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Gemma Goodman Headshot

The World of Intermarriage: Stepping Out of the 'Jewish Bubble'

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It was late one night, for hours I had been plucking up the courage to take that first step into my mum's room and say to her "I have something to tell you." The fears of extradition, anger and general disappointment had put me into such a state of blind panic that it's hard to remember the exact run of events. I began nervously, "I've met someone and he's not Jewish." I wait, my mum doesn't say anything, I carry on. "I think I am going to be with him for a long time, what will you and dad do about it will you cut me out?..."

From the day I was born I have been brought up in a very traditional Jewish household, keeping the Sabbath and going to synagogue every Saturday with my family. I attended both a Jewish primary school and secondary school and only had Jewish friends. I had absolutely no exposure to the world of intermarriage. I was brought up in shall we say the 'Jewish bubble.'

But in my mind, the 'Jewish bubble' was not all its cracked up to be. I became jealous of my less religious friends who went out on a Friday night, I longed to try non- Kosher food and I lashed out against the tight Jewish traditions I had been brought up in.

When I started university I made a concerted decision that I would stay away from my fellow Jewish students and reinvent myself. I wanted to be identified as my own person rather than a Jew. I lived in a non-Kosher flat and moved in with six of my non-Jewish friends. I had become, truly assimilated. My new life didn't involve any Judaism and dating non-Jews became normal. Although my parents had been aware of my floundering Jewish attitude for years, my decision that Judaism was no longer a priority in my life still shocked them.

I sometimes ask myself would my lifestyle choices and attitude towards Judaism be different if I hadn't been brought up the way I was. Am I representative of everyone who grew up like me? This is like trying to answer the age old question of nature vs. nurture. In this instance I think my headstrong and independent nature has led me to be who I am today. I can't blame everything on my parents.

Making this decision to move away from my Jewish roots has not been easy. The push and pull of the pressure of belonging to such an insular community and losing my faith in God has led me to experience a crisis of identity of sorts. At the age of 21, I am having to make the important life choices about whether I will bring my children up Jewish, how important that concept is to me and how it effects others around me.

Because of my choices, I endure resentment from my family members and the shame of being shunned by the wider community. I turn to an amusing anecdote to demonstrate what I have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. It was the day of a close family member's funeral, emotions were high, there I was sitting alone not expecting what was about to occur. Out of the blue, one of my older religious cousins came up to me and embarked on a long and rather horrifying story of his close sexual encounter with a non-Jewish girl making me burst unsurprisingly into tears. Even in the most inappropriate of settings I am never safe from comment and confrontation.

I've often thought about conversion as my decision doesn't just impact me but the way my children would be brought up and how my family is viewed in the Jewish community. I realised however that as selfish as it sounds, being with a Jew is no longer important to me.
It's a shame I experience so much friction with my family and that this matter will never be resolved between us as I am proud of culturally being a Jew. Although I will never be a practicing Jew, I will never lose my Jewish identity which has been deeply ingrained in me. I believe that although I have chosen to be with a non-Jew, I will be able to combine my two lifestyles as I don't want to forget my roots. This is sadly something my parents cannot comprehend.

I hope that in the future the Jewish community will come to terms with young Jews who choose to intermarry. This is not a new phenomenon; intermarriage has been happening for generations and this, whether they like it or not, is something that the Jewish community in the Diaspora has accept otherwise it will be left behind. In the end, most of us have not engaged in a relationship with a non-Jew just to rebel against our upbringing and our Jewish cultural identity.