QUESTIONS FROM HALF-JEWISH PEOPLE
1. Hey, I identify as (half-Jewish, a Jew, a Christian, Muslim, none, both, etc.) — it would be great to meet some of the others! But I don’t know any half-Jewish folks in my area. What do you suggest?
So, tell us what your interests are! Post messages on our “Message Board” and talk with half-Jewish people from all over the world. Would you like to have monthly Half-Jewish Network dinners in your area? We can help you create a dinner group. Contact us.
2. Why was the organization named “The Half-Jewish Network”?
When we first started thinking about a name for our group, we realized that we would have to come up with a term that the adult children of intermarriage would recognize immediately, wherever they saw it.
It would have to be a term that the adult children of intermarriage and other descendants frequently used about themselves and regarded favorably. It would also have to be a term that internet search engines could locate easily. “Half-Jewish” was the term that best met these criteria. It was the term that half-Jewish people appeared to use most frequently.
3. What other terms didn’t work, and why? What about something lighter and more humorous, like “Semi-Semites”? Why are you currently using a rainbow logo? What about half of a Star of David?
Other terms were simply too long: “adult children of Jewish-Gentile intermarriage” — or insufficiently inclusive of our diversity: “adult children of Jewish-Christian intermarriage” (there are growing numbers of adult children of Jewish-Buddhist and Jewish-Muslim intermarriages).
“Half-Jews” created other problems. Some adult children of intermarriage felt that it identified them as Jews prematurely, when some of them are not sure of their identity(ies) yet. Born Jews with two Jewish parents associated the term “half-Jews” primarily with the Holocaust.
Now with regard to your inquiry as to why we didn’t pick a more humorous name like “Semi-Semites” and a logo showing half of a Star of David — our Coordinator, Robin Margolis, co-founded the first attempt to start a U.S.-based international organization for half-Jewish people in the middle 1980s, and we did just as you suggested.
We had a humorous name — “Pareveh: The Alliance for Adult Children of Jewish-Gentile Intermarriage” — foods that are “pareveh” or “parve” in Orthodox Jewish law are foods that can be eaten with either meat or milk products, which we thought reflected the situation of half-Jewish people symbolically. We thought that was very amusing and would lighten up the discussion.
We also had a logo that was a half of a Star of David.
Well, we learned the hard way that humor didn’t work. First, Jewish groups were offended by the use of a food term. Intermarriage is a serious subject for them. They did not like the half of the star of David logo either.
Second, many Jewish groups didn’t understand the name at all — we started getting mail from Jewish Orthodox kosher food and cooking groups. Christian groups totally did not understand the name.
Third, most half-Jewish people are not raised as Jews but as Christians, Muslim, other faiths, secular, or “both” — because the Jewish community has been so reluctant to reach out to interfaith families — so the majority of half-Jewish people had no clue what “pareveh” or the joke behind it meant. It made it much harder for half-Jewish people to find us.
Fourth, a lot of half-Jewish people didn’t think their issues were that funny. It’s a serious subject to them.
Fifth, a lot of the Christian, secular and “other” half-Jewish people weren’t happy with a term which implied that only the Jewish ‘half’ of their identity counted.
Sixth, a lot of other organizations, Jewish and Christian — few Muslim groups at that time had interfaith Jewish/Muslim couples or descendants of Jewish/Muslim intermarriages — anyway, few Jewish and Christian groups took an organization with a ‘joke’ name seriously. It totally detracted from our credibility.
So you can see why we didn’t go down the ‘humor’ path again.
4. I’m the child of a Jewish mother and a father who wasn’t Jewish. Because my mother was Jewish, I was always told that I am fully Jewish, not half-Jewish. The people with Jewish fathers, what’s their problem anyway, why don’t they just convert?
Should I post on the Half-Jewish Network message board if I think of myself as Jewish? My father is Jewish, and my mother is a Christian, and I was raised as a Jew. I am very uncomfortable with the term “half-Jewish.”
Should I post on the Half-Jewish Network message board if I think of myself as Christian? My mother is Jewish, and my father is a Christian, and I was raised as a Christian. I think of myself as half-Jewish, but I don’t want to offend other message board participants.
