth group, perhaps she would have become a Jew in adulthood. or maybe she wouldn't. who knows. no one will ever know now, that's for sure. Reply

Anonymous April 19, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

you miss the point. If Betsey had been accepted into the youth group, perhaps she would have lured one of the jewish boys to marry her without converting.

There are too many "perhaps" involved. The purpose of a jewish youth group is for Jewish kids to be around other jewish kids. Not to recruit non-jews. Reply

Anonymous August 4, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

i'm well aware that Jewish youth groups are for Jews. i am Jewish myself. furthermore, not everyone who participates in Jewish youth groups ends up marrying within the youth group. Reply

Anonymous DC September 12, 2016

Intermarriage is the issue. People posting things like "make conversions easier" don't get the point. The girl does not want to convert. The youth group is a mixed girl/boy group and the WHOLE POINT of jewish youth groups is for jewish kids to meet other jewish kids so they grow up and marry jewish.

IF she wants to convert, fine, go find a rabbi, but that's not the point here.

The point about boy scouts is a good one. Boy scouts is not a jewish organization and by design, even if a troop is primarily jewish, they can't exclude non-jewish members.

A jewish youth group run by a synagogue or by a jewish organization can and does by virtue of it's mission -- to allow those jewish a place to meet other jews. Reply

Richard Florida September 11, 2016

The paths taken Joan and Ezra make a point that I value. Within Judaism there are obviously sects that follow different paths. In addition, there are other religions that believe in G-d but have different paths. I prefer certain modes of prayer; others prefer their modes. It certainly doesn't make my way any more right than others. Who can claim that one is superior as long as they all lead to a better world where all G-d and nature's creations are respected and work to repair the world? Reply

Ezra Revere, ma September 10, 2016

We should be more accepting of outsiders as outsiders have accepted us Why not perform conversions more readily in such cases. We come off as arrogant, if we do not readily accept others that show love to members of our faith. Reply

Anonymous April 19, 2017
in response to Ezra:

Of course we come across as arrogant. In today's world, you are a hateful person if you don't respect someone's desire to change their sex or race at will. The world is mad. Next, you're hateful because you don't respect someone's desire to be a rabbit or a fish. It's coming. Reply

Joan September 9, 2016

Final thoughts.... Just because someone isn't or doesn't follow the Jewish faith, does not mean they don't believe in G-D! I believe in G-D, how Jewish or not I am considered by those who follow the Jewish faith is another matter. It sounds from comments that if you don't follow Judaism, you don't believe in G-D! How arrogant is that to my heart and mind. I am certain in my heart, G-D loves me just as I am. Shalom! Reply

Jim MacGregor Springfield, VA September 9, 2016

Gee, What's the Fuss? I grew up in a mostly Jewish neighborhood (mostly refugees from war) on the West Side of Manhattan. I was the only non-Jew in my Boy Scout troop whose adult leaders cared about all of us and stayed in contact with our parents. We boys knew that we differed in religion, but it never posed an issue or problem. Maybe my experience is no longer the norm? Reply

izzyb NJ September 9, 2016

The father did not value judaism, why will the children? It's very sad. The father didn't value his jewishness enough to pass it on to his children, and now he's clearly deluded and guilt-ridden over it. Why is he so concerned about being Jewish when he married someone who can't even bring herself to accept G-d? What a mess! Reply

Anonymous Denver September 7, 2016

A sad story I have mixed feelings about this story and my heart is sad for the husband and the children of this family. Maybe because I am Non-Jewish and I wish with my whole heart and soul that I was Jewish. I guess some things are just meant to be. Reply

Sheldon Steinlauf September 7, 2016

The author's friend is living in a fairy tale existence. The husband surly knew what he was getting into. He can't have it both ways. Reply

Richard Fl. September 6, 2016

You have shared a beautiful story. Interfaith marriage may be difficult for some, but I never found it to be a challenge. My wife and I just kept open minds while honoring our and each other's faiths. There is much to learn from other cultures and paths. It truly broadened my knowledge and respect for others and their traditions. Why should I have limited myself? Why should we live in self-defined ghettos? Certainly my ways are not right for everyone. Just see how you two girls learned so much from each other. That's what breaks down barriers of distrust and hate. Reply

farah sajid Pakistan September 6, 2016

Hashem bless this couple. Reply

inge reisinger September 6, 2016

you know when moshiach is here everything will be explained and then you both get a big big smile on your face Reply

Dr. Wm C Goetz Kentucky September 6, 2016

A missed opportunity I am amazed that an opportunity to bring a soul to G_d was missed because of bigotry. Yes, bigotry!
The girl was shunned by the Jewish community and not embraced as a person looking for a religious home; a belief system. A missed opportunity to extend the Jewish faith to a person that wanted to be included and convinced of G_d.
Judaism can NOT be exclusive if it to be understood, appreciated, and respected.
Is there sin here? YES, the sin of being exclusive and not inclusive, the sin of NOT spreading the word and traditions of Torah, and the most grievous sin; the sin of arrogance and indifference.
A missed opportunity that could have changed a life FOREVER. Reply

Joan NYC, NY September 5, 2016

The product of Intermarriages and my role in the big plan..... My Jewish grandfather married a Irish Roman Catholic in 1925. To say this marriage caused a roar within both families was a understatement. My mom married a Lutheran Protestant. I and my siblings in turn were raised Catholic. (Long story) On some level I feel a strong pull to explore my (distant) heritage. I'm not sure how Jewish I am (if at all!) considering everything but I enjoy reading The Jewish Woman. I am sure there are many who are in a similar position as I am. Shalom! Reply

K. Toronto September 5, 2016

i feel that what we are given about Betsy's point of view is actually very commendable to her character. Exceptional human being. What/who is completely a disbeliever? Often i think that some careful interaction with non-jews can be very much a great learning experience. Can you live your life in a 'jew-bubble'? What learnings are you giving up by all this 'educational streaming'? Every young man or woman who graduates from Harvard doesn't get the 100K job ...

Look to the best ... ask what G-d has to show you about what you could learn: the choice to choose to be the 'chosen people'. Reply

S Uk September 5, 2016

drawn with love We are warned about our eye's and how they affect the heart. Reading the Torah draws us close to HaShem. However, your friends marriage has lasted, even though it is not a fully Jewish observant marriage. With time, patience and love all will be as HaShem wills. May your friends continue to have a successful marriage despite their challenges. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn September 4, 2016

Similar story Back in the 1980's in the South, my friend and I started a Jewish singles group. It was a terrific idea! Couples actually met and married. One incident that I remember was that someone invited a non Jewish girl and she ended up marrying a nice Jewish guy. Reply

Anonymous September 4, 2016

I can't help but wonder, if all those involved had a been a little more encouraging, and excepting, to a young girl.She could have grow up with a strong believe in Hashem. And embraced the source of life. Torah! Reply

Gavriel G. Bexley September 4, 2016

Hello to anyone that reads this it's true interfaith relationships are hard. My best friend was married to someone who is non-jewish and actually dated a few non-jewish young ladies. They have several beautiful non-jewish children, and although he has been divorced at least a decade finding someone jewish to willing accept non-jewish children maybe tough? But only Hashem knows the rest of the outcome for him.
So it turns out that what our parents and grandparents tell us is true and isn't meant to be mean. "Jews should marry Jews"
Thank you Michal for this article it brings home an amazing reality.
Gavi Reply

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