Amer­i­can Mix

Forward Magazine - - Shima Now - By I.B. Singer

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.

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