Several readers have asked me to tell a bit about my family history, and since there are many interesting stories to tell and many places which would be good to start them, today I'll mention something that was, and is – unfortunately – very common in our family, and in many other Jewish families around the globe. I refer, of course, to intermarriage and assimilation.
My maternal grandmother, Magda (Miryam) Rosman, was born into a Jewish family in a small town in Transylvania, the second child out of seven siblings. She grew up in a community where all work ceased on the Sabbath day, blessings and prayers were said all the time, and if a Jewish man (in some very far-fetched situation) declared his wish to marry a non-Jewish woman, the entire village would run out of their homes tearing at their hair and crying "gevalt!"
Yet with all that, my grandmother ended up marrying a man who wasn't a Jew. Please understand that I'm not passing judgment on my grandmother or anyone else here. But the fact remains that intermarriage is one of the strictest, most serious prohibitions in Judaism – and for a good reason. Judaism isn't theory – it's a practice, alchemy of everyday life, of turning the mundane into holy. This cannot happen without a Jewish marriage and family, which was one of the strongest forces that glued the Jewish people together throughout the centuries. And just in case you might think we're talking about some crazy pure-blood doctrine here, I'll clarify that there was, and always will be, room for converts whose heart is sincere. And it's not like we think there's something WRONG with not being Jewish - we simply believe that if God made someone a Jew, it means this someone has an obligation to marry another Jew.
My father wasn't Jewish either. My aunt and uncle married non-Jews as well. So did many of Mom's cousins who didn't make aliyah right after World War 2. The natural result? Their children, for the most part, aren't aware of the fact that they are Jewish. I didn't know I'm Jewish until a while after we came to Israel, I just didn't make the connection. No one ever told me! One more generation of life like that, and the assimilation would have been complete. But thankfully, I was given the privilege to know my roots better and connect to them. I'm not sure why, of all the extended family, I'm the only one who came to see the incredible importance of passing the torch that was ignited so many generations ago at Mt. Sinai.
Even so, a moment came when I had to wonder; what would be better – intermarriage or dying alone, as a single? Surely intermarriage would be better; I tried to reason with myself for a while. I'm a woman, which means that even if I married a non-Jew my children would still be Jewish. Wouldn't that be better than if I had no children at all?
But then I realized that numbers isn't our problem. We have always been a small people. The problem in this generation isn't that we have too few Jews, the problem is that we aren't sincere enough and committed enough in our faith. Marrying a non-Jew would water this commitment down even more. And so the inevitable conclusion I came to was that it's better to die alone than to marry a non-Jew.
Not that I'm worried about the extinction of Jews as a whole – not even one bit. The One Who preserved us through thousands of years of exile will be The One Who continues to guard us and keep us safe. No; it is only the fate of individual Jews that detach themselves from their people that I see as a tragedy. The Jewish people will go on, like they have always gone on even after very numerous losses. But each and every Jew decides for himself or herself whether they choose to become another link in the chain.
I know this might sound pretty strong and maybe even a bit gloomy, but this is my share of thoughts on family history and Jewish history for today.