Until recently, a Jewish person marrying a non Jew would have been seen as marrying ‘out’. But it’s 2017, and, fortunately, new attitudes to mixed marriages have begun to pervade past messages. Now, rather than the Jewish partner marrying ‘out’, the non-Jewish partner often feels like they have married ‘in’.
If this applies to you, and you’re not sure what to expect from joining your new Jewish family, we’ve written a handy guide on how to handle the transition to honorary Jew.
Expect to be treated with varying degrees of curiosity
Reactions will be widely varied and are likely to rely on a number of factors, such as generational differences, levels of observance and so on. While it is possible that you may encounter resistance from some relatives, it’s also likely that you will simply be treated with curiosity, and indifference if you’re not the first non-Jewish partner in the family, maybe even a few ill-judged circumcision jokes (start practicing your best nervous laugh).
The most important thing is to speak to your partner about what to expect from different family members, and to approach the most supportive and liberal family members first, so that they can support you in meeting the others.
Some cultural differences
You may spend your first few Friday night dinners or Jewish holidays trying to wrap your head around why everyone is arguing all the time, particularly if they’re speaking Hebrew!
We’re a very direct, very animated bunch — sometimes what sounds like the row to end all rows is barely so much as a squabble, just a lively disagreement that will be forgotten in all of thirty seconds, if that, so try not to stress unless plates are broken and people are crying.
Kidding — that probably won’t happen… probably.
Another cultural difference is that your business will become everyone else’s business — and people will be very direct in giving you unsolicited life advice. Smile politely, say “thanks, I’ll look into that” and then continue as you were.
A lot of new rituals
Judaism comes with its rich history of traditions and religious holidays and customs. Depending on how observant your partner and their family are, you will have a lot of learning to do.
Don’t worry, though, there are plenty of things about Judaism that even most secular, and indeed non-secular, Jews are not familiar with, so don’t feel like you’re expected to know what’s happening at all times. And if you’re doing something the wrong way, your new Jewish family will not hesitate to correct you!
Get used to being fed — a lot
Time to loosen that belt, or get a pair of elasticated trousers, because you are never going hungry again — ever.
Your Jewish family won’t just cook FOR you, they’ll cook AT you — and, especially Israelis, with that Mediterranean fire, will not take no for an answer.
Don’t panic, though, the food is great — you’ll soon be asking for seconds of your own volition.
To convert or not to convert
Whether or not you want to convert is a deeply personal decision, and must be made by you, and you alone. Judaism tends to shy away from evangelism, though, and your Jewish in-laws are very unlikely to pressure you to convert, although as Judaism goes down the matrilineal line, women marrying in may find that a few more hints are dropped.
Remember that you absolutely don’t have to undertake 10 years of religious study just to keep anyone else happy, but that if you do find yourself falling in love with the Jewish faith, and want to be a permanent part of it, there is plenty of help and support available to you.
About the author: Sara Gibbs is a regular features writer for Smashing the Glass, which delightfully keeps her connected to her Jewish roots and background. She is also a student of Writing and Producing Comedy at the National Film and Television School and a comedy writer with credits on Radio 4’s Dead Ringers and the News Quiz. Sara co-owns and runs satirical online women’s magazine, Succubus.