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Date Sent to Zipple: Tuesday, December 26, 2000

ITEM: A recent American Jewish Committee survey reports that 56% of the respondents said they would not be pained if their child married a non-Jew. A mere 12% "strongly disapproved" of mixed marriages. Fully half the respondents consider it "racist" to oppose Jewish-Gentile marriages.

Dear Sean,

I know this might sound strange coming from a father who's far from a religious Jew, but now that you're dating, there's something I need you to understand.

The single most important decision you'll ever make in life will not be about your education or career. It will be whom you marry.

Because who your wife will be will determine, more than anything else in your adult life, the person you become, the family you'll raise, what you'll leave on earth when it will be time to go. I know the end of life isn't something you probably give much thought to. Not many of us do, at least not until we became sick or old enough to see it hovering on the horizon. But a final day does arrive, sooner or later, for each of us. And when it comes, very few of the things we thought made such a big difference will seem to matter at all. And other things we didn't bother to give much thought will suddenly loom very large. We'll want to look back at our lives and feel that, in those areas, we pretty much did the right thing.

Sean, the right thing for a Jewish person is to marry another Jew. Not only because our religion requires it, which it does. But when Jews "marry out," they disrespect who they are, they are disloyal to the Jewish past and they chip away at the Jewish future.

Whether or not our family kept strictly kosher or observed the Sabbath or attended services often enough is all one thing. But the thought of bringing about the end of a proud Jewish line stretching back in time for centuries is another. It's more than a religious transgression. It's a betrayal.

You never asked to be a Jew, that's true. You were born one. But that identity is not a burden. It's a gift. It means you are part of something bigger, much bigger than yourself.

Each of us Jews is the culmination of the hopes of hundreds of Jewish ancestors. Don't forget, you're not just Sean, you're Shmuel. And even if you only use your Jewish name when you get called to the Torah, it is still who you really are, an inheritance from your grandfather, and to him from an ancestor of his. You can't just ignore the meaning of something like that. It's a deep responsibility. All of my ancestors and your mother's, all those Jews who came before us, lived their lives - and sometimes willingly gave them up - to preserve their Jewish identity and heritage.

Yes, I know, love is a powerful emotion. That's exactly why I'm writing this as you begin to date. The young women you become close to will form the pool from which you will choose a life-mate. Don't give yourself the opportunity to fall in love with someone you cannot, as a Jew in good conscience, marry. And never forget that what the world calls "love" is not all there is to a successful and happy life. Every marriage that ended in divorce or worse, after all, was born in a rush of love. For a marriage to truly work, there must be not only attraction and mutual care but shared ideals and goals. And part of a Jewish man or woman's goals should be an embrace of their Jewish identity, and the instilling of that identity into their children.

I don't care whether the girl you marry is white, black or yellow, or if she speaks English, Hebrew, Yiddish or Swahili. I don't care if she was born a Jew or became one, legally, properly, and out of sincere conviction. But if she isn't Jewish, I know there will be tears, in your mother's eyes and mine - and also in heaven.

They say these days that most Jewish parents in America don't care if their children marry other Jews or not. I hope it's not true but even if it is, remember what I always told you: Being a Jew means being ready to buck the tide, to say no to others - even to many others - when something important is at stake. Sean, you're my legacy to the future. May you always have the courage and the strength to do the right thing.



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