Raising a Daughter in Israel Is Newly Challenging
The article below struck me as being very thoughtful & heartfelt. It also provides a glimpse into issues—such as politics & law in Israel, women’s issues, and the status of Diaspora Jews (who is a “real” Jew)—that I think most non-Jews, myself included, are probably unaware of.
The author is critical of the status quo, but not in a partisan political way—at least it didn’t seem that way to me. She clearly loves Israel deeply, but is unhappy about the direct personal effect some of the existing laws have on her family (and may have in the future on her soon-to-be-born daughter).
Obviously, a magazine article cannot possibly convey all the complexities & subtleties present in Israeli society (or any society, for that matter), so if anyone would like to expand upon or rebut any of her points, I’d be very interested in reading what you have to say.
A Personal Note
Some may wonder why I’m so interested in following news about Jews both here in the U.S. and in Israel, so I will tell you: Part of it is a desire to better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I’m even more keenly interested in the many parallels I see between the Jewish & Muslim experiences.
One of the main parallels, IMO, is the struggle to become successfully integrated into non-Muslim/non-Jewish societies. By “successfully integrated” I mean being fully accepted as being as patriotic and “American” as our fellow countrymen, and no longer regarded with suspicion en masse as if our loyalties are somehow suspect simply because we dress differently or have unfamiliar religious practices, different religious holidays, etc.
Another parallel is the struggle of our co-religionists overseas to form modern, democratic states based on very old—some may say outdated—religions. This seems to be happening in tandem as I watch some Arab countries escaping dictatorships and trying to reconcile freedoms with tradition/religion, and also as I watch Israel try to reconcile a system that seems largely secular on the surface, yet nonetheless appears to be influenced by religious orthodoxy (in terms of politics & certain laws). How to be a “Jewish state” and still be fully democratic? How to be an “Islamic state” and become fully democratic? Can it be done?
As for the Palestinian issue, not to mention the issues faced by religious minorities in Muslim majority countries, how do we all find a way to live with each other in our rapidly shrinking world? How do you have a true democracy when a portion of your society doesn’t have equal rights (or even citizenship)? I realize that the I-P case is unique due to the ongoing violent hostilities, but it’s something that is going to have to be resolved sooner or later, though I have no clue how.
Anyway, that’s it—those are the reasons for my interest. Now, on to the article!
If all goes according to plan, this March we’re going to bring a daughter into the world. Specifically, we’re going to bring her home to our apartment on Chen Boulevard, in the center of Tel Aviv, the city we’ve made our home, though we were born in the United States and Canada.
Had you asked us six years ago where we dreamed of raising a family, we’d have answered ‘Israel’ without hesitation. But recently we’ve begun to doubt whether we should raise her in the Jewish state.
Since the founding of Israel in 1948, the Orthodox have had the power to decide who is a Jew and how a Jew can live and die by controlling the mechanisms of marriage, divorce, and burial. What this means practically is that the government body that oversees all major life-cycle events—as well as regulating food production—is a religious institution, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
Orthodox religious law is the law of the land: Only a man can marry a woman, only a man can grant a divorce. And because of Orthodoxy’s systemic exclusion of women from positions of power—its refusal to allow women to be rabbis, or to recognize female Reform and Conservative rabbis—the interests of women have been disregarded.
In this context, our daughter will not be considered Jewish by the state. That’s because Erin’s mother had Conservative Jewish conversion in Canada before Erin was born, and because we decided it was insulting to ask Erin, who lived her whole life as a Jew, to ‘convert’ just because a state-employed rabbi decided she is not Jewish enough.
We could not be married in Israel because of Erin’s official lack of Jewishness, despite the fact that we are observant Jews who keep Shabbat and a kosher home. (Our marriage certificate is from the state of Illinois.) Likewise, our daughter could in the future be legally barred from marrying the person she loves in Israel. If the laws continue as they are, the two of us will not be able to be buried in the same state-run cemetery, and our daughter would be excluded from burial in a Jewish cemetery when her life is spent. She’ll be a citizen, just as we are, and she’ll serve in the army, just as Ariel did. But if the status quo persists, she will go from cradle to grave knowing that in the eyes of the government of the state of Israel she is not a Jew.
It is time that the world Jewish community knew about this systemic bias in Israel—and time for Diaspora Jewry to act. It is amazing to think that while American Jews raise money for the state, lobby their political representatives to support Israel, and send their children on Birthright, the rabbinate denies the Jewishness of many of these Diaspora Jews.