At various points in the gargantuan stack of paper called my dissertation, I needed to cite something to do with modern-day intermarriage panic. Because the way it works, in academic writing, is that the fact that I know from living and breathing that the American Jewish community has long concerned itself with this topic isn't sufficient. That's not how scholarship works, nor should it. You can't footnote 'Take my word for it.' So in the process, I ended up finding that the whole 'intermarriage finishes what Hitler started' line comes up more often in references to anti-intermarriage sentiment (such as) than in the anti-intermarriage articles themselves. It's not that there isn't panic, just that it's often less hysterical than its more hysterical extremes.
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
In any case, if only I'd seen this sooner. I've now read Jack Wertheimer's essays and a couple of the others, but will need to read the lot of it. Mosaic Magazine (which... how had I just found this?) has an very useful array of the range of standard Jewish opinion on the matter, albeit the most informed and intelligent array one is likely to find. (And hey, a UChicago student is among the participants!)
I have, as you might imagine, exactly ten trillion things to say in response even just to the parts of this series I have read, and maybe five trillion ideas of ways and places to pitch whichever aspect of my response doesn't get channeled into the academic version of this that I'm also working on. And I suppose, Petey, I also have thoughts on the new finding that Jews are actually Northern Italian, although this is really a single thought, one I'd already expressed on Facebook, which is that this explains why my apartment is basically the kitchen of an Italian restaurant, Casa Della Bisou. But in the interest of not blathering on altogether forever, I'm going to narrow this post down to the awkward question that always comes up with this topic: How, or really if, Jews who oppose intermarriage should try to eroticize endogamy.
Sylvia Barack Fishman, probably the leading scholar in the field of contemporary Jewish intermarriage, writes: "Individuals, families, and communities need to show, by example and by word, why Jewishness matters—to create in sons and daughters an appreciation of the appeal, and the sheer sexiness, of Jewish men and women." This came up on my Birthright trip as well, when the group leader asked the young men in the auditorium to behold the beauty of Jewish women. The first part - "why Jewishness matters" makes sense, but the second? There's nothing like a well-meaning authority figure telling you that someone - or some group - should do something for you erotically for that not to happen. While I personally have no trouble believing Jewish men can be good-looking, somehow the statement that I, as a Jewish woman, ought to think this summons the image of Brian Krakow - the guy you know you should like, but can't get yourself to.
Which brings us to the problem with addressing intermarriage with more outreach along existing lines. As it stands, Jewish events aimed at the maybe-not-yet-married age demographic are virtually always thinly-veiled attempts at matchmaking. College students are invited to attend Jewish "singles" events, as though one can be an urban American single at 19. What if you just wanted to see an Israeli movie, or learn about the Dreyfus Affair, and if you happened to be unattached and met someone romantically, so be it? Why couldn't it all be a bit more casual? College itself, for instance, doesn't feel, while you're there, like an elaborate plot to mate you off to someone on a similar socioeconomic path.
Mostly, I'm just skeptical that unless we return to an era of something drastically less casual - arranged or quasi-arranged marriages, or unless all Jews up and moved to Israel, any sort of large-scale change in this area could occur. Points of contact among Jews can be increased, but without a full-on secession from the mainstream community, socialization will continue between Jews and non-Jews. And if every time Jews are placed in close proximity, there needs to be this overt now go mate vibe, a certain number of Jews with an interest in Jewish culture end up not going to what they fear will be a meat market.
It would be much simpler to say (as used to be said) that marriage is about reproducing the community, forging allegiances between families, and whether or not you find your spouse "sexy" is irrelevant. But once spouses are to be chosen on the basis of individual desire - which is to say, once a baseline of chemistry needs to be there before either party even considers compatibility in other areas, not that chemistry trumps incompatibility - it's only natural that the conversation about how to stop intermarriage would veer towards the ill-fated project of asking Jews to find one another hot.