But it is hard for Ben to take the long view.
October 29, 2013 7:55 AM   Subscribe

I Married A Jew. Published January 1, 1939 in the Atlantic.
posted by prefpara (86 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you are the type of person who automatically doesn't read the comments on the Internet, you may want to consider reading the ones on this article because a lot of people don't realize the date this was originally published.

Of course, for this reason, you also may want to continuing not reading the comments.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:01 AM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]




a lot of people don't realize the date this was originally published.

Well, despite the references to Mr. Hitler and the Vaterland, this is a dead giveaway:

'Child,' entreated my mother.... ‘bethink yourself what this means.'

Now that's some old school right there.

A lovely bit of writing. Thanks for putting it up.
posted by three blind mice at 8:11 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


it is no use trying to tell him that a hundred years hence the world will no more call Hitler a swine for expelling the Jews than it does Edward I of England, who did the same thing in the thirteenth century

This part was a little stunning.

But it eventually turned out that his real wish was to please his mother. What that man wouldn’t do to please his mother! Of all sons, surely the Jews are the best and the most loyal.

This part was hilarious.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 8:19 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wow. To think of such a relationship as 'interracial' kinda blows my mind. And also gives me hope, a little bit anyway!
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:19 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'd marry him if he were a Hottentot.
Now I know what to put on my next anniversary card.
posted by Etrigan at 8:22 AM on October 29, 2013 [17 favorites]


My favorite part is when she describes how alienated and uncomfortable she feels when she is the only gentile in a room crowded with jews, but completely fails to connect this to the experiences of jews in a majority gentile society.
posted by prefpara at 8:23 AM on October 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


Wow. To think of such a relationship as 'interracial' kinda blows my mind.

If you think that kind of thinking has gone away, here's a long, widely-circulated essay written two month ago about how marriages between Christians and Jews must be rejected and battled against by all available means.
posted by escabeche at 8:25 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single racist idea.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:28 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd marry him if he were a Hottentot.

Courage!
posted by The Bellman at 8:36 AM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


"'But,' she always adds, 'I am happy to say Ben is not at all Jewish in his make-up. He doesn't look Jewish and his ways are not Jewish, In fact, you wouldn’t think he was a Jew at all.'

Brings to mind this, from Cabaret.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:41 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Thanks for posting this essay. Her privileged assumptions, blatant unconscious (or perhaps simply naive) antisemitism and plain missed understandings were interesting -- especially considering how life for American and German Jews would change so quickly soon thereafter.

MCMikeNamara: "If you are the type of person who automatically doesn't read the comments on the Internet, you may want to consider reading the ones on this article because a lot of people don't realize the date this was originally published."

The first comment presented is proselytizing from a Christian J4J. Ugh.
posted by zarq at 8:41 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


> I'd marry him if he were a Hottentot.
Now I know what to put on my next anniversary card.


Careful.
posted by ardgedee at 8:48 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


escabeche, while both articles might think of such relationships as 'interracial,' you must agree that they betray different kinds of thinking.

In 1939, you'd often hear majority opinions like "Jews and Christians cannot really meet any more than Christians and Chinese. Jews are sensual, aggressive, ostentatious, cunning—that is a heritage they can never overcome." Members of the powerful in-group rejected and battled against these marriages by all available means in order to maintain backwards notion of race purity.

Conversely, In 2013, it is the minority's opinion that "history is littered with examples of extinct national groups and faith communities that, for want of a successful strategy to preserve their distinctive identities, were swallowed by majority cultures." The motivation of the beleaguered out-group is cultural preservation, not some maintenance of race purity.

Again, I'm not trying to defend either argument (um, certainly not the former). I just wanted to clarify the contrast between them. I would say that because the first line of thinking went away (for the most part), the second kind arose in reaction.
posted by pharaohmagnetic at 8:54 AM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


escabeche: " If you think that kind of thinking has gone away, here's a long, widely-circulated essay written two month ago about how marriages between Christians and Jews must be rejected and battled against by all available means."

There's a huge difference between trying to maintain so-called "racial purity" and trying to maintain one's minority culture and/or religion in the face of a majority religion intent on mass-converting and destroying it.

The first comment on the 1939 article is from a member of a Christian missionary organization that uses deceptive practices to try to convert Jews to Christianity.
posted by zarq at 9:02 AM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


My favorite part is when she describes how alienated and uncomfortable she feels when she is the only gentile in a room crowded with jews, but completely fails to connect this to the experiences of jews in a majority gentile society.

God, yes, this. I sort of hope I'm wrong about this, but I feel like if you're a wholly secular American Jew and hold an opinion on Israel that is anything short of the party line, you're basically stuck in NYC and the surrounding area unless you want to be seriously alienated by either a) the rest of America being fucking clueless about Jews or b) Jewish communities outside of NYC being really focused on the religious and/or political aspect of it.
posted by griphus at 9:12 AM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


Errr.. on non-preview, what pharoahmagnetic said.
posted by zarq at 9:14 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Was there any followup by the author? I would love to know what she was thinking in the postwar years.
posted by honestcoyote at 9:22 AM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


griphus, yeah, I think you're pretty wrong about this. I've lived in various places around the US and the religious/political aspect is much more highly emphasized in New York (or at least the Upper West Side) than elsewhere. Here in Wisconsin, where Jewish people are a very small minority, the emphasis is much more strongly on community-building and Jewish education for kids.
posted by escabeche at 9:28 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Right, but the point is that it is much easier to hold a minority opinion in a crowd of over 2 million other Jews who have wildly differing opinions in an area of the US that has the highest population of Jews than it is to have a minority opinion in a smaller community with potentially more homogeneity of belief.
posted by elizardbits at 9:38 AM on October 29, 2013


Well, I am glad I am possibly wrong. I'll admit I don't have much of a sample size. I have cousins who grew up in Jewish communities in the suburbs of a few states (literally the only times I have been to Synagogue was when visiting my aunts and uncles), and their parents sent them to the Jewish education sort of things you describe: Sunday schools and summer camp and the like. From what I understand, those places put a pretty significant emphasis on the importance of the state of Israel and the Jewish religion both. Few are religious as adults but a majority of them are now either studying International Relations to work for pro-Israel lobby groups, or already working for them.

