As a Jewish transplant of Alabama, the first response from others regarding my religion is usually some form of, ‘Wait, there are Jews in Alabama?’ followed by a, ‘No, really, you must be lying.’ My common reply is a polite laugh and a ‘yes, me and two others.’ Joking aside, the Jewish population in Alabama is minuscule (9,000 or .2 percent), and the number of practicing Jews in my hometown of Mobile, Alabama is smaller, and dwindling by the minute. In truth, the quick demise of a Jewish community in Mobile exists as an illustration of a bigger Jewish picture. Realistically, the number of men in yarmulkes and women crying ‘oy vey’ is quickly dissolving.
Sadly, my religion, one of the oldest, is dying. In number, we make up only less than one quarter of one percent of the world’s population. As the statistics decline, the growing number of worried Jews inclines. Older generations fear that the traditions they have fought to preserve, such as Shabbat dinner, reading from the Torah, or Bar/Bat Mitzvahs will not be a part of their descendents’ lives. At the moment, Judaism is not an absolute, its future is uncertain. The vitality of my faith is under siege by the act of marriage; more specifically, interfaith marriage which is on the rise at the rate of one in every two American Jews (http://judaism.about.com/od/interfaithfamilies/a/intermarr_jew.htm)
Growing up surrounded by gentiles (non-Jews), my Jewish dating options were few. There was one Jewish male in my grade and in my eyes his desire was null, thus before moving to D.C. two years ago I had never dated a Jewish boy or man. It was difficult, truly impossible, but essential to my parents who constantly reiterated the fact that interfaith marriages are ‘harder’ because ‘Jews just understand Jews,’ as stated by my mother. In person, my parents were cordial to the gentiles I always brought home, but behind closed doors I knew they cringed as the ‘I love you’s’ were heard through the telephone, or the talks of marriage between my Gentile and I flittered on my tongue. Inwardly, I wondered whether they would ever truly accept my Christian counterparts or a marriage between me and another. These questions reverberated through my mind like a pin ball, but I knew the answer; they would not. They are not the only parents and families who look down upon interfaith marriage, one such man was Chicago Dentist, Max Feinberg, whose will included a stipulation in which any grandchild who married outside of the Jewish faith would be disinherited (http://www.chicagotribune.com/topic/sns-ap-us-illinois-inheritance-jews-only,0,6171244.story?track=rss-topicgallery). His death in 1986 caused an uproar among his family, but on September 22, 2009, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled his prerequisite as just. As a result of this decision, the four out of his five grandchildren who married non Jews will no longer inherit $250,000. Suddenly, money, marriage, and faith have become one. This case may appear as an exception, but proves that Jewish men and women fear an unpredictable Jewish future. Orthodox Jews, those who are members of the most traditional branch of Judaism, refer to interfaith marriage as a “second silent Holocaust” (http://judaism.about.com/od/interfaithfamilies/a/intermarr_jew.htm). In the past parents did not just quietly disagree, they openly mourned the loss of their children by sitting shiv’ah, the Jewish ritual of mourning (http://judaism.about.com/od/interfaithfamilies/a/intermarr_jew.htm).
I am most certain that my father would not disinherit me if I were to marry outside the faith, or sit shiv’ah for seven days if a Rabbi and priest were to preside over my wedding, but it would cause tension and a break in our relationship. His grandfather, Reverend Simon Chassin, was one of the first Rabbis in Mobile, Alabama, and he himself has a strong conviction in his faith. He believes strongly in the power of forgiveness, but I do not imagine he would forgive me for this. He acknowledges and laments over the fact that his name, Chassin, will not be carried on after his passing, but does not accept that his faith too will die with his death. My own marriage is a way of preventing his fear from coming to fruition, hence his outward push for me to pursue only men of the Jewish faith. This past summer discussing with him my dating mishaps, he kindly offered to pay for a three month subscription to the website Jdate. He became a part of the twenty-two percent of parents who pay for their children’s memberships (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0607190213jul19,1,3227323.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed), and believes that his investment is a wise one. I never equated marriage with religion, or thought of myself as being particularly religious. I attend services only on the high holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), but I do believe that my religion is a part of who I am. Would I feel incomplete without it? I do not know, but I want my religion to thrive, and my children to understand what it means to be Jewish. I do not want to be a growing statistic of Jewish women marrying gentiles, and if Jdate is the place to meet my man, then my time on it is worthwhile.