Wouldn’t you like to talk the rest of us on our Message Board? Aren’t you curious about what we’re like? We have a lot in common with you, no matter how we were raised. Some of us have the same family circumstances, and we support your choices. Some of us have made the same identity choices as you and some of us have made different choices. Wouldn’t it be interesting to talk with us and ask us why some of us consider ourselves “half-Jewish”?
We believe that adult children of intermarriage define themselves as they wish. You identify as “fully Jewish,” we support you in your choice. After all, some of the rest of us consider ourselves to be “fully Jewish.” Yeah, signed up for shuls, the whole megillah.
But consider that all too often, we are separated from each other and prevented from sharing our experiences and stories by the widely varying definitions of “who is a Jew” within the Jewish community and our varied upbringings in other faith-based cultures, including Christianity and Islam.
Some of us are taught that we are “real Jews” because we are “matrilineal Jews” — we have Jewish mothers, but we are also sometimes told that the children of Jewish fathers are not Jews, and that we have no link to them.
Some of us have been told that we are “real Jews” because we have a Jewish father (“patrilineal Jews”) — and have been brought up and educated as Jews — but that the other children of intermarriage who have been raised as “secular Jews,” “both,” “Christian,” “Muslim,” “other”, “nothing” etc. have no claim on Jewish identity, whether they have a Jewish father or a Jewish mother, and that we need not think about them.
The result of these messages is to separate us from one another, preventing us from sharing our stories and experiences with the people most likely to understand them — other “half-Jewish” people, however they define themselves.
Some of us have never had a close “half-Jewish” friend or significant other. For some of us, the only “half-Jewish” people we know are our siblings or cousins.
Also sitting participating in our group are our secular, “undecided,” atheist, Christian, Buddhist, Wiccan, Muslim, “both”, and “other” half-Jewish members.
So share your experiences with us. We’ll share our experiences with you. We’ll talk about “who is a Jew?” sometimes. And we also have much to discuss beyond that. You won’t be bored!
5. Is this group only for adult children and other descendants of intermarriage who want to identify as Jews or convert to Judaism? Are children of intermarriage who do not identify as Jewish or belong to other faiths and cultures welcome? Also, this is a long website! Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to see all the information!
We welcome half-Jewish people from every type of faith-based and secular culture. We only ask that they show courtesy to each other and a willingness to listen to each others’ viewpoints.
Regarding the large amount of information on this website — as we are contacted by new people, we are repeatedly asked the same questions. We are happy to hear from people interested in the Half-Jewish Network, so we are making our website as detailed as possible, so that people can get Frequently Asked Questions answered quickly and efficiently.
QUESTIONS FROM INTERFAITH COUPLES
6. I’m a Christian woman, married to a Jewish man, and raising young kids. I am uncomfortable with the term “adult children of intermarriage.” Are you suggesting that my kids will have problems when they grow up? Why are you using that term?
We wanted a phrase that would describe our community briefly and clearly. We considered other phrases, but they were very cumbersome: “grown offspring of intermarriage” (sounds like a 19th century novel by George Elliot) and “children of intermarriage” (but we’re adults now, not toddlers). So we’ve been using the “adult children of intermarriage” phrase.
7. I’m the Jewish spouse in an intermarriage with young children, and I lead an interfaith couples group in my synagogue. It makes me uneasy to deal with adult children of intermarriage raised outside of Judaism. Suggestions?
We know that interfaith couples groups are uncomfortable with adult children and other descendants of intermarriage. If they are raising their kids as Jews, adult children raised as “both”, “nothing”, “Christian,” “Buddhist”, etc. revive issues for some interfaith couples. The same is true for interfaith couples groups raising their kids as Christians, or “both” or “nothing,” who are presented with adult children of intermarriage raised as Jews.
It’s the old “road not taken” question — our mere presence as adult children of intermarriage raised in a different way inadvertently spotlights the question for some interfaith couples: what if we reared our kids differently? Will our children object to how we raised them when they grow up? Will our children be unhappy when they grow up? Will our children leave the faith-based or secular culture that we are raising them in when they grow up? Will our children be mad at us for intermarrying when they grow up? The resurfacing of these old issues can create uncomfortable feelings for members of an interfaith couples group.
That’s one of many reasons why we would recommend that your synagogue find an adult child of intermarriage to facilitate a separate adult children of intermarriage discussion and social group. Our needs and issues are different from yours, even though we are your friends.