Again, limited and really skewed sample size (all my uncles, aunts and cousins are Soviet emigres) but I hope you can see why I suspect what I suspect.
posted by griphus at 9:40 AM on October 29, 2013


Also bear in mind that their parents were, on the whole, atheist.
posted by griphus at 9:43 AM on October 29, 2013


Does anyone else get the impression that the article is a sham? That the author never, in fact, married a Jew? Even setting aside the ridiculous way that people are quoted as talking, the whole thing strikes me as too pat and too redolent of an agenda.
posted by adamrice at 9:45 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like if you're a wholly secular American Jew and hold an opinion on Israel that is anything short of the party line, you're basically stuck in NYC

Oh gosh that hasn't been my experience at all. Then again I'm in New England where religion generally is more of a cultural thing so the idea of a secular $RELIGION makes more sense to more people. Most of the Jews I meet out here are a lot more generally critical of "party line" Judaism. That said these are more dispora-type folks and not people in what I would consider Jewish communities. YMMV in Florida, for example.
posted by jessamyn at 9:46 AM on October 29, 2013


Yeah, griphus, the Soviet emigre community is really its own thing and I definitely wouldn't presume to say anything meaningful about how it works in different places in the US.
posted by escabeche at 10:07 AM on October 29, 2013


Secular Jew married to a non-Jew. I disagree with your view Griphus - in SE Michigan there is a pretty wide range of views re Israel and a wide degree of observance from completely secular to Hassidim.
posted by leslies at 10:13 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


That said these are more dispora-type folks and not people in what I would consider Jewish communities.

Yeah, that's the thing of it. I grew up in immigrant neighborhoods, so there were a lot of Jews and lots of other people as well and while everyone got along as well as they're going to, it was definitely a thing where okay, these people are Mexican, and these people are Italian, and we're (a certain type of) Jews and that's the thing we share and there's also different kinds of Jews and that connection is a little more tenuous but it's still there. So "community" is a loose term, but it was still a critical mass, for lack of a better word. And within that I was able to find people who were a subset of a certain type of Jew, which is something I haven't seen in many other Jewish communities (which, again, I haven't had a significant taste of) where either you're the kind of Jew the established community wants, or you shut up about your views when you're with other Jews, or you go on to be the Jew who only encounters other Jews incidentally.

When I moved somewhere that was mostly non-Jewish and a few Jews here and there -- which is what I assume you mean in re: diaspora -- it was nice to meet them and hang out, but it was alienating knowing that most of my social and professional life there is going to have to necessarily be devoid of people with whom I share an ethnicity and I'd often feel like the Official Representative of the Jews which is alienating in its own way. Which is one of the many reasons I couldn't stay there.

Yeah, griphus, the Soviet emigre community is really its own thing...

Yeah I'm starting to think that's the kicker and not just the Jew thing as a whole.

Anyway, sorry about derailing the thread. My fiancee (who is not Jewish) and I have, a few times, talked about moving out of NYC, which is something I'm open to if absolutely necessary, but that sense of potential alienation plagues me. And it helps quite a bit that people are disagreeing with my assumptions.
posted by griphus at 10:17 AM on October 29, 2013


Plus, we Russian jews have a somewhat unique relationship to Israel. American jews haven't recently been escaping to Israel because of crushing persecution. Whereas many Russian jews have many friends and/or family members currently living in Israel and feeling pretty great about their decades-young flight from Communism.
posted by prefpara at 10:20 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


'But,' demurs Ben, 'some of us have tried to become Gentiles at various times in history. We have changed our names, even our religion, and we have not been accepted.'

To this I can only answer: 'True, the prejudice of Gentiles against Jews in ages past has been a two-edged sword that has knifed the Jew when he has left his race as well as when he adhered to it. But I also maintain that there have been periods when almost all doors have been opened to Jews—a period in Poland, a period in Austria, and most notably, a liberal period in England which culminated its the rise of the Jew, Disraeli, to the post of Prime Minister.

'Had the Jews seized these opportunities for amalgamation, eventually all the barriers would have been broken down. But the Jews did not seize the opportunity. They chose to retain their identity and remained in intact as before.'
In other words: when Jews are persecuted, it's their fault. When Jews bend over backwards to assimilate and are then rejected, it's their fault for not being willing to completely forget where they came from. The author calls on all Jews to meet all Gentiles in the middle, by which she means abandoning Jewish culture entirely and pretending they're Gentiles.

This bothers me even more than the Hitler thing, because the whole "if they'd only assimilate" argument persists even today.
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:22 AM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


An interesting read considering I am the descendant of a similar union during that time period. I've tried to connect with my Jewish heritage a few times, but I am turned off by discrimination against people who have Jewish ancestry on the paternal line and not on the maternal line. It is very clear to me they are definitely discriminated against among conservative Jewish people and perhaps subconsciously even in more liberal circles (particularly in the realm of marriage), even if you do "convert" properly. Even if the children of the couple in this essay did follow Jewish traditions, it would be a harder path for them to walk than to just "assimilate." Which is largely what my family did. I know a lot of Jewish people are working to end this discrimination, but it's still an obstacle.

