My Children's Jewish Future
A father's letter to his two children who are dating non-Jews.
Dearest Steve and Jennifer,
As I have now reached my 57th birthday and have become quite contemplative, there is something I want to discuss with each of you that may perhaps be better conveyed in a letter. So here it is. Now that you two are young adults and will likely be considering marriage in some years ahead, I want you to know that the single most important decision you'll ever make in life will be about whom you marry. I repeat what your Mom and I have said many times: it is very important, for your sake, that the person you marry be Jewish.
You already know that our religion requires us to marry another Jew. You may also know that when Jews "marry out," they chip away at the Jewish future. If Jews continue to marry non-Jews at this alarming rate (it's now more than 50%), imagine the fate of the Jewish people in a number of years. It doesn't matter if the family celebrates holidays of both religions, or even if the kids are "brought up" Jewish. It would be just a matter of time before a majority of our people would dwindle and eventually disappear.
But perhaps most important of all, you may not know that marrying a Jewish person will allow you and your children to treasure the gift of Judaism. To the extent that you do not appreciate that gift, I accept blame. I have in large measure failed to expose you to the beauty of Judaism, failed to provide you with a proper Jewish education and failed to show you why being a Jew is something to be extremely proud of. Hey, it's only been in the past five years or so that I discovered the beauty, became educated and grew to be very proud.
I implore you to invest the time to learn and discover the beauty and meaning of Judaism that I failed to convey to you.
I urge you to explore Judaism and the Jewish people and to learn more about who you are and who and what you come from. You could try some of the methods I did. For me, some books were influential. So were some classes at Aish HaTorah which inspired me to question the relevance of Judaism to modern Jews and which showed me how enjoyable being a Jew can be. Also, traveling to Israel is awesome and hugely educational. And there are many other interesting ways you could choose to explore, to see for yourselves the beauty and importance of our faith.
Each Jew is the culmination of the hopes of hundreds of Jewish ancestors. Don't forget, you're not just Steven or Jennifer. Steven, you're Shlomo and Jennifer, you're Batsheva. And even if you only use your Jewish names when you get called to the Torah, it's still who you really are, an inheritance from your grandparents, and to them from their ancestors. All of my ancestors and your mother's, all those Jews who came before us, lived their lives -– and sometimes willingly gave them up –- to preserve their Jewish identity and heritage.
Love is a powerful emotion. As you are dating and forming relationships, you may think you are in love. But what the world calls "love" is not all there is to a successful and happy marriage. For a marriage to truly work there must be not only attraction and mutual care but also shared ideals and goals. And part of a Jewish man or woman's goals should be an embrace of his or her Jewish identity, and the instilling of that identity into their children.
I don't care if the person you marry was born a Jew or became one, via Jewish law, properly and out of sincere conviction. But if your spouse is not Jewish, I know there will be tears, in your mother's eyes and mine.
I don't expect you to fully understand these words because I'm writing about something outside of your experiences -- i.e., an interesting, enjoyable and vibrant Judaism that you'd want to embrace. I realize that my appreciation of the depth of our heritage may not be enough to inform this most important life decision. That is why I implore you to invest the time to learn and discover the beauty and meaning of Judaism that I failed to convey to you.
Please know that the words I share in this letter are written out of my love for each of you and the knowledge that for you to marry Jews will be what's best for you. What will make you happiest. My interest here is in what's best for you two, as it has always been. And as it always will be.
Steven and Jennifer, you are my legacies to the future. May you always have the courage, the strength and the wisdom to do the right thing -- not just for the Jewish people, not just for your parents, but for you, your lives and your own happiness.
With all my Love,