I recently overheard a peer of mine discussing the “sinful nature of intermarriage.” To clarify, intermarriage, in this case, refers to the marriage of a Jew to a non-Jew. I am the product of intermarriage: my mother converted to Judaism in a three-year process under the instruction of a Conservative rabbi in England, and my father was born into an Iranian-Jewish family. I have never considered myself anything but Jewish, and nor have either of my parents, as my mother is a very committed, spiritual Jewish person, and all I have ever known are the ways of Judaism and Jewish culture. However, I could not help but feel offended and taken aback when I heard this comment. It is difficult to be ostracized, simply because my mother was not born a Jew, a fact that nobody can change. Should I be ashamed of my roots? Should I never consider myself a “pure-blood” Jew, simply because my mother is of a different connection to our religion?
It is reasonable to argue that conversion may have taken the wrong path in its recent developments. Nowadays, an individual can convert to Judaism in as quickly as six weeks. Some may be concerned about this, and I can understand such concerns. How can someone truly grasp a religion as complex as Judaism in such a short time? How can they develop a connection to this faith that will sustain them past the conversion? Are we making this process too easy? I believe that conversion should be a meaningful process in which the converter makes a conscious effort to learn the ways of the religion and culture, and this probably means that the conversion would have to take place over a longer stretch of time. I do not believe this simply because my mother chose to go through a three-year process, but because I am not sure that an individual can develop a significant connection to Judaism in such a short period of time, and I think the beauty in Judaism yields from the individual connections it allows.
However, what is the point of converting, regardless of how long it takes if you are never to truly be accepted as a Jew? Why do I constantly find myself feeling like I am, as others have described me, a “half-blood?” This dynamic is unreasonable and unfair. My parents have dedicated themselves to their religion and have supported my brother’s and my own desires to pursue a rigorous Jewish education. I am a Jew, but I happen to be a Jew with a mixed heritage. This does not make me any less of a Jew than anyone else. Yes, my mother was not born Jewish, but she converted, and she is a devoted parent who lives by the core principles of Jewish teachings and life. I am proud of my mother and the strong, loving Jewish person she is.
If someone is willing to change their lifestyle and abandon what is familiar to them for the sake of their relationship, shouldn’t that be enough?
Marrying for love is not a shameful thing. In fact, we should be encouraged to marry the people who move us, bring out the best in us and are willing to make sacrifices for us. My parents embody this kind of relationship. My mother relinquished her religion and everything she knew to pursue a new, unfamiliar and completely Jewish life with my father. This is admirable in my eyes. If someone is willing to change their lifestyle and abandon what is familiar to them for the sake of their relationship, shouldn’t that be enough? Intermarriage, as I see it, is not sinful. As long as the non-Jewish person in the relationship makes an effort to lead a life guided by Jewish values, and tries to encourage their children to lead Jewish lives themselves, what is the harm? Should we not welcome people who want to immerse themselves in Judaism, instead of turning them away, when there are so few of us in this world?
While I was disappointed to witness this kind of perception of conversion within the walls of my school, a pluralistic, safe space for me, this experience brought me to realize something about what it means to be Jewish. Loving your neighbor as yourself, I feel, is the most integral part of being a Jew, and I have learned this way of life from my mother. Our people have faced years of discrimination. We have been strangers in a strange land. We have been rejected, oppressed and beaten down. However, this does not characterize our faith. Rather, our trust in humanity, our commitment to loving kindness and empathy, and our generosity define who we are. My parents have always strived to live a life guided by these principles, and I, as a young Jewish girl, will do the same. I only hope that my peers will learn to prioritize these values more often; I hope my fellow students will learn to love their fellow Jews like themselves. When we can empathize with others and open our hearts to people of different backgrounds and identities, we become stronger people in mind, heart and soul. Most importantly, this experience taught me that I do not need to prove that I am “just as Jewish” as people who were born to two parents who were born Jewish. My mother does not need to prove she is Jewish—she converted. My Judaism, her Judaism, everyone’s Judaism, is a contract with God. My relationship with God is mine and mine alone, and no one has the right to intervene.
Abigail Yadegar is a junior at Milken Community Schools in Los Angeles. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.
Fresh Ink for Teens is an online magazine written by, and for, Jewish students from high schools around the world.