What is the current state of mixed marriage in America? What is the state of mixed marriages among us Jews? Are mixed marriages a threat to our existence? The answer to these questions is that currently the percentage of mixed marriages is generally small. But not everywhere.
How does it affect them if her father is Irish? And why would it bother them that his father is a countryman from Zychlin? Their love is a burning fire.
In Washington, D.C., where many Jewish young women employed by the federal government have settled, there are many mixed marriages. There the percentage is quite large. One constantly hears of a Miss Cohen marrying a Mr. McCoy. And a Miss Levy with a Mr. O’Connell. One hears not rarely that a Mr. Hurvitz has become a groom to a Miss Kelly and that Mr. Goldberg went to the chuppah with Miss Hunter.
There are many Jews and non-Jews who are proponents of mixed marriages. No other than President Franklin Roosevelt has expressed his awe for the fact that in America, various nationalities mix together through “intermarriage.” Roosevelt’s Jewish minister, Henry Morgenthau, not long ago acquired a non-Jewish son-in-law. Many Americans believe that mixed marriages are part of being American. But even a greater amount of Americans are covertly and also overtly against them.
We will try here to present the possible arguments of both sides. We will approach them vis a vis how they affect us Jews. The arguments for mixed marriages are as follows: First, if a Jewish boy falls in love with a Christian girl, or vice versa, and the parents object, then they are in effect against love. They’re behaving like parents from the Old World who broke their children’s hearts by mixing into matches and tearing apart couples in love. Love does not discriminate among nationalities, religion, class and roots. If you want to be convinced of that, go see Shakespeare’s tragedy “Romeo and Juliet.”
Second, Cohen, McCoy, Levy and Hunter are all Americans; they belong to the American people, and it doesn’t make any sense for brothers and sisters of one people not to want to pair off with each other. If every American group remained separate, America would eternally remain a country of diverse people, something that is not very healthy for the country.
Third, facts prove that very many mixed marriages occur in America between various nationalities. Of the Germans who immigrated to America, the majority assimilated with the Anglos, Irish, French and whomever else. Practically every American stems from various nations. British, German, French Irish and Norwegian Swedish have easily blended together. Today, if that is so, why should we Jews be an exception?
Fourth, the Jewish condition is not so exceptional that it would benefit Jews to remain separate. Experience shows that anti-Semitism lurks over us in every country and every era. We are observed everywhere by watchful eyes. It is therefore healthier for us to pair off with other groups and integrate with them. At the least, we save our children and grandchildren from persecution.
Fifth, when a Jew is neither religious nor a nationalist, what’s to keep him from integrating with others? How is a young Jewish man who neither attends synagogue nor speaks any Yiddish, or has no interest in Judaism, different from a non-Jew? What makes his Jewishness so important to uphold? He is already a scant Jew, and his children will be even more so. Whether or not he assimilates is practically one and the same. His Judaism is merely racial. And since when have we become racialists?
These, then, are the arguments for mixed marriages. One hears them whenever there’s a conflict between parents and children on this issue. When one hears only the issues and not the counter-arguments, one could be made to think they are iron clad, that all the logic is on their side. But let’s hear the other side. To the first point, that love knows no nationality, religions, class or background, the cultivated individual might say that this is nothing more than an ignorant critique. Researching psychological and sociological findings shows that people investigating those fields have found that love suffers very much, in fact, when man and wife come from different nationalities or religions. Young love as it unfolds is something very different from love that must be maintained over many years of struggle for its existence and as it brings forth new generations.
A Jewish young man and a non-Jewish young woman going out together in high school can be deeply in love. How does it affect them if her father is Irish? And why would it bother them that his father is a countryman from Zychlin? Their love is a burning fire. They can’t spend one minute without each other. Both of them feel that if it should happen, God forbid, that they don’t marry, the world will collapse.
