I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but Kveller has two dueling interfaith narratives on its “Raising Kvell” blog right now: “Interfaith Family Bullying: When Do You Stop Fighting and Just Give Up?” versus “Apparently My Interfaith Family Is Too Happy.”
The first one, by Rachel Figueroa-Levin, a woman raised Jewish in an interfaith family (who, gasp, actually married a Jew when she grew up!) talks about the very unpleasant Catholic relatives on her dad’s side of the family:
When my Jewish-by-birth mother first met my father’s (not-at-all Jewish) extended family, one of his cousins asked how many lawyers she had in her family (irony alert: my dad has a ton of lawyers in his family). Another cousin said:
“I had a boyfriend who used to beat up Jews”
I suppose you could chalk that up to genuine ignorance. Maybe. But then there’s the time a relative asked my (still Catholic at the time) father if he was sad that he was going to heaven and his wife and kids were going to hell.
And all of the years my father’s own brother refused to invite us to the Christmas party he and his wife had for the rest of the family, even though Christmas was a holiday my father celebrated, who even went to midnight mass at his old church in Harlem. And then there was the 30 years of bullying from my paternal grandmother that my mother endured. And the horrific, offensive, bordering on blatant anti-Semitic speech said paternal grandmother gave…
Which just goes to show you how powerful an influence idiosyncratic family dynamics can be on one’s perception of a religion/ethnicity and on cementing decisions about which religion/ethnicity to identify with.
I’ve heard equally horrifying stories of interfaith families in which the Jewish relatives are so obnoxious that the children grow up feeling hostile to all things Jewish. Just last week I met a woman who told me she “was forced to convert to Judaism” at age 14, so that her intermarried Jewish father could reunite with his long-estranged parents.
Let’s hope these kinds of scenarios have become less common now that intermarriage of all kinds — religious, ethnic, racial — is so much more prevalent and socially accepted.
Anyway, in counterpoint to the “bullying” piece is Alina Adams’ hilarious post about getting invited to talk on a radio show about her interracial, interfaith family (she’s Russian Jewish, her husband is African American gentile) — and then disinvited because they don’t have enough problems. Getting rejected from the show didn’t offend her, she writes, but left her “intrigued”:
On the one hand, as a writer and producer myself, I understand the urge for drama and conflict in a story. I’ll be the first to admit, my family is pretty boring in that respect. We go out of our way to avoid drama and conflict.
But, as someone who loves to read about other families (yes, I’m a yenta!), and, more importantly, as a mom who really cares about what messages her kids absorb from the omnipresent media, I am a little disturbed by the idea that the only coverage interracial and interfaith families tend to get, be it The New York Times, USA Today, Essence, or The Jewish Week, skews negative. As if that’s the only story worth telling. As if that’s the only story there is. As if that’s the only story there could be.
Reminds me of when my “In the Mix” column first came out six years ago and a woman wrote to complain that it was bad enough I was writing in The Jewish Week about being intermarried, but the fact that I was happy — and actually smiling in my photo — was truly offensive.
Now, as you can imagine, I took issue with Alina using The Jewish Week as an example of media writing only negative things about intermarriage. Especially because the column she links to is Jack Wertheimer’s, which was a guest column and which I, a Jewish Week editor, responded to on The Jewish Week website, on THIS BLOG, which has as its sole focus realistically depicting intermarried life.
Not that I’m offended or anything, Alina. Just intrigued.