I have to admit I was a little bemused by recent research showing the maternal line of Ashkenazim is native European going way way back and not Middle Eastern, implying the maternal line was not an obsession way back when.
posted by melissam at 10:36 AM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd like to think that after Ben and Gertrude were married for fifteen years and got a bit more perspective, they were more like the couple in seraphine's link.

'But, child, remember the racial and religious differences between you. Remember that your children will be pulled in two different directions.'

I can remember when I was a kid, my parents and their siblings were all, "I've got nothing against mixed marriages, but they shouldn't have children because it's just not fair to them to be neither one thing nor the other and have no real place in the world." It sounded as crazy to me then as it does now.

Not a single one of them feels that way anymore. A third of Mom's siblings and a bunch of her cousins have multiracial grandchildren, and at family gatherings everybody's just a big bunch of happy kids together without an eyelash even thought of being batted. I bet if I asked any of them, they wouldn't even remember having said it back then. It's still a shit world in a lot of ways, with no shortage of shit people in it, but sometimes I feel pretty good about how far we've come.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:38 AM on October 29, 2013 [13 favorites]


I couldn't read the whole thing, too offensive - but also couldn't help thinking of my maternal grandparents, who married in -42 - she a Gentile, he a Jew. This must have been their reality, and after reading a little of this, I can hear the echoes of that mindset in things they did and said decades later.
One example: both my brother and I gave our children typical Jewish names; some of them from family, others just names we liked. And it was very evident that the (great-)grandparents were simultaneously happy that we honored our heritage and worried that our (blond) children might be harassed because of those names. This fear they still had was naturally completely incomprehensible for us, even though we both knew and understood the reasons.
Incidentally, I married a German, and I remember myself and my family explaining: "well, he doesn't seem German at all, he's polite and speaks French and is generally a very agreeable person". Just to say, let him cast the first stone...
posted by mumimor at 10:44 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I look forward to reading the article, but I thought I'd respond to some of the comments here:

- When my Mission Covenant Mother married my Jewish Father in 1960, they both got a lot of push back. My Mother was treated particularly cruelly by her family.

- griphus, I'm third generation jewish and grew up in Southern Cali. I'm glad to tell you your experience isn't universal. I've probably got more jewish friends that average, but none of them makes a big stink out of it. As others have observed, your experience probably has more to do with being in the Russian expat community.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:47 AM on October 29, 2013


In other words: when Jews are persecuted, it's their fault. When Jews bend over backwards to assimilate and are then rejected, it's their fault for not being willing to completely forget where they came from. The author calls on all Jews to meet all Gentiles in the middle, by which she means abandoning Jewish culture entirely and pretending they're Gentiles.

Still happens today! Jews are given provisional white privilege, in a number of ways.

I am turned off by discrimination against people who have Jewish ancestry on the paternal line and not on the maternal line.

There is a certain amount of -- in bgeneral, not from you in particular -- cultural tourism, in the "I have an ancestor who was X 4 generations back and now I want to be totally X!" sense, and there's often backlash against that. Some of this is understandable, and some of this is a problematic response to people who are honestly interested in their background.

As you have seen, more liberal Jews are less likely to care about patrilineal vs matrilineal descent. (Even subconsciously, really.) What they do care about, as it relates to the above, is "grown up as" -- if your father is Jewish and you grew up Jewish, that's different than if your mother is a Jew and you grew up Christian. (It's all complicated by other factors, and other cultures will have different responses to this.)
posted by jeather at 10:56 AM on October 29, 2013


griphus: " Again, limited and really skewed sample size (all my uncles, aunts and cousins are Soviet emigres) but I hope you can see why I suspect what I suspect."

My sense of this is, it depends on where you go. In smaller towns it also often depends on who has established and is now maintaining the Jewish community. And perhaps even the nature of their community. I spent time as a kid in a small city in Texas with an (at the time) decent Jewish population that was nearly entirely Reform. There was only a Reform temple. No Conservative, Chabad or Orthodox presence. There was more tolerance of differences and certainly of intermarriage -- especially since the area was filled with Southern Baptists and Catholics who viewed us as an oddity at best and Christ-killers to be spat on at worst,) but the community tended to be staunchly, unquestioningly (in public) Zionist because that's what the Reform movement was aggressively pushing at the time.

A friend is currently living in another small town in the same state, where the only Jewish presence is a local Chabad. Very different experience.

My wife grew up in El Paso, which has (last I checked at least,) a Reform temple, a Conservative shul and a Chabad. The three communities don't mix all that much. It's an interesting dynamic.
posted by zarq at 11:01 AM on October 29, 2013


Oops. I stand corrected! My friend lives near Splendora and a quick google search shows that while the Chabad is nearest to him, there are other synagogues in the vicinity.
posted by zarq at 11:06 AM on October 29, 2013


Interesting story and perspective. As you'll read in my profile, I'm a rabbinical school drop out. So far in my family, that I know about, both immediate and extended, there has been no intermarriage, which is a little weird as the last person to grow up Orthodox was my grandfather and the only reason he stopped keeping Kashrut was that he enlisted in the service during WWII and he was starving to death on candy bars.

That said - my family looks very European and not Semitic (blue eyes, light hair). My husband, on the other hand, is a very Semitic looking Jew (dark hair, larger nose, hirsute) and having traveled with him through places where Jews are infrequent visitors, we have definitely gotten looks.

Here's one of the things both of our families have in common. Both of us have a suspiciousness of anything German that definitely comes from our families. We would never think of driving a Volkswagen, and we have no desire to visit Germany. I love travel and once, while driving through Europe, I took a wrong turn and ended up in Deutschland. It was 2000 and I had a visceral response to the sign, despite knowing that I would not be rounded up intellectually.