The two groups could warmly support each other in the synagogue, and there would be overlapping members who will need both groups’ friendship (adult children who are themselves intermarried, for example). Consider finding an adult child of intermarriage to facilitate a separate children of intermarriage discussion and social group.
8. I was a Christian and converted to Judaism. I married a Jew, and we’re raising our kids as Jews. I think of my children as “Jews,” not as “half-Jewish” or “half-Jews” or future “adult children of intermarriage.” Thoughts?
I was Jewish, I converted to Christianity and married a Christian. Our kids have been baptized, and confirmed as Christians. I think of them as real Christians, not “half-Jews” or “half-Jewish.” What do you think?
Well, what can we say here? Some of our intermarried parents had very strong expectations for our identities, too.
You’re caring parents who want to do the best you can for your kids. But bear in mind, kids grow up, and leave the nest, and part of growing up, for many of us, is exploring our duality in different ways. You remember being a teenager and a young adult, right? Did you pay any attention when your parents discouraged you from identifying as certain cool, utterly hip things?
No, you ignored your parents, and wore your Goth or your preppy or slacker outfits and blasted your music, and kept that no-good friend, and drove your parents crazy, and they spent a lot of time yelling about it.
So some of our interest in being “half-Jewish” is a perfectly normal developmental process of creating an adult identity.
Also, after we leave the nest you created for us, we go out into a world which often forcibly reminds us of our duality — “you don’t look Jewish,” “how can someone who is an African-American have a Jewish mother?”, “our denomination does not accept patrilineal children of intermarriage as Jews,” “Israel only partially accepts people with your parentage,” “our movement does not accept matrilineal children of intermarriage as Jews if they were raised outside of Judaism,” “good thing your family raised you as a Christian, because your Jewish dad is going to hell,” “shouldn’t you be witnessing to your Jewish family members about accepting Christ as their savior?” etc.
So even if we haven’t thought about our duality before, the world has ways of bringing it to our attention.
You are giving your kids a good home and an identity you feel happy with. Please be there for them when they start dealing with their duality. They will need your love, support and acceptance. Maybe even your advice, if their utterly hip, cool friends aren’t around.
Though you can ask them to remove their iPod earphones when you’re talking to them.
9. I’m a spouse in an interfaith marriage. After reading your website, I have a question. Are you suggesting that when my kids grow up, they may drop the faith or culture in which I and my spouse raised them, and switch over to the faith or culture of the other side of the family?
Research shows that some children and other descendants of intermarriage stay in the faith(s)/culture(s) — or lack thereof — that their intermarried parents raised them in; but other kids in the same family can and do switch over.
It’s like one child will have your obsession with crossword puzzles, and another child will share your spouse’s passion for sports. One child has permanently inherited your terrible sinus problems; another child will forever possess your spouse’s cowlick that cannot be integrated into any hairstyle.
All you can do is be good parents and raise them in the way that you think best. Once they reach adulthood, wait and see. Be patient.
10. I’m an Orthodox Jew, and my wife converted from Christianity to Judaism, via Orthodox conversion. We keep a kosher home, belong to an Orthodox synagogue, and are raising our kids as Orthodox Jews. It makes me really mad to hear our marriage referred to by non-Orthodox Jews as a “conversionary intermarriage” and our kids as “children of intermarriage.” My wife is a Jew! My kids are Jews! Our marriage is not an intermarriage!
We’d like to suggest that you may be taking the language used by interfaith family sociology researchers too personally.
Interfaith family researchers refer to marriages in which one spouse converts to another spouse’s religion as “conversionary intermarriages” to distinguish them from “intermarriages” or “interfaith marriages” in which neither spouse converts. Examining how conversionary intermarriages differ from interfaith (inter)marriages is just a necessary part of their job. Candidly, that’s the best and least offensive terminology that researchers have been able to come up with so far.
Now with regard to your family –
Your wife has converted via Orthodox ritual, and keeps a kosher home, helps do outreach to other converts to Orthodoxy, and is raising your kids as Orthodox Jews. Certainly, we would consider her to be a Jew and your kids to be Jews. But –
Remember that children of intermarriage see a converted parent as “Jewish and.” As in, “Jewish-but-used-to-be-a-Presbyterian-and-go-on-trips-with-her-church-youth-group” or “Christian-but-used-to-be-a-secular-Jew-and-do-road-trips-on-a-cool-motorcycle.”
