A couple of weeks ago, when we were at a Reform Synagogue service, I noticed an advert for an event that was intended to deal with some of the issues raised by so called mixed marriages - ie of different faiths. Glyn always said that our mixed marriage was a mixed sex marriage!
I am not sure what I thought I would find, or how being in such a huge roomful of people with so many viewpoints would make me feel but almost as soon as the event began I felt uneasy, disorientated, wondering why I had chosen to attend. Yes I married out of faith, but I did so many years ago, knowing why I was doing so, and never having the right to tell anyone why I made the decisions I made. Yes, of course, love was part of it, but so were so many other things that had happened in my childhood years, and they, of course, will remain buried in my heart unless I ever write the memoir I want to write.
I doubt I have the ability to write it, but that is another posting.
There were all sorts of people there. A man who was on his way to becoming Jewish - his father is a vicar and his wife C of E and who just felt a pull towards Jewish life. A man whose wife passed away last year - she was Jewish and so are her children, and they attended the Reform Synagogue and he was very welcome there. But at his wife's funeral, he was, as a non Jew, unable to say the mourners prayer or take part as others in the congretation would have done, in the service. He seemed quite comfortable with that - I would have been angry but he found it all very comfortable and comforting. I didn;t see how he could. Maybe that speaks about my condition rather than his condition!
Then there was a beautiful woman who had been married to a prominent member of the Jewish community but who had left him for a non Jewish man, and who was having problems adjusting, more, I think, to her loss of status, than her loss of religion. She blamed the religion and her poor partner just wanted, in his words, to wake up Jewish and be accepted. She was even uneasy about the fact her son had a non Jewish girlfriend. I couldn;t believe what I see as her hypocricy and I felt incredibly sorry for her partner. I could easily imagine them split up by now - and it is only Wednesday evening after all.
I don't really know what I expected from the afternoon but my overall feeling was that - yes, ok, as Jews, we live in a non Jewish society and all the experiences, all the influences are taken from that world and we have to work harder to preserve some sense of Jewish identity. So far so good. But then the whole thing began to come unstuck for me. It seemed that in every case it was the Jewish family/community/partner who was making life difficult, and that for most people where there was a problem, it could only be solved by the non Jewish partner making sacrifices for the Jewish partner.
And therein lies the rub. It is always going to be that way because we are "chosen." My father once sent me a cutting from the Jewish Chronicle - it arrived in an envelope with nothing else in it, just a cutting with the heading "We aren't racist - we're just different." It went on about the awful lives that people in mixed marriages led, the problems bringing the children up, the problems when they started interdating (interdating??) and so on and so forth. And then - the usual emotional blackmail. "And what have parents done for their children to cause them so much aggravation?" I so wish I still had the article. I kept it safe for years. It gave me a lot of pleasure when I read it and a lot of laughter. It might have been meant seriously, but quite honestly, one man's "difference" is another man's "racism."
I was approached by someone who knew of my background and who said he would try and get me in touch with other people who had escaped from extremist households. I wonder if he will manage to do so - the offer was kind though. He mentioned an organisation in the US who helps kids get out and that led me to a blog that I found horribly fascinating and it is
Some of the stories I read were nbelievable. I had no idea that the ultra right Orthodoxy had become so Talibanised. I actually felt ashamed.
And I do feel ashamed. If a non Jew wants to become involved in such an exluding and punitive religion - then they should be honoured and not be made to feel an outsider. I do not know what the answers to these questions are. There is apparently a marker genetically that identifies Jews - information here.
Are we a race or a religion? And does it matter. I don't even know if I believe in God. So what does that make me???
The meeting was held in the Masonic Lodge in Leeds - an interesting building built in the 1930s (? I need to verify this) but looked like a Georgian mansion.
After the meeting we went to eat at a kosher resteraunt with D and A and Jane. The food was - well, it was plentiful. The starters were as big as main courses in most normal restaurants!! But it was good and very enjoyable. And it was very very good to be with true friends.