I have always lived in Los Angeles though (with a brief stint in Israel), and my husband has only lived in New York, Boston and L.A. So we don't get a lot of interaction with people who don't know Jews or aren't Jews themselves.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:11 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


...and having traveled with him through places where Jews are infrequent visitors, we have definitely gotten looks.

In some small seaside town in Denmark, my friend (who is Jewish/Armenian and has had his large nose broken so many times it looks like a racist caricature) and I (swarthy, hirsute Jew) were approached by a stranger who wanted to know where we were from. Her guess was Spain.
posted by griphus at 11:21 AM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah. We get all kinds of guesses, mostly of the "Yer not from around here." types. It's mostly a reminder that while we do have white privilege in many places, in other places it is suspect.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:23 AM on October 29, 2013


seraphine: “'My wife was blunt enough to imply that Gertrude's attitude is a bit on the side of what she calls 'Keeping a pet Jew.'' - 'I Married a Gentile', a response from the same year.”

I just want to highlight this, which hasn't been discussed much here. It is – I would like to say – vastly superior to the article linked in this post. It's more nuanced, it's well-written, and moreover it made me happy.
posted by koeselitz at 12:13 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


So does anyone know who this "Epstein" she refers to is? She seems to take it as a given that her audience would.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 12:39 PM on October 29, 2013


yeah, I was wondering if it was fake as well. It just doesn't seem like people would talk that way.
posted by sweetkid at 12:42 PM on October 29, 2013


So does anyone know who this "Epstein" she refers to is? She seems to take it as a given that her audience would.

Wasn't there a modernist sculptor by that name?
posted by acb at 12:54 PM on October 29, 2013


Jews are sensual, aggressive, ostentatious, cunning—that is a heritage they can never overcome.

Not to mention a glaring omission from Civ 3.
posted by biffa at 1:00 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Jews are sensual, aggressive, ostentatious, cunning

That's me all right. Of course, I'm an abandoned Irish- and Anglo-American baby adopted by Jews. I think the "ostentatious" part comes from my English forebears, who I assume were pearly kings.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:04 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


- When my Mission Covenant Mother married my Jewish Father in 1960, they both got a lot of push back. My Mother was treated particularly cruelly by her family.

My mom was briefly disowned by her Orthodox parents in 1970 for marrying a gentile. My mother-in-law, likewise (even though her family was completely secular) in 1978. When I went on my birthright trip (because, hey, free trip to Israel), the trip organizers reminded the boys over and over again that, if they married gentile women, their children will never be able to make aliyah.

(Birthright was . . . interesting. Beginning at the 3rd degree I got at the airport for my goy name and goy looks and whether or not I knew what was on a seder plate.)

Judaism is complicated. It remains complicated today. For what it's worth, my family holds attitudes toward Israel mostly in keeping with what griphus describes. I've learned to keep my own complicated feelings about Zionism quiet when among other Jews, to the extent that I feel awkward talking about them even here on metafilter.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:10 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Jews are sensual, aggressive, ostentatious, cunning

Those are also the genetic traits that make us such natural athletes.
posted by griphus at 1:10 PM on October 29, 2013 [10 favorites]


That is an excellent description of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park though.
posted by elizardbits at 1:15 PM on October 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


for example
posted by elizardbits at 1:16 PM on October 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


This was especially fascinating for me to read because my grandparents were like the couple in this essay (he was gentile, she was Jewish, they married in 1933), except that they lived in Berlin, so it was a whole 'nother level of tension and difficulty. But it's really interesting to see how such a union would be perceived in the U.S. at that time (they came to the U.S. after the war).

Griphus, I live in Seattle now, which is not necessarily known for its Jewish population, but yet I somehow seem to always make Jewish friends - we become friends because we have similar values and interests, and then it somehow turns out that they're also Jews, or partial Jews like me. And we've never had arguments about Israel because they're also progressives who don't really toe the party line, and most of them aren't religious. It's weird, but the members of the tribe seem to find each other - I wasn't even raised all that Jewish (and not religiously so at all), but I've been realizing more and more that there are cultural things that connect us.

Also, religious diversity can be found outside NYC: I went to the progressive reform temple in my neighborhood for Chanukkah last year and it was practically like a UU church.

I am turned off by discrimination against people who have Jewish ancestry on the paternal line and not on the maternal line.

This has always been a bit of a sticking point to me. For a long time, I didn't really consider myself Jewish because I wasn't raised Jewish and only have one Jewish grandparent and didn't really think it was my "right" to do so. But Jews would often get so excited when I told them my maternal grandmother was Jewish - and I was excited to be considered one of the tribe but also a little weirded out by the fact that this relic of the medieval age was still being used to determine Jewishness.
posted by lunasol at 1:16 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's funny, because both my husband and I got little reminders from our mothers growing up: "You're Jewish because you have a Jewish mother. Don't let anyone tell you you're not. You'll always be Jewish. That's Jewish law." Plus, even as a grown-up, even though my own father wasn't Jewish, my mother will say things like, "Isn't it nice that Jordan is Jewish? Isn't it great to share that with him?" His mom is super happy he found "a Jewish girl," too. I mean, what's nice to me is finding someone who happens to be as approximately Jewish as I am (religiously agnostic, raised with both Jewish and Christian customs), which isn't all that Jewish at all. But with the mothers . . . it seems deeply ingrained in a way that doesn't even jive with what the rest of their lives have been like.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:21 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's interesting, PhoB, that it seems like the women are the ones who get the most pain. It fits right in with the idea that women are chattel, and that the man has acquired an extra one for his tribe, while the woman's family has lost one.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:24 PM on October 29, 2013


I don't know if that's necessarily true. I think Jewish sons might face even more pressure. After all, it's the mother's bloodline that "matters."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:30 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's funny, because both my husband and I got little reminders from our mothers growing up: "You're Jewish because you have a Jewish mother. Don't let anyone tell you you're not. You'll always be Jewish. That's Jewish law."