Sitting in your home are undoubtedly written and recorded records of your wife’s past — her high school year book, videos and CDs and DVDs of her Christian family’s big celebrations, her college photo album, and so on. Her Christian parents and siblings and their families come for visits to your home.
We hope that you have not eliminated from your home all written and recorded evidence of your wife’s past prior to her conversion to Orthodox Judaism, and forbidden all visits and contact with any member of her Christian family?
We hope not, as such actions things would be psychologically very unhealthy for your kids, and would make your wife miserable — and would be futile in the end, because sooner or later, your kids would find out about their “other” family and its history.
Your wife can have a very happy life as an excellent Orthodox Jew and your children can grow up to be perfectly contented and observant Orthodox Jews, but your kids will always have a deep and visceral connection to your wife’s past identity and to her Christian family. It’s healthy. It’s the way we’re “wired.”
QUESTIONS FROM JEWISH, CHRISTIAN, INTERFAITH AND OTHER CLERGY, OUTREACH WORKERS, SYNAGOGUE AND CHURCH OFFICIALS, AND PEOPLE JUST PLAIN INTERESTED IN INTERMARRIAGE ISSUES
11. I’m a born Jew and I grew up after the Holocaust. Terms like “half-Jewish” and “half-Jew” make me uneasy because I associate them with the Nazis.
Actually, the Nazis primarily called us “mischlinge” (half-caste), as in “mischlinge first degree” (child of intermarriage), “mischlinge second degree” (grandchild of intermarriage), etc. Mischlinge was used primarily in reference to children of intermarriage raised as Christians.
“Geltungsjuden” (Jews by definition or Jewish half-castes) were children of intermarriage raised as Jews.
“Halbjuden” means “half-Jewish” or “half-Jew”.
See the page on this website “Holocaust.”
Ironically, there are a fair number of references by Jews in pre-1950 writings to “half-Jews” and “quarter-Jews,” referring to descendants of intermarriage in a perfectly polite manner, often when discussing an adult child or grandchild of intermarriage who had become famous for political or cultural achievements.
See Question No. 2 in this FAQ to see why we chose the name “Half-Jewish Network.”
12. I’m a born Jew, with two Jewish parents, and I was always told, growing up, that you’re either a Jew or you’re not. You have a Jewish mother, you’re a Jew. If you don’t have a Jewish mother, you’re not a Jew.
You are referring to the so-called “matrilineal rule.”
That was the gold standard of Jewish identity a long, long time ago in another galaxy, far, far away.
For more information on the current widely varying definitions of what constitutes a Jew, please go to the link on our website entitled the “Who Is A Jew Controversy.” As you will see, there appear to be multiple different current positions on “Who Is A Jew?” from various groups in Judaism.
13. I’m Jewish, grew up Jewish. Is your organization affiliated with the Jews for Jesus or the Messianic Jewish community?
No. But we do have some group members who are Messianic Jews. We have also listed some Messianic Jewish websites on our “Christian Resources” page.
14. I’m a Jew with two Jewish parents. If the child of an intermarriage is raised as a Jew, why would he or she talk about having a Christian “half”?
But you are someone with two Jewish parents. The children of intermarriage are people with one Jewish parent, and another parent who was born into a different faith and culture. Just for starters, we can’t get rid of 50% of our DNA, never mind our Baptist mom and her terrific Christmas ham. The ham with the pineapple slices.
Even children of intermarriage who think of themselves as “totally Jewish” or “completely Christian” in their spiritual or secular beliefs have all kinds of emotional and cultural ties to both parents, which inevitably associate us with their past histories.
15. I’m a Jewish outreach worker. If a Jew and a Christian get married, and the Christian spouse converts to Judaism, and they raise the kids as Jews, then the kids should feel totally Jewish, right?
I’m an intermarried Christian. If a Christian marries a Jew, and the Jewish person converts to Christianity, and the children are raised as Christians, shouldn’t the children feel totally Christian?
Dear friends, consider that both of you are products of marriages in which both spouses were born Jews or born Christians, with shared spiritual and cultural assumptions on many subjects, and relatives who reinforced them for you.
