The Big Picture On Intermarriage


Sometimes, said Sherlock Holmes, the greatest evidence can be what you donít see, what you donít hear ó the dog that doesnít bark. Thatís why the most illuminating item of the week actually has nothing in it about Jews or by Jews.

Itís an article about Denzel Washington, star of the new movie, ìThe Hurricane.î Off screen, says Newsweek (Jan. 10), ìDenzel Washington is grounded.

Heís ìthe pre-eminent black actor of the ’90s, and he clearly feels some responsibility to present an upstanding image.î In fact, ìhe has shied away from interracial love stories. Washington dropped out of a romantic film with Michelle Pfeiffer and, before making ëThe Pelican Briefî with Julia Roberts, lobbied to have what he believed were out-of-character love scenes cut from the script. ëI know that a large part of my audience is black women,í he says. ëI also know there arenít many black love stories they can see on the big screen, and thatís an issue.í îA century from now, when the remnant of surviving Jews looks through the archives for evidence of Jewish resistance or attitudes toward our cultural and demographic decay, will they find even one prominent Jewish actor or producer who spoke with the same caring toward their people as Washington does?

Washington isnít alone. Last year, Eriq LaSalle, a black actor on ìER,î said in several print interviews that he pushed the shows writers and producer to eliminate his characterís on-screen relationship with a white woman because of its effect on black viewers: ìIf the only time you show a balanced relationship is in an interracial relationship, whether itís conscious or sub-conscious, it sends a message Iím not comfortable with … that the only time that this man becomes human and tender and vulnerable is when he falls in love with a white woman.

Ellen Sandler, former producer and writer for ìEverybody Loves Raymond,î told The Jewish Week, ìNo, you donít hear that from Jewish actors, youíre absolutely right,î not even from the Jewish actors most honored for their Jewish pride.The National Review (Jan. 24) examines this new centuryís impact on eight different topics, among them, the Jews, the only religious or ethnic group to be so honored, or mourned, for how many U.S. Jews will there be in 2100? Sure, says the essay, the children of intermarriages ìsometimes regard themselves as Jews … but this is cold comfort if they do not act upon it, and most do not.

There were three Jews in Jimmy Carterís cabinet, each the son of two Jewish parents. Every Jewish newspaper loves to report such things, but it takes the National Review to tell you the rest of the story: ìAmong them they fathered 14 children, all of whom were raised as Christians (or at least not as Jews).î In other words, from 12 Jewish grandparents came 14 non-Jews, meaning, ìthe Jewish community on average will grow older and older until it could die out altogether.

A headline in The Washington Post (Jan. 16), ìAssimilationís Pull Is Still Strong,î was not about Jews but Latinos. However, for all its pull, nearly 9 out of 10 Latinos cited in the Washington Post survey ìsaid it was important to maintain their native culture.î Even among the grandchildren of Latino immigrants, ìfully half say they have little in common with Anglos.

By contrast, the next dayís Washington Post (Jan. 17) had a front-page story about Birthright Israel, a program that just started bringing thousands of young Jews to Israel in a bid to thwart assimilation. However, when philanthropist Charles Bronfman ó one of Birthrightís patrons ó was trying to explain to the Washington Post why it was important, he didnít say anything about Jewish culture, but how nice it was to know that ìthere are people who somehow or other have the same kind of DNA that you have.

Is DNA enough, or is some culture needed? Birthright Israelís other patron, Michael Steinhardt, recently opened Makor, the new Jewish cultural center on West 67th Street. The New Yorkerís Talk of the Town (Jan.10) took notice, describing it as ìthe latest toolî in the battle against intermarriage and low birth rates. After all, The New Yorker quotes Rabbi Andrew Bachman: ìItís a place for Jews to meet other Jews, get married, screw, and have Jewish kids.îThereís a dimly lit bar, a screening room, a performance space for music, and learning areas on the upper floors. But if the idea is to lure young Jews with bait of culture, how many movies can they show in which the Jew doesnít fall in love with a non-Jew?

The idea that art affects the viewer is central to modern thinking, yet how are we affected by movie after sitcom in which Jews fall in love with anyone and everyone but a Jew?Where are all the powerful Jews in the entertainment media? Well, most of them are intermarried or interdating, too. The situation is so much with us. The intermarried are our friends, our cousins; who doesnít have Christian in-laws? We love them. We get together for holidays. No one sits shiva anymore. The dog, dear Watson, doesnít bark.