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FOCUS: Shanda

The Disgrace of a Nice Jewish Girl My father believed that intermarriage was a shanda. I hoped to prove him wrong. by Annette Powers

Photo by Jorge Lemus


was a “nice Jewish girl” looking to her non-Jewish boyfriend. I didn’t think date a “nice Jewish boy” when I met he would have had the heart to do it, but him. He was a nice secular non-Jew the relationship ended before his will from Seattle whose religious identity was tested. I loved my father dearly, was rooted in memories of hanging stockings on Christmas and eating chocolate on Easter. I never expected it to be more than a summer fling, but things escalated quickly. On our fourth date I informed him in no uncertain terms, “This can’t go anywhere.” “Why?” he asked. “Because you’re not Jewish,” I stated. “And I can’t marry a non-Jew.” I then explained the concept of a shanda—something that On my wedding day. would bring shame upon oneself, one’s family, and the entire Jewish comrespected his convictions even when we munity. Based on my upbringing, I would didn’t always agree, and ascribed great feel guilty for betraying generations of importance to his opinions. Jewish martyrs who had died so that I But I wasn’t willing to break up with could be free to be Jewish. How could my boyfriend. Sure, I shared my father’s I marry a non-Jew, contributing to the concerns about the survival of the Jewish assimilation and possible disappearance people and, though it might sound stereoof my people? And even if I could accept typical, was aware of the cultural differintermarriage, my father never would. ences between our Jewish family and his My father believed that intermarriage non-Jewish one. Our families communiwas a shanda. He had repeatedly told me cated differently. In my family we how important it was to marry “inside.” addressed our feelings openly; his tended He worried about the ultimate demise of to ignore uncomfortable issues, hoping the Jewish people through assimilation. they would just go away. Yet I still felt He also believed that marriage was that our similarities outweighed our dif“tough enough as it is” and “easier if you ferences. I just hoped my father would start with a common culture, religion, and agree and come around to the idea that values.” Years ago, my father threatened dating—even marrying—a non-Jew to disown my older sister if she married didn’t have to be a shanda. However challenging, I believed that intermarriage could work and I could have a Jewish Annette Powers is Communications and PR Manager at the URJ. You can read her personal home, raise a Jewish family, and contribblog at ute to Jewish peoplehood. reform judaism

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As the years went by and our relationship intensified, my boyfriend accompanied me to many a seder and Kol Nidre service. When we moved in together, we lit Shabbat candles weekly and danced around the living room singing z’mirot (Shabbat songs). We attended Judaism classes and a support group for interfaith couples and agreed that if we ever had kids, we would raise them as Jews. Through it all, my father and I had many long discussions on the subject of intermarriage. Eventually he came to accept my choice, though it was very difficult for him. When my boyfriend asked my parents for my hand in marriage, he reassured my father that he understood the importance of Judaism in our lives and would honor and uphold Jewish traditions and values. Though probably still reluctant, my father lovingly said yes. He had come to adore this young man and saw that we were happy together. In the months that followed, friends and family were surprised at how well my father was “handling” our engagement. But I knew that a piece of him was dying inside, and I felt horribly guilty about it. The Reform rabbi we’d asked to marry us counseled my dad several times before our wedding, helping him work through his conflicted feelings. About a year after our beautiful Jewish wedding, we found out we were having a baby boy. When he was 16 months old, I discovered that my husband was having an affair. He told me he was in love with the other woman

winter 2012

10/1/12 8:35 AM

Reform Judaism Magazine Winter 2012  

A Union for Reform Judaism Publication

Reform Judaism Magazine Winter 2012  

A Union for Reform Judaism Publication