But in the case of children of intermarriage — when one of our intermarried parents converts to the other parent’s religion, and we are raised in that religion, we children can see very clearly that prior to Dad’s conversion to Judaism, he used to be a guy named, say, “Frank O’Reilly”, who went to St. Francis de Sales High School. We think of Dad as “now-Jewish-but-also-formerly-Roman-Catholic-and-one-heck-of-a-high-school-quarterback.”
We can also see that if our Jewish mom converted to Christianity and is now an Episcopalian that she used to be a woman named “Sarah Horowitz”, who went to Modern Orthodox part-time Hebrew and Judaism classes after her regular secular high school day classes. We think of Mom as “now-Christian-but-also-formerly-Orthodox-Jewish-and-the-winner-of-several-prizes-for-essays.”
We think of Dad as “Jewish and.” We think of Mom as “Christian and.” After all, do you want our parents to hide their high school yearbooks from us?
16. I’m a Jewish synagogue official, and my denomination has lots of programs and literature for interfaith families. Doesn’t that cover adult children of intermarriage?
Many Jewish outreach workers point to the advances some spiritual and secular Jewish groups — not all — have made since 1990 in terms of welcoming interfaith couples and their young children.
That’s great. But those programs are designed for our interfaith parents. We as individuals are not an interfaith couple — we are the “product” of our intermarried parents. The adult children of intermarriage and other descendants of intermarriage have very different needs and issues from our intermarried parents.
When we arrive at a Jewish group, and are invited to an interfaith couples group, it’s like inviting us — even if they are our age — to spend an evening with — our parents. When they give us literature about interfaith couples — it’s reading literature about — our parents. We’ve already lived through that entire experience.
Outreach to our interfaith parents is not effective outreach to us.
17. I’m a Jewish outreach worker — so what do you want already, if interfaith family outreach programs don’t reach you? Frankly, my organization doesn’t know anything about adult children of intermarriage.
Here are a few simple, low-cost things your group could do that would make us very happy:
(1) put the phrase “and the adult children and other descendants of intermarriage” in the welcoming language on your website and in your literature;
(2) find one adult child of intermarriage in your group and have them facilitate a monthly discussion/social group for us;
(3) hold internal (or open to the public) workshops for your organization on the issues of adult children of intermarriage;
(4) write a simple brochure welcoming adult children of intermarriage to your organization– it can be one page long and available as a PDF download on your organization’s website; and
(5) in your next publicity ads and notices, mention that you welcome “adult children and other descendants of intermarriage.”
And if you need to more information about adult children of intermarriage to develop effective, low-cost literature and programming for them, please ask us. We’re happy to offer suggestions.
18. I’m a Jewish organizer, and you want us to welcome adult children of intermarriage. OK, but why do you say, “and other descendants of intermarriage”? Surely the grandchildren don’t care!
Because we’ve been contacted by grandchildren and great-grandchildren of intermarriage who have the same concerns and needs as the adult children of intermarriage. An intermarriage can affect up to four generations of a family in various ways.
Remember, Raoul Wallenberg, the Christian Swedish diplomat, who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust, and ultimately lost his life, took those huge risks partially because he proudly identified as half-Jewish and half-Wallenberg. He was the great-great-grandchild of an intermarriage.
19. I’m a Jewish interfaith family outreach professional, and I am disturbed by your website’s bluntness about Israel’s treatment of interfaith couples and half-Jewish people and your criticisms of Birthright Israel. Isn’t it your duty to persuade half-Jewish people to love Israel first and then reveal to them in a low-key manner the problems that they face in Israel and encourage them to work on those problems?
We have always treated our members as responsible adults. That means being truthful with them, even on topics that are not pleasant. We do not feel comfortable emulating the Jewish community’s attempts to downplay and conceal Israel’s poor treatment of half-Jewish people and interfaith couples.
We do encourage our members to financially support three Israeli Jewish groups working against the legal and social discrimination against half-Jewish people in Israel.
We also encourage them to join and support Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations working for peace with the Palestinians and pluralistic democracy within Israel, as peace and pluralistic democracy groups are generally in favor of better treatment for half-Jewish people and interfaith couples in Israel.