Of Course There Are Half-Jewish People

In response to Joanna Brooks’ piece today, “There Is No Such Thing as Half,” we heard from Robin Margolis of The Half-Jewish Network. Robin writes:

I gather that you are the parent of a child of intermarriage. But you don’t think there are half-Jewish people and are worried that your daughter might think of herself as one.

Of course half-Jewish people exist. As the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, the largest international organization for adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage, that’s the preferred term that my group members use to define themselves.

We have a website at www.half-jewish.net

Before I started the group, I did internet research to determine what term adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage apply to themselves most frequently.

Answer: half-Jewish.

And they don’t just sit around and kvetch, mind you. This Network has big ambitions:

We need your help in fighting the discrimination against us in the American Jewish community, where the adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage are treated like second-class citizens.

We’d also like to solicit your help for the half-Jewish citizens of Israel, who face a complex web of social and legal discrimination. They’re treated like third-class citizens.

There are three Israeli Jewish organizations working on this issue, filing lawsuits in the court system, lobbying in the Knesset, but they would welcome more help.

We would welcome practical help from you. I know your essay was well-meant, but too many interfaith parents write essays on what we children of intermarriage should call ourselves and how we half-Jewish people should think of ourselves, when we need our interfaith parents to write letters to the editor, protesting the latest attack on us.

Imagine if parents of gays and lesbians wrote essays on how their adult children should really go back to calling themselves “homosexuals” because their parents preferred that term—when gays need their parents to lobby their congresspeople for legislation to give them full citizenship.

We need our interfaith parents to lobby for us with the Jewish establishment to set up specific outreach for us. Programs targeting interfaith couples don’t reach us.

Many shuls that accept interfaith couples and have programs for them treat us very coldly and turn us away.

Robin also responds to Brooks’ suggestion to “Ask American Indians”:

With regard to the Native Americans, I am uncertain as to why you invoked them as an example for us—they have been treating their descendants of intermarriage quite badly recently—if you don’t have the right blood “quantum,” a descendant of intermarriage can be pushed out of the tribe and can lose other benefits.

I’ve seen a lot of Native American websites attacking their descendants of intermarriage. They sound like Jewish websites that disparage us half-Jewish folks.

I love Brooks’ sentiment, but I also appreciate someone standing up for people who want to shout, loud and proud, that they’re in the middle. I wrote about my own half-Judaism last week. And just today I found a lovely list of famous Jewish-Catholics and Catholic-Jews just like me. It’s wonderful company. There’s a special place in Killing the Buddha heaven, we hope, for people stuck in the margins of religious classification.

Nathan Schneider is an editor of Killing the Buddha and writes about religion, reason, and violence for a variety of publications. He is also a founding editor of Waging Nonviolence. His first two books, published by University of California Press in 2013, are God in Proof: The Story of a Search from the Ancients to the Internet and Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Visit his website at The Row Boat.