It's a little funny, but because of the whole Anti-Semitism thing, some Jews grow up being defined as Jews within their community, and some by the external community. Like, growing up, I can only imagine the answer to "why am I Jewish" (a question I never really asked) would be no different than a black kid asking "why am I black?" In that a) because it's what you are, unequivocally, and there's no getting away from it regardless of what you say or do, and b) because god knows society is never going to let you forget it for a second. The latter part being considerably truer in places where Anti-Semitism is a big deal in a way it isn't in most of America (e.g. Americans Jews don't have "JEW" branded onto their government documents.) The Jewishness of my upbringing was defined very much by what you have to put up with as a Jew, rather than what it grants you.

I suspect that's why Russian Jews tend to have more blase attitudes towards intermarriage, from my experience. Of all the Jews I know, Russian Jews of my generation tend to inter-marry more than American born-and-raised Jews. I suspect it is because it was drilled into us that, like it or not, any kid you have is going to be part Jewish regardless of what some genetics-ignoring Rabbi has to say about it, and it'll be your responsibility to make sure the kid knows what being (even half-) Jewish means when they go out into the world and discover that not everyone is very fond of Jews.
posted by griphus at 1:36 PM on October 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I also suspect this is why I can't get a lot of my non-Russian Jewish friends into Lenny Bruce:

"Oh, you're Jewish? What're you doing all the way out here in Ohio?"
"Passing."
posted by griphus at 1:39 PM on October 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think this (anonymous) article was a deliberate and self-conscious apology for Hitler, and an attempt to reassure Americans that there was nothing America needed to do over there in Europe, and as such, part of the campaign to keep America out of WWII.

The author outlines the argument in brief in the first paragraph:
...My parents are both what Mr. Hitler would be pleased to call 'Aryan' Germans. I am an American-born girl, and the first to defend my Americanism in an argument; yet so strong are family ties, and the memory of a happy thirteen-month sojourn in the Vaterland a few years ago, that I frequently find myself trying to see things from the Nazis' point of view and to had excuses for the things they do—to the dismay of our liberal-minded friends and the hurt confusion of my husband.
brings things to a climax two-thirds of the way through:
But it is hard for Ben to take the long view. He looks upon Hitler as something malignantly unique, and it is no use trying to tell him that a hundred years hence the world will no more call Hitler a swine for expelling the Jews than it does Edward I of England, who did the same thing in the thirteenth century—an expulsion that remained in strict effect until the time of Cromwell, because a hundred years hence another country will be having its Jewish problem, unless…
and implicitly reveals to us the solution to the "Jewish problem" in the final sentence:
When one of my husband-hunting girl friends asks me, ‘Do the Jews make good husbands?’ I think of Ben, respecter of women, generous to a fault, kind to every creature, open-minded, witty, sober of habit but gay of manner, imaginative and ambitious, and say with all my heart, ‘The best in the world!’
And that is to allow Hitler to destroy the nasty and useless residue of Judaism along with the unconvertable people who so foolishly cling to it-- we retain everything good they and their culture had to offer in the form of our Old Testament, after all-- and then permit the suitably chastened and submissive survivors to marry into our families as long as they agree not to attempt to visit their obsolete and pernicious religion on any innocent children that may result from such unions.

I agree that this piece is probably a "sham"-- it is certainly a horrific shame.
posted by jamjam at 1:44 PM on October 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


In some small seaside town in Denmark, my friend (who is Jewish/Armenian and has had his large nose broken so many times it looks like a racist caricature) and I (swarthy, hirsute Jew) were approached by a stranger who wanted to know where we were from.

The same question was posed to my then-husband and me (both Jews) by a member of the Lewis Family when we went to one of their concerts in Tennessee. She was surprised and skeptical when we told her we were both American.
posted by Wordwoman at 2:26 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Matrilineal descent in Judaism has been the mainstream interpretation of Jewish law for hundreds of years now and may well continue to be. It hasn't always been the rule (see, eg, the Bible).

Even traditional communities, however, permit and sometimes encourage infant conversion and facilitate adult conversion.

To be honest I have a great deal of sympathy and urge to permit patrilineal descent when I'm speaking with people who have always identified as Jewish and participated in Jewish life who are then told they are not Jews. I have very little sympathy and urge to change when I hear from someone with one Jewish grandparent who has never identified as Jewish that matrilineal descent is 'discriminatory.'

ALL markers of inclusion and exclusion are discriminatory. Descent by any parent discriminates. Citizenship based on place of birth discriminates.

Melissam, do you really identify yourself as Jewish, anyway? Would you count yourself in a quorum of ten Jews to make a community for prayer? Do you hold yourself out as Jewish in your everyday life? Would you even identify yourself as a Jew in a telephone survey?

As an individual, as a matter of principle I generally do not contradict other individual's self identification. Including people who practice Christianity and consider themselves Jews. But it sounds like you are just starting to explore Judaism at all and are peeved that the entire community won't consider you Jewish a priori. (And the Reform movement recognizes patrilineal Jews who were raised as Jews).

Also, PhoBWanKenobi, your birthright counselors were mistaken. Israeli law grants citizenship to anyone with one a single Jewish grandparent. It is not based on religious law but meant to offer refuge to anyone who would be subject to persecution as a Jew regardless of their status under Jewish law.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:41 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


...and then there is this, to date the piece a bit

they make good husbands and are " gay of manner"

In passing, referring to the Jewish bible as "the old testament" is like referring to the car you used to own before you bought a good new one.
posted by Postroad at 2:47 PM on October 29, 2013


I've tried to connect with my Jewish heritage a few times, but I am turned off by discrimination against people who have Jewish ancestry on the paternal line and not on the maternal line.