But high school love doesn’t last forever. A few months after the wedding, a new situation arises. Man and wife actually do love each other, but the first throes of love are already over. The wife is pregnant; the man has trouble with a job — he doesn’t earn enough; they can’t find the right apartment. There are all kinds of difficulties and worries that are tied to marital life. In such a time, the parents and inlaws become very useful. They have influence over their children’s life together. In such times their background resonates.
When a Jewish man and wife fight, when Jewish in-laws mix in too much and intrude, it’s one thing, but when intrigues start to form between a Zychliner countryman and an Irish policeman, it’s already a different story. They could both be the nicest people but as in-laws they’re hobbled. At the husband and wife’s first fight, the wife says she has regret, that she shouldn’t have married a Jew. And the young man gets angry and can’t reconcile with what’s been said, and returns a similar sentiment.
It’s true that later they kiss and make up again, but the estrangement never really lifts. When their child is born there is the question of whom to name it after, the Irish grandfather or the Zychliner. Should their son be circumcised or not? Should he go with the Zychliner grandfather to synagogue or with the Irishman to church? When the child begins to grow and hears remarks from other children about his Irish background, he goes running to his mother, upset. “Am I really a Jew?” he asks. And explanations and comments that are poisonous for the child. and to the couple. ensue. Experience shows that a large part of mixed couples have not succeeded. Let us just now say that we still don’t know what would have happened if Romeo and Juliet had married, even though both of them belonged to the same people. Just because they declaimed those beautiful stanzas doesn’t prove they would have been a happy couple.
As for the comment that Cohen, McCoy, Levy and Hunter all belong to the American people, and it’s unhealthy for Americans not to want to marry each other, there is evidence that very many American groups do not intermarry. Protestants and Catholics remain separate to a certain extent. In most cases, Catholics marry Catholics and Protestants marry Protestants despite both being Christian.
One doesn’t often hear of Italians marrying Irish. Italians keep to themselves. They speak Italian and often live in segregated neighborhoods and summer at special Italian hotels. They eat mostly in Italian restaurants. It’s more or less the same with Poles, Spaniards and Ukrainians, and sometimes even with the Irish, German and French. As far as the Negroes, Chinese and Japanese
there’s not even a question. They each stay in their own groups. All in all, in America mixed marriages are not the norm but the exception. It would therefore be very odd that just us Jews, who are so different, would be the ones who break the norm. Many learned folks have challenged the notion that America is a melting pot.
The stronger opinion is that the charm and the power of America lie in the gathering, living and working together of various cultural groups. Americans have already gotten used to the idea that you can be Irish and American at the same time, Italian and American, a Jew and an American, a Pole and an American. When an immigrant becomes naturalized he must disavow allegiance to his previous citizenship, but no one demands of him to deny his cultural roots, or those of his brothers and sisters. So when a Jewish young woman marries a non-Jew, she is not fulfilling any kind of patriotic duty. Nobody demands that of her. As for the comment that the Jewish situation is sad, that we are never clear of anti-Semitism and that it’s therefore healthier to assimilate with others, we can respond with the following: If those who are weak always allowed themselves to be swallowed up by the strong, world history would be entirely different. That’s what Hitler tried with tiny, weak Holland. The Germans would have very happily married the Dutch, and in a matter of two generations all the Dutch would have become German. But the Dutch didn’t want such boorish favor. They preferred remaining “weak ” Dutch rather than becoming strong Germans. The English always begged the Irish to become part of their people. The Irish could have long since been British and benefited from all the privileges the British have, but instead they are still struggling in meek Ireland. No herring wants to become large by being swallowed up by a whale. Every generation of we Jews could have converted. How many billions of dollars have Christians spent trying to bring Jews to conversion? How many wiles have they used trying to devour us? Had our ancestors converted, there’d be no Jewish question for us today with all our troubles. But what’s the art in allowing oneself to be ingested? It’s a law of nature that each group wants to uphold its uniqueness, its culture. Take, for example the Russians, Ukrainians and White Russians. They speak practically the same language, have the same religion as much as they are “religious”; they belong to one federal country, but the Ukrainians and White Russians don’t want to become Russians. They shiver at the thought of being Russified, even though it’s easier and safer to be a Russian than a White Russian; it’s easier to belong to a large culture than to a smaller one.
