Sunday, July 18, 2010

Assimilation: then and now

When I was a kid, assimilation was what I wanted. It was also what my mother wanted for us. But I think that the reasons were different from today. Our reason was fear. My mother is an Auschwitz survivor and she didn't want us to suffer the same fate as she and her family suffered. In fact, she purposely did not teach us any of the five languages besides English that she can speak. She didn't want us to have any trace of a foreign accent. We were warned to "fit in." I didn't want to look Jewish, and wished for straighter hair and a smaller nose. Eventually I grew up and realized that being Jewish is so much a part of me that it cannot be 'assimilated.'

Now days, assimilation is the boogeyman in the actual survival of Israel. There is plenty of debate as to whether Reform Judaism has led to mass assimilation and also the current controversy of Jews immigrating to Israel and the right of return.The so-called 'progressive Jew' doesn't understand why, if they are marrying a gentile, that the gentile should be forced into an Orthodox conversion. A big part of the reasoning behind the requirement for Orthodox conversion lies in the motive of the person desiring to be converted. Is it just because they want to marry a Jew? Is it because they have decided that they want to be an Israeli? The reason must be so deep that they would go through the deeper process of Orthodox conversion. It has to be a sincere desire to be Jewish, not a 'cultural' acclimation.

The question of mixed marriages and the effect on assimilation, both in America and in Israel, is not a new debate, in fact my paternal grandfather, Baruch Litvin, wrote a book entitled Jewish Identity - Modern Responsa and Opinions on the Registration of Children of Mixed Marriages. It dealt with David Ben-Gurion's Query to Leader of the World Jewry, 5725 (1965). My Zeide said in the dedication:

"Dedicated to the tens of thousand of our Jewish brethren -- refugees from the countries of persecution -- who have returned to the Homeland of Israel with the "Ingathering of the Exiles" and are now rehabilitating in the Restoration of living Jewry."

So, as we continue to debate the topic, and watch what is going on in Israel, let's remember that assimilation didn't help the Jews in Europe prior to and during World War II. Let's take a step back, and not water ourselves down, while we feed the insatiable instant gratification that threatens our very existence.


  1. Pam Siegel ZarteJuly 19, 2010 at 9:32 PM

    This post generated an internal dialogue about assimilation and my personal history. My paternal grandparents emigrated from Latvia &Lithuania at the beginning of the twentieth century.How I wish I could ask them questions about their experiences.I believe that they wished to "fit in" with American life while maintaining a Jewish home.Did this come from fear and a desire to seek a safer life for their children?My grandfather did not have a beard,but did wear a kippa or hat at all times.His children were schooled in Judaism at home. They were sent to public school(I don't believe there was a choice at that time. My dear father(OBM) frequently talked about his memories of his first day at school.It was chaos. He spoke Yiddish. He had never conversed in English until that first day of school.
    My father and his brothers and sisters took different paths in religious life. Most of them attended Conservative or "Conservadox" synagogues.My father's youngest brother maintains an Orthodox life as do his children. My father was a "rebel" I think. He struck out for a life across the country from his birthplace. My father became more observant again later in life.I always had the feeling that something wasn't "right" about being so assimilated and that is one reason why I am so comfortable now with increased observance.I am acquainted now with many people who are leading a more observant life than their parents. Frequently, this results in the parents being very wary of the changes their children are making.Some parents are hurt. They feel their children are rejecting or criticizing their upbringing. I firmly believe that each generation has a right to bring their children up according to their own standards or circumstances.I don't like hearing grown children complaining about their parents.It was the life their parents wished to lead, and now the children can take their turn.

  2. I am glad that my above post generated these comments, Pam! I can feel the deep connection you have with your family through your words. I appreciated getting to know you better through the great interview you gave me and now again, with these moving comments. Thank you so much for sharing your history and beliefs. And for being my friend!

  3. That is wonderful article....!! very nice to read it!
    thanks for this nice sharing... :)