The Reform, Reconstructionist, and Jewish Renewal movements all recognize patrilineal descent.
posted by Wordwoman at 2:55 PM on October 29, 2013


Epstein was well enough known to make it into a favorite limerick, which I thought was written by Gertrude Stein, but whose true provenance is hard to discern.

There’s a notable clan yclept Stein:
There’s Gertrude, there’s Ep, and there’s Ein.
Gert’s prose has no style,
Ep's statues are vile,
And nobody understands Ein.
posted by jewzilla at 3:51 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Melissam, do you really identify yourself as Jewish, anyway? Would you count yourself in a quorum of ten Jews to make a community for prayer? Do you hold yourself out as Jewish in your everyday life? Would you even identify yourself as a Jew in a telephone survey?

I know that "would you count yourself in a quorum of ten Jews to make a community for prayer" is pretty much how Reform Jews define Judaism, but this line of questioning is pretty weird. The truth is, there are many things that "make a Jew," and cultural identification could be one of them. In fact, I'd argue that it's a powerful connector between Jews in diaspora--just look at crypto-Judaism. A sense of cultural connectivity is part of what's kept Judaism alive and thriving even in cultures which tried to actively snuff it out. I wouldn't be seen as "holding myself as Jewish in my everyday life" according to some Jewish movements, but I'd sure as heck identify myself as a Jew in a telephone survey--because I feel Jewish. And I can recognize the injustice of the fact that this is accepted among many Jews because of who my mother is, when it wouldn't be accepted coming from melissam.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:51 PM on October 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Reform, Reconstructionist, and Jewish Renewal movements all recognize patrilineal descent.
Sort of, re Reform Judaism anyway.

"In 1983, the Reform movement adopted the principal of patrilineal descent. This is a bit of a misnomer. Reform Judaism considers a child of an interfaith couple to be Jewish if one parent is Jewish and the child is raised as a Jew and receives a Jewish education and celebrates appropriate life cycle events, such as receiving a Hebrew name and becoming bar or bat mitzvah. This also assumes that the child is being raised exclusively as a Jew and not practicing another religion."

This actually ends up creating some interesting results.
A child of an interfaith marriage in which the mother is Jewish, and the father is Christian, but was not "raised as a Jew" or "recieve[d] a Jewish education and celebrate[d] appropriate life cycle events" would require conversion to be a Jew according to the Reform movement, but be an auto-Jew according to Conservative and Orthodox standards.
posted by atomicstone at 4:27 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


do you really identify yourself as Jewish, anyway? Would you count yourself in a quorum of ten Jews to make a community for prayer?

Just chiming in to agree that in my (100% Jewish) experience this is honestly a pretty baffling non sequitur. Like, I barely have any inkling what the ritual or rule is that you're even referring to in the second question (I suppose it's something about minyans?) but I don't think passing or failing a questionnaire about whatever ritualistic worship practice this is has much bearing on my Jewishness at all. The religious are of course allowed to subscribe to whatever questionnaires about rituals they like for their own religious purposes, but neither I nor pretty much my entire family for several generations (at least back to most of my great-grandparents in their various home countries in the later nineteenth century, as far as I have heard) have believed in the religion, and that hasn't seemed to make much of a difference over the last century or more to whether we were Jews, either for the anti-Semites' horrific purposes or for our own. People who are highly invested in Judaism as a religion sometimes seem to have a weird blind spot about Jewishness as a distinct thing from that religion, or even to be hostile to, or try to police, secular or atheist Jewish identity.
posted by RogerB at 5:50 PM on October 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


And honestly it is especially weird to hear these religious definitions of Jewishness brought forth in response to this article, which is way more about race and culture than it is about religion.
posted by RogerB at 5:56 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm dying to know what happened to the author and her family, especially any progeny who must be old by now.

I don't think it's a sham, I think a real person wrote this based on real experiences.
posted by Renoroc at 5:58 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Me too, Renoroc. I think it was probably real on some level....but dear lord, the tone of this is hard to believe even now. It's so freaking fatuous...I mean, I buy that she loves him and he's a good guy, but she sounds so clueless about her own shit....but then again, given the time period....

Judith Krantz sells the idea of having a hot-in-bed Jewish husband much better though!
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:03 PM on October 29, 2013


I identify as a secular Jew but it's not really possible to completely disentangle the religious from the cultural because it's seeped in so deep. Culturally I think there ARE many self identified secular Jews who wouldn't know a sugya if it bit them but who would still feel inclined to accept a matrilineal but not a patrilineal descended person presenting themselves as Jewish. I can have all minds of opinions about the sense of that, but my impression is that sociologically it's where we are and it's not me religiously policing secular identity to say so.

Personally I think the religious/non religious distinction is a bit faulty when discussing Judaism - it's based on a Christian understanding of religion which Judaism predates, having more of a (imo) tribal quality. The religious and secular are not distinct but very deeply enmeshed. Otherwise, wouldn't one have to say that a secular person criticizing matrilineal descent is out of bounds for, (paraphrasing RogerB) policing religious Jewish identity?
posted by Salamandrous at 7:09 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mrs. Machine is Vietnamese. I come from a provincial, small town where marriages between black and white, while common, are still a topic of conversation. That didn't prepare me for the genuine ignorance that I encountered: not hatefulness, which I probably would have been a little more prepared for, but pure ignorance.

"Don't you think Asians are a little, you know, strange looking? Your kids will look like that."

"There are so many cultural differences! How can you ever relate to each other?"

