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January 17, 1986 - Image 14

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-01-17

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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1 4 Friday, January 17,11986

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THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

There are none, according to
Jewish law. Surveys indicate
that there are 400,000 in the U.S.
Robin Margolis has founded
a national group for those
who feel in limbo.

BY MIMSI KROMER MILTON
Special to The Jewish News

.

Skeletons in the closest, family feuds,
hidden identities, prescient -dreams, ac-
cidental discoveries that sunder lives.
These sound like the ingredients of pure
fiction, heavy on the melodrama. But for
Robin Margolis, this is no make-believe
story, it's her life, and, she suspects, it's
not so very different from others.
Margolis was born into a small. town,
Midwestern, "aristocratic" family whose
paternal lineage could be traced back to
the American revolution and 17th century
French Calvinists. Her paternal grand-
father was a banker and her father a career
naval officer. Both her parents were
staunch Republicans. The family, she
says, "had high Episcopalian attitudes
and was about as WASPy as you could get
without being a Cabot or Lodge." As for
dealings with Jews, "you didn't discrim-
inate against them, you were just better
than them. Crude anti-Semitism was a
mark of bad breeding." Margolis' father,
who wrote a doctoral thesis on Soviet con-
centration camps, never once discussed
the Holocaust or German camps •in his
horn& His interest was strictly intellectual.
In contrast, the other side of the family
was shadowy. Margolis' maternal grand-
parents lived out of town. They were seen
rarely, and then only on closely super-
vised visits.
Margolis and her brothers were raised as
Episcopalians by a mother who said her
own up-bringing had been secular. But in-
explicable oddities cause a wondering child
confusion and pain. Why, Margolis asked,
was her mother being baptised in secret
along with her four-year-old brother? Why
was her mother's !good friend, a Jewish
Hungarian foreign service wife, suddenly
banished from the house? Why did her

.

mother always have terrible scenes each
Christmas? What caused the worsening
depressions that made her mother sleep
most of the day? What on earth was her
mother thinking when she proffered the
information that marriage to a Jew would
be condoned by the family?
Given these clues, it comes as no sur-
prise to learn that Margolis' mother was
a Jew who denied her identity. But for
Margolis and her immediate family, the
birth certificates, marriage licenses and
other papers found in a household hiding
place last year, gave proof of a lie that had
been lived in their midst. The discovery
came soon after the death of Margolis'
mother.
Margolis, personally, was pleased with
her new heritage. Asa young person, she
says "the Old Testament seemed more
believable and logical" to her than teach-
ings of the Trinity. After college, many of
her friends were Jewish, and when they
swapped fantasies, Margolis says, she
always got howls with hers: "To be born
again as the only child of an upper-middle-
class liberal, Democratic, family in New
York ' City."
So Margolis accepted her Judaism with
joy, assumed her mother's maiden name
and began preparing for a bas mitzva. But
her father and brothers had a harder time
of it. They made comments such as, "Why
so much hiss over just a little. Jewish
blood?" and proposed that Margolis'
mother probably had not known she was
Jewish until late in life, when. her parents
died. The family, which Margolis describes
- as "a flying wedge of guilt," is in an uproar
over Margolis' planned book about her
mother, - calling it "revenge on a dead
woman." They have threatened lawsuits

if their names are diiclosed.
With her Christian faMily in turmoil,
Margolis set out to locate her Jewish fam-
ily, whom she traced through a Canadian
synagogue. The welcome, after 42 years of
separation, was less _ than- exuberant.
"They are very proud," explains Margolis,
and "they feet betrayed, too. I'm like an
illegitimate child." Her newly-found
relatives are also dismayed by the idea of
the book, ashageci of a family° member
who deserted the 'faith. Even though she
travels to New York to see Jewish rela-
tives every six weeks, Margolis wonders
if they'll ever accept her. "I'm very emo-
tional, bookish, and stubborn, like my
Jewish family, but I leok like my Christian
family I'm straddling two cultures, I'm an
amalgam," she says.
A friend of Margolis' who understands
the loneliness of that ; position is Leslie
Goodman-Malamuth. While Margolis
relates her story with great emotion and
visible strain, Goodman-Malamuth re-
mains calm. Only the bitterness and occa-
sional use of black humor reveal the depth
of her feelings. She grew up. in a small,
California town with no visible Jews.
Although she knew her father was Jewish
and the family kept its Jewish name, they
had no religious affiliation. "The feeling
about being Jewish," Goodman-Malamuth
remarks, "was the same as about having
epilepsy -- nothing to be ashamed of,
but..." Like her father,\_ two brothers
,,married gentiles.
Goadman-Maltuituth became "Amish
identified" at the i*ive,rsity of Berkeleg,
where 65 percent glf tie Class was Jewish.
Although discouraged by her family, she
says- she "felt a tremendous liffiriity for
Judaism...I envied my ficiends who bitched

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