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November 25, 1988 - Image 24

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-11-25

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

CLOSE-UP

Children of mixed marriages find an
easy way out of Judaism

Through
The Back
Door

B

army Miller-Shaw's parents
met at a Labor Zionist
dance. Her mother was a
Russian-Jewish immigrant.
Her father, who came to the
dance with Jewish friends, was a Ger-
man Lutheran from Alsace-Lorraine.
Yet her parents' common
philosophy more than made up for the
differences in their backgrounds, the
55-year-old psychotherapist says.
Both were far to the left on the
political spectrum and both were
"non-believers," she says.
"Both felt religions were more
destructive than comforting!"
If Miller-Shaw's family had any
religion, it was what is known today
as humanism: a belief in the ir-
relevance or non-existence of God and
the commonality of all people.
lb Miller-Shaw, Judaism was the
culture that her parents and their
friends shared. It was the Yiddish
language they spoke. It was the
Workmen's Circle summer camp she
attended as a girl.
Christianity was not Jesus Christ
and the anticipated Second Coming,
but the Christmas tree her father
decorated each year until her parents
divorced when she was 10. Christiani-
ty was her father's childhood songs.
But it is to the Jewish people that
Miller-Shaw says she belongs;
because of the cultural milieu in
which she was raised, because of her
strong identification with her mother
and because of her father's "unspoken

24

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 19bu

DAVID HOLZEL

Staff Writer

message" that she should identify as
a Jew.
And so she does. Her two
husbands have been Jews. She says
her children consider themselves
Jewish. And Jewish law says she is a
Jew because her mother is a Jew.
But Bunny Miller-Shaw has a se-
cond side she is not willing to give up.
She finds the mark of her non-Jewish
father in her athletic prowess of
which she is proud and the "shikse
nose" she has been teased about.
Mixed marriages were uncommon
in the 1920s when Miller-Shaw's
parents met. Today, the mixed mar-
riage rate between Jews and non-Jews
in the United States is about 40 per-
cent and climbing.
Miller-Shaw maintained her
Jewish identity. That is unusual for
a child of a mixed marriage. Surveys
show that the children of mixed mar-
riages tend not to identify as Jews or
raise Jewish children if their non-
Jewish parent does not convert to
Judaism and if Judaism is not em-
phasized at home.
Mixed marriage is the open back
door through which children quietly
leave the Jewish people.
Oftentimes, mixed couples ex-
press the desire to let their children
choose which identity to adopt.
Miller-Shaw says this is a mistake.
"The unresolved couple who raise
their children, saying, 'I'll let the
child decide: doesn't help the child
understand what the parents' beliefs

are. In my case, my parents express-
ed a very strong belief system!'

oung adults who are child-
ren of • mixed marriages
tend to define Judaism and
Christianity as religions, al-
though they unconsciously
describe them as cultures. They often
give equal importance to all cultures.
"A person can exist within several
cultures all at once," says Michelle
Reiter.
Reiter, 21, considers herself
Jewish although, she says, "I don't
feel a real strong connection to the
Jewish people:'
Her Jewish father and non-Jewish
mother raised her "humanistic!' She
had a bat mitzvah at the Birmingham
Temple, "but I was also raised Chris-
tian in the sense that we celebrated
Christian holidays. But I have no
religious beliefs in Christmas!'
Reiter identifies as a Jew partly
because "it gives me a connection
with my Jewish relatives. I enjoy see-
ing my family celebrate the religious
part of Judaism. I don't believe in it,
but I enjoy it. I can't explain it!'

For Reiter, there is no contradic-
tion in being a Jew and celebrating
Christmas. In fact, she feels she has
an edge over her friends who are
either Jewish or Christian.
"I think people looked up to me
because I got Christmas presents too.
I love the presents?'
She says she wants to raise

children in the same manner in
which she was raised. She would
prefer to marry a Jew, but not so-
meone "too Jewish," not like a former
boyfriend who covered his head with
a makeshift kippah to say a blessing
while lighting Chanukah candles.
Reiter does not rule out marrying
a non-Jew if the choice came down to
love or Judaism. As one 19-year-old
with similar sentiments expressed it,
"Judaism is not going to be
something that rules my life."
Like many children of mixed mar-
riages, Reiter believes less prejudice
would exist if people's identities were
more universal. Yet when she tells a
story of a crusade for universalism
last Chanukah, her pride in Jewish
particularism comes out.
She was listening to one
Christmas song after another on the
radio. The DJ was wishing everyone
a merry Christmas. Reiter was
fuming.
"It's insulting that during
Chanukah and Christmas time,
nobody celebrates Chanukah," she
says.
It took two phone calls to get the
announcer to grudgingly wish
listeners a happy Chanukah, she says.
Why would she expect American
Christians to single out Chanukah at
the time of Christmas, their most im-
portant holiday? After all, Jews form
only a tiny part of the population.
And why did ignoring Chanukah gall
her so?

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