"I just don't understand why you can't find a nice white girl."

"They just don't have the same values as us, because they don't have Jesus."

Aside from the last, which is hilarious because my wife is Catholic and I'm an atheist, all of these left me speechless at the time. I gave the people who uttered them dumbfounded looks—but it's the same kind of sentiment that I think Gertrude is reacting (ham-handedly) to with her essay. Along with the random surprise "old lady staring at you hatefully on the bus as you hold hands," there absolutely is a certain weight being carried in this type of relationship that sometimes makes you want to just stand up and give people a Sermon about it. Of course, it comes from outside, not within.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:36 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Coincidentally, the JTA (which runs news stories from its archive as a sort of filler) today ran a story from 1923 that shows how normalised anti-Semitism was at the time:
Plan Anti-semitic Internationale
Hakenkreuzlers of Many Lands Studying Anti-Semitic Methods in Austria and Bavaria

VIENNA, May 29. (Jewish Telegraphic Agency) The formation of an international anti-Semitic body which will unite the Hakenkreuzler [i.e., swastika-bearing] and Fascisti societies of many European countries, is contemplated in a resolution adopted at the party council of the Austrian Hakenkreuzler.

Declaring the present anti-Semitic activities as “inadequate”, the Council decided to create a “united anti-Semitic front”, one of whose purposes will be to prevent the election to the parliaments of the various countries of Jewish candidates or such as are known for their friendliness to Jews.

Leaders of the German National Party report that delegations have arrived from all Balkan countries with the object of obtaining information of Hakenkreuzler methods which have proven successful in keeping down the Jews in Austria and Bavaria.

Fascisti organizations are said by the visitors to have been established in their countries, who desire to work together with all Hakenkreuzler bodies abroad. The “National Socialists” announce they are prepared to join the international union of anti-Semites.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:46 PM on October 29, 2013


If you think that kind of thinking has gone away, here's a long, widely-circulated essay written two month ago about how marriages between Christians and Jews must be rejected and battled against by all available means.

Wow, well, that was depressing.
posted by threeants at 8:41 PM on October 29, 2013


To the best of my knowledge 100% of my biological family/ancestors are/were Jewish, and I find it truly bizarre when people invoke matrilineal descent in any setting outside of an orthodox religious one. Like, feel free to define your own identity through rules-lawyering if you please, but don't try to pass that shit off as hegemonic, cuz it ain't.
posted by threeants at 8:52 PM on October 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


If Gertrude was real, and not a construct of the essay's author-- I wonder what she would have thought of her beloved Hitler's "Final Solution." If she had actually lived in Germany, her husband and son would have been sent off to the camps, and she would have been given the choice of divorce or deportation. But Hitler was just like Edward I, right? Sure.

I hope that once the truth of the Final Solution was revealed, she did a lot of soul-searching.

In any case, whatever happened, I'm sure Ben would never let her forget her Nazi apologetics-- especially since a lot of his family would have been murdered during the Shoah. Could the marriage have even survived this? Who knows?

It's a chilling thought.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 9:16 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


What an extraordinary artifact. I'm struck that the lens she's looking through is apparently morally unremarkable. She seems a little in love with the novelty of her marriage dynamic and plays that up in what I hear as a sort of "Ricky and Lucy" mood, but all (or almost all) of the sinisterness comes in from the obvious extrinsic relationships. The racism seems like a basically banal attitude cluster nested somewhere (but nowhere important) in a larger network of other similarly banal attitudes--which I guess is exactly why the dramatic irony of the thing is almost nauseating.
posted by batfish at 9:17 PM on October 29, 2013


I found her to be sincere and open-minded, given the times and where she came from. Fascinating read. Those that say it was somehow upsetting to read are very similar to the people that couldn't, 70 years ago, accept that a Jew and a gentile could be married - for it was, too, somehow too upsetting for their norms of what's politically correct.
-some dirty jew
posted by bokononito at 9:17 PM on October 29, 2013 [2 favorites]



I am turned off by discrimination against people who have Jewish ancestry on the paternal line and not on the maternal line.

I had always heard that was a relic of life in The Pale. The idea was the women who'd been raped by Cossacks would have a community to take care of their children (because the children were Jews), but men who committed adultery outside the community couldn't bring their bastards home. But I have no idea if that interpretation is, like, true.

If Gertrude was real, and not a construct of the essay's author-- I wonder what she would have thought of her beloved Hitler's "Final Solution."

It's important to remember that the "Final Solution" wasn't conceived until some ways into Hitler's reign. The original plan was to expropriate Jewish property for the state, purify German culture of Jewish influence, and turn Jews into a slave labor force. The idea of exterminating all the Jews came about only when Hitler began to fear that he'd lose the war before he could complete the purification of culture. In 1939, it wasn't completely foolish to think Hitler's ultimate plan was bad, but not genocidal.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:11 PM on October 29, 2013


But it is hard for Ben to take the long view. He looks upon Hitler as something malignantly unique, and it is no use trying to tell him that a hundred years hence the world will no more call Hitler a swine for expelling the Jews than it does Edward I of England, who did the same thing in the thirteenth century—an expulsion that remained in strict effect until the time of Cromwell, because a hundred years hence another country will be having its Jewish problem, unless…

An unwitting argument for the establishment of Israel.

Oh, don't worry Ben, another genocide or expulsion or pogrom is always on its way. Jews will always be hunted to the ends of the Earth. No use getting all het up about Hitler in particular.

The moment Ben is away from his family, his Jewishness drops away from him like a cloak. Not that his non-Jewishness then becomes another cloak. It is, I think, far more his real attitude than the other than the other, which is a relic of his childhood; for Ben is one of those who feel themselves first Americans, then Jews.

