An old friend pointed me toward a silly article on intermarriage that appeared in the San Diego Jewish Journal last month. Under the repugnant title “Shiksas are for practice,” author Natalie Benjamin serves up a heaping slice of misinformed stereotyping:
I admit it: I’m jealous of shiksas. For some reason, Jewish men are more attracted to non-Jewish women. It’s not because the women are more attractive or smarter than I am. It’s because Jewish men have grown up being told that non-Jewish women are taboo, prohibited, persona non-grata – and we all know we want what we can’t have.
Jewish men also want a woman who reminds them as little as possible about their Mother. A Jewish mother is known for her attention and affection, particularly with her sons, but he for some reason (the nagging? The nit-picking? The nosiness?) wants exactly the opposite.
The whole idea that Jewish men marry Jewish women because they are “taboo” or blonde or “perky” hasn’t been true since the 1950s, if it ever was. What she fails to grasp is that distinctions between Jews and non-Jews have all but disappeared in the past 50 years, while acceptance of Jews among non-Jews is nearly complete. Why do American Jewish males marry non-Jewish American females? Because Americans marry Americans, males marry females. Besides, Jews are a tiny minority comfortable among a vast majority. Odds alone favor non-Jews meeting Jews, and falling in love.
The better question is, why do Jews continue to marry Jews in this post-racial, diverse, multicultural 21st century? For some, call them the “most commanded,” it is because their faith forbids the alternative. For others, call them the “counter-culturalists,” it’s because they are committed to sustaining Jewish culture and think marrying a fellow Jew gives the best odds of doing so. And some, well, they just feel comfortable with a fellow Jew, the way New Yorkers might favor New Yorkers, or surfers marry surfers.
I’m probably in the second category. I care deeply about the chain of Jewish culture, and feel the best way to keep it going is not only to marry a Jewish women but raise kids to appreciate Jewish culture in a positive, sustaining, organic, and holistic way. Of course, they may end up not appreciating it as much as I do, but will at least make an informed choice if they go down another path.
I kvell when Jews marry Jews, because I see them (perhaps condescendingly on my part) as fellow enlistees in the effort to keep this thing called Jewish going at least one more generation. And I support efforts to encourage Jews to marry other Jews.
But I would never support Natalie Benjamin’s approach, which is guilt and ridicule. You don’t get people to appreciate a culture and work towards its preservation by laying on guilt, not in 2009. You do it by raising them in an atmosphere that cherishes the culture and makes it natural for them to want to maintain its traditions.
P.S.: Micah Sachs of Interfaithfamily.com wrote a strong response to Benjamin’s peice, which appears here.
P.S.S.: This whole debate reminds me of my favorite joke about cultural immersion: Two young fish are swimming along. An older fish swims past them and says, “Nice water today!” The two young fish smile and nod back. A few minutes later, when they are alone, one of the young fish says to the other, “What’s water?”