Mixed marriages are not the norm but exceptions in America. It would therefore be very odd that just us Jews, who are so different,
would be the ones who break the norm.
The fight not only for existence but also for individuality exists in the world. Educated folks have written very little about this struggle. It’s been neglected but it exists nonetheless. There are many, many publications that could be understood only by taking into account this struggle. Not only does the elephant want to remain an elephant, but the fly wants to remain a fly.
You can observe the struggle for individuality and uniqueness everywhere. What is a characterless person? That is a person who doesn’t fight enough for uniqueness. He allows everyone to bend him. He changes his opinions according to those that suit him. He allows himself, in a spiritual sense, to be gobbled up by the stronger one.
People with character fight for their opinions and even for their habits and their foolishness. A person changes on his own, but he doesn’t want another to change him. A man can decide to grow a beard, but doesn’t want a decree to force him to do so, or his wife or boss to impose that upon him. The struggle for freedom is always a fight for uniqueness and individuality.
The idea that because one has it bad one must be absorbed in the bowels of the stronger one and become a part of him is, in effect, against the principles of freedom and human dignity.
The comment that a large number of modern Jews don’t separate themselves off from non-Jews and it makes no difference to them whether or not they remain Jews is a strong argument. But the exact opposite must be drawn out: We must not neglect our uniqueness. We’re in great danger of losing our spiritual face. The answer to this problem is not assimilating through marriage, but returning to Jewish culture, to Jewish uniqueness.
A while back we wrote a series of articles about the tragic condition of the modern Jew, who day by day is losing his uniqueness. Without his religion, without his Yiddish or Hebrew language, without his holidays, the modern Jew is a forgettable person. The situation is that we can’t convince a nonbeliever to become a believer. There’s also no purpose in people making themselves religious. Either you believe or you don’t believe. With regard to Yiddish and Hebrew, it’s very hard for us in America to easily teach our children these languages. Recent attempts haven’t brought much result. It seems 90% of the new generation of Jews and likely even more will not know any other language besides English. The parents are certainly the ones responsible for this, because almost all Italian children know Italian, but such is the situation. Even many writers and
What is a characterless person? That is a person who doesn’t fight enough for their uniqueness.
cultural activists have taught their children neither Yiddish nor Hebrew. Others do speak a little Yiddish, but it is filled with errors; it lacks flair and uniqueness.
Yes, the vast danger exists in America for the modern Jew to remain a bland soul with no authenticity and no style, and we must do all in our power to mitigate such a situation. It would be a shame if a people who for thousands of years has distinguished itself with so much originality should suddenly remain in a stance bare naked.
But mixed marriages are certainly not the remedy. Mixed marriages are more a result of this situation.
Let’s just say the stronger one wants to swallow up and assimilate with the powerless only if the weaker one is esteemable. When he loses face and wants to be swallowed up, the stronger one no longer desires him; he loses his appetite for him. Exactly because our ancestors employed so much authenticity, the Christian was eager to convert them, to swallow them up. Jews with no regard, Jews who are ready to assimilate, will find no takers.
So then, rather than losing face and searching for a stronger one to do us the favor and swallow us, let’s win back our character. The Jewish culture in the broad sense of the word from the old sources to the new is vast and rich. There’s enough to learn. There is what to draw from. There’s room on the Jewish street for vast cultural activism. But it must take on larger forms. It’s not worth it for us to assimilate or simply to get crazy and lose our spiritual contour. Not enough has been done to prevent this divine catastrophe.
ON THE STREET REPORTER: I.B. Singer on the Lower East Side.