It was a gorgeous Saturday. Approximately 20 sets of fathers and sons gathered in my neighborhood’s community clubhouse to celebrate a father-son Shabbat. This weekend was BBYO’s Global Shabbat and chapters around the world were asked to host a special Shabbat program. (Be sure to check out photos from the D.C. Council chapter events on Page 27.) My son’s chapter decided to create a multigenerational event.
“Can’t they include the moms? It’s the moms who usually go to this sort of thing,” read the email I received about the program. But that was exactly the point — it is usually the moms who go. This time, it was very clearly no girls allowed.
How many would show? There hadn’t been a dad event in years. What would the reaction be?
It was lovely. It brought to mind something an older gentleman had told me when I interviewed him for an article I wrote last year about Jewish men. To paraphrase, he said men are no longer needed at Jewish events — they are no longer asked. But if asked, men will come.
So the boys asked.
They had a late lunch, they had fun father-son bonding games, pretended to plan programs for each other (the boys’ event for the dads involved shopping for sports cars; the dads’ program for the boys involved getting together with the girls.) And they had Havdalah by the lake, in traditional AZA yelling-the-prayers-at-the-top-of-their-lungs style. But before Havdalah, the boys led their fathers in a discussion. What is it like to be a Jewish man, they asked. And, what did the fathers want their sons to know?
I don’t know all the responses because as explained above, I was not allowed to be there. And, while my husband and son and father (who happened to be visiting for the weekend) shared a little bit, I did not hear all.
“What did the fathers tell the sons?” I asked. And I was told that the fathers told their sons to marry Jewish girls.
I thought about this in light of the story posted on Atlantic.com, written by D.C. 20something Emma Green titled “Convincing Millennials to ‘Marry a Nice Jewish Boy.’ ” It’s really terrifically done as she opens with a conversation she has with her friends about how they feel about marrying Jewish and then thoughtfully speaks to leaders of various youth groups (NCSY, NFTY, USY and BBYO), Hillel, Birthright and JDate. The overall theory, and this I agree with wholeheartedly, is the more a teen or young person’s social circle is made up of Jewish peers, the more likely he or she will ultimately choose a Jewish mate. In fact, these groups don’t even try to hide their agenda — I had thought Birthright was about connecting young Jews to Israel. It is. But it’s also very much about connecting them to each other.
Back to the dads. How many had previously told their sons “marry Jewish”? We are constantly being told to talk to our children about drugs and alcohol, about texting and driving, about safe sex. “Children will listen to their parents” we are told. “Don’t be afraid to talk to them.” But I wonder what we say about marriage.
It’s hard — harder than it was for our parents. Would we be insulting friends who are intermarried? If we ourselves are in interfaith marriages, how can we tell our children to do otherwise? What would that say about our non-Jewish spouse? And yet, I have heard from friends, that as much as they love their husband or wife, they do hope their children marry Jewish. And unlike our parents or grandparents, we would never threaten to disown a child or sit shiva for a child who married outside of the faith.
So our message is softened — we love you, there is nothing that would ever make us stop loving you, but — yeah — we’d kinda prefer that you marry someone Jewish. Marriage is hard enough, it’s easier if you both come from the same place.
Thing is, as wonderful as all the youth groups and college and young adult programs are, we shouldn’t outsource this message. We can’t wait and hope that our children join a youth group or go on Birthright or sign up for JDate. It’s okay to tell our children that yes, they should marry a nice Jewish boy or girl. We’re not being mean or old-fashioned or bigoted. I’m sure every parent, in every faith, feels the same.