She says so often that she's thankful he can pass. Why, you wouldn't think he's a Jew at all!

I wonder what Gertrude would think about Dave Chapelle's Black White Supremacist sketch.
posted by rue72 at 11:39 PM on October 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


If it's of interest to the thread, I'd like to recommend Sarah Glidden's How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, a diary comic about an anti-Zionist woman who goes on a Birthright trip to Israel and finds emotions and experiences both expected and unexpected.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:30 AM on October 30, 2013


I started reading this and the first paragraph gave me chills. I had to stop.

Going back to the question of Jewish identity, I live in Maine. I know a lot of people, with a variety of backgrounds. When I was growing up my parents, both of whom are 100% Jewish, sent me to Hebrew School (it would have been reform if there had been a reform temple here at the time!) to prepare for my Bat Mitzvah and then after it occurred, allowed me to make my own decision about attending temple. I never went back.

I don't know, personally, any religious Jews of my generation (X) here or elsewhere, but the Jews I do know all feel comfortable in their backgrounds and will have non-religious Hanukkah or Passover parties, just like my husband's family, which has non-religious Christmas-time.
posted by miss tea at 3:19 AM on October 30, 2013


I hope that once the truth of the Final Solution was revealed, she did a lot of soul-searching.

Yeah, a lot of American Gentiles had changes of heart and mind once we got involved in the war and started paying attention to what was going on, and saw the natural conclusion to the nonsense so many of us had been spouting.

Coincidentally, the JTA (which runs news stories from its archive as a sort of filler) today ran a story from 1923 that shows how normalised anti-Semitism was at the time

It's really staggering to realize how openly casual and mainstream it was. I'm not saying it's gone now by any means, but man, even among people who'd be considered socially liberal today it was just so much what everybody was saying on the street that people picked it up without even thinking about it.

I remember reading Vincent Price's biography and being stunned by two letters he wrote his parents in the 1930's - the first from a student trip to Austria in 1932 and the second from his frst visit to Hollywood:
"If you ever had a trouble in your life, here it would seem a miracle of joy. These people are so poor not only in money but in health, mental and physical... They are ruled by Jews who tax them to excess."

"The only setbacks are the Jews and their power here. They are in command in all fields and they, of course, as always, are responsible for the bad taste."
A short time later, he was supporting the B'nai B'rith and the Jewish Anti-Defamation League (and was honored by them for his efforts), and was graylisted during the McCarthy hearings for speaking out against the Nazis before being against the Nazis was the official position of the U.S. government.

Bonus "Bridget Loves Bernie" credits
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:16 AM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Melissam, do you really identify yourself as Jewish, anyway? Would you count yourself in a quorum of ten Jews to make a community for prayer? Do you hold yourself out as Jewish in your everyday life? Would you even identify yourself as a Jew in a telephone survey?


I agree these standards are fair, but they do not have to be met generally by people of patrilineal descent.

I do not feel entitled to "Jewishness." It's just simply how a lot of people of the Jewish diaspora lose their heritage. From my experience even if I underwent conversion, it is still not enough for full inclusion.
posted by melissam at 11:40 AM on October 30, 2013


From my experience even if I underwent conversion, it is still not enough for full inclusion.

But that's part of the Jewish experience! Scorning other people's Jewishness. To quote the old joke:
After working so hard for so many years, Moskowitz finally decides to take a cruise. But sadly the ship is caught in a storm and sinks. The only survivor is Moksowitz, who manages to to make his way to a deserted island, in the middle of nowhere. Twenty years later a passing fishing boat discovers him, alive, and, considering his experience, in fairly good shape. The cable news channels, amazed at this feat of survival, all rush reporter to the island.

"Mr. Moskowitz, how did you survive? How did you keep sane? After twenty years?" the reporters ask.

His reply: "I had my faith. I had my faith as a Jew to keep me strong. Come, I'll show you".

He leads them to a small glen, where stands a beautiful temple, made entirely from palm fronds, coconut shells and woven grass. The news cameras take pictures of everything — even a torah made from banana leaves and written in octopus ink. "This took me five years to complete."

"Amazing! But what about the next fifteen years?"

"Look!" says Moskowitz, as he points to the other side of the island. There, in a shady grove, is an even more beautiful temple, similar to the first, only decorated with pearls and other beautiful objects he had managed to scavenge. "I spent the next fifteen years completing that!"

"But sir" asks the reporter, "Why did you build two temples?"

"This? This over here is the temple I attend. That place over there? That's the temple I wouldn't set foot in if you paid me!"
posted by benito.strauss at 12:16 PM on October 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


haha, I don't know. There's a reason that guy didn't build a church.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 12:18 PM on October 30, 2013


From my experience even if I underwent conversion, it is still not enough for full inclusion.

I really urge you to keep looking. In my (Reconstructionist) congregation, Jews-By-Choice are not only fully included, but comprise a significant proportion of active members and congregational leaders. As for matrilineal or patrilineal descent, it is not even a question that would ever be contemplated, much less asked.
posted by Wordwoman at 12:57 PM on October 30, 2013


(There are rabbis who are converts too -- see Alyssa Stanton.)
posted by Wordwoman at 1:12 PM on October 30, 2013


From my experience even if I underwent conversion, it is still not enough for full inclusion.

In my (secondhand) experience, this is very tied into the size of the Jewish community -- or really, any non-majority community. If you're in an area with a lot of that group, they've likely achieved a "critical mass" of Real Members who are more willing to exclude newcomers, whether those are converts or just people who are new in town and don't have already-established ties to the Real Members. On the other hand, if there's only six of their sort of people in town, they'll generally be a lot happier about a prospective seventh.
posted by Etrigan at 1:23 PM on October 30, 2013


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