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?
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
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.