I’m Assimilating

I hung out with my parents this weekend and whenever I do I think about how assimilated I am.

I grew up in a very Jewish family, now I’m like what we used to call a Waspy Jew. I can laugh at this with my non-Jewish wife around my parents, but I don’t think they’re entirely amused. It probably hurts my mother a little. Though it’s also true that back in ’68 her best friend Golda moved with her family to Israel partly out of the fear that her kids would marry Christians if they grew up in the States. My parents didn’t want their kids marrying Christians but they didn’t want to give up on America either. And they raised their kids to be pretty open, notwithstanding the tribal messages. Of their six kids, half married Jews. But I’m the most assimilated, don’t think of myself as very Jewish at all.

It’s not hard for me to stand up for my choices, I’m proud of them, I wouldn’t make them differently—but sometimes I feel that I should hold the torch for assimilation. I can’t really, everyone has got to make their own choices in this regard, and should be able to. But where it gets more dicey is around the anti-intermarriage rules of the Jewish religious organizations. I don’t think you can have major power in America and say, Guess what, other people can’t marry our kids. When Lieberman was running for VP I wrote a piece in the Observer challenging him on this score, making it an issue, and when Lieberman went on the Don Imus show, Imus asked him about intermarriage and he specifically denied that there was anything in his conservative faith’s rules against intermarriage. This was a lie. But it underscores my point. You can’t aspire to major power in America and say, You can’t marry our kids. It’s indefensible for a presidential candidate. And it’s problematic if you’re an important segment of the establishment. Like: Yes, I will run the university, or the think tank, or the political party, but you can’t marry my kids.

My reasons for marrying “out” and assimilating generally are of an emotional character, I am sure. I felt stifled by tribal constraints. But I can rationalize my decisions politically as well. Jews (or the more secular and reformed segment of the tribe) wanted to stop being outsiders in my generation and America said, OK, you can be insiders. To me, it’s hard to be insiders in American society and maintain a sense of otherness. It will happen to any tribe, and it’s happened to mine. The Jewish sense of otherness is, We’re smarter and we’re distinct and persecuted. I grew up with all that but now incredble success has brought a lot of pressure on that identity. O.K. maybe you are smarter, but you’re not persecuted, and hey, can my daughter marry your son. I want her to marry a smart boy!

I know, there’s a ton of religious claptrap surrounding these issues, and a lot of piety, but that seems to me the sociological reality.

I’m Assimilating