Chicken Soup with Chopsticks: A Jews Struggle for Truth in an Interfaith Relationship (excerpts)
Does God care if I marry a gentile?
Even as I started dating a Chinese girl, I knew I was embarking on a remarkable adventure. I just had no idea where and how far the adventure would take me. The more events unfolded, the more I realized that my view of the world and how I lived in it were being profoundly and permanently altered...
If the problem with marrying a gentile was that my religion prohibited intermarriage, why should that bother me? Perhaps not everything in Judaism made sense, and as an intelligent and thinking individual I could take from my heritage what I felt was meaningful and disregard the rest...
The possibility that God Himself does not want a Jew to marry a gentile is not something I recall being taught explicitly. This may be because, even though I believed in God in my own nebulous way, I didn't take seriously the proposition that God authored the Torah. For one thing, I considered many claims in the Torah absurd: that the world is less than 6,000 years old, that Noah lived more than 900 years and built an ark to house the planet's animals, and that a sea parted miraculously to enable the Hebrews to escape their Egyptian pursuers. As far as I was concerned, these were stories with possible moral messages but not actual facts. If the Bible were true, then the theory of evolution, and much of science, must be wrong. In a world where humans went to the moon, performed brain surgery, and saw and talked to people on the other side of the planet, I had far more trust in what modern science presumed than in what the Bible stated...
Quest for a Life Partner
I was expected to marry one of my people. Not to do so would be a shocking betrayal of my family. The prohibition against intermarriage was so ingrained that it was hardly an appropriate subject to bring up for a family discussion...
Whereas my siblings sought only Jewish spouses, I kept my options open. I was not convinced of the necessity to restrict my search for a mate to those of my religion, especially as we constituted a tiny minority (a fraction of one percent) of the human population. Moreover, I encountered females, from various religions and backgrounds, who were extremely nice, good-natured, and attractive. My motto about intermarriage, as in other areas of life, was "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it."
In the summer of 1994, three years after I left my parents' home in Montreal and was living on my own in Toronto, I met Belinda. I was twenty-nine; she was twenty-five. We quickly became friends.
"Would you like to see my snake?" Belinda asked, as I dropped her off in front of her building.
My heart pounded and raced.
"Okay," I heard myself saying. I knew that sooner or later she would show me her pet. I hadn't reckoned it would be so soon.
Belinda ran inside and returned shortly with a tiny corn snake tucked into her sleeve. Once in the car, she let me hold it. It was the first time I had held a snake. Instinctively, I applied my peripheral vision to the clammy, slender creature in my palm, imagining it was some inanimate object.
Belinda reached for my other hand. "What do you think about our relationship?" she asked.
It was the first time we had held hands. Thoughts of the biblical symbolism of the serpent and the fact that she was Chinese pulsated through my mind. At the same time, I was taken aback by her forthrightness. It was only our second date. I took a slow, deep breath.
"As you know, Belinda, I'm marriage-minded. You told me you were too. But, I'm not interested in just getting married, having children, and leading a normal life. That's the minimum of what I would expect. I want to reach for the moon, grow together with a life-long partner, embark on an adventure with this person that would make a difference in the world."
The snake began to slither its way up my sleeve, and I pleaded for help. I don't recall anything else we talked about that evening.
* * *
When I met Belinda, I had little interest in religious Judaism. I was unaware of its unique spiritual treasures and their relevance to today's world. In fact, like many of my peers, I had an affinity for secular Jewish culture, and that is where it stopped...
In college and university I took courses in political philosophy and became interested in Marxism, Platonism, socialism, humanism, feminism, and any other "ism" that was popular in academia. I wondered if any of them was the key to fixing the world and ushering in a utopia. I delved into the teachings of Christianity and Buddhism. I traveled to the Arctic for a month, hoping to taste native spirituality. I joined the army and sought, but did not find, patriotic pride. I spent two summers in Israel working on a kibbutz and interviewing the vatikim, or elders, those idealists who left the relative comfort of their European homes in the '30s and '40s to go to a harsh and barren land and pioneer a new experiment in socialism. At one point I seriously considered moving to a kibbutz and dedicating my life to the principle "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." Later, when I moved to Toronto, I toyed with New Age ideas and started frequenting an ashram...
Belinda and I began to explore different religions together, and we frequently talked about spiritual matters. We also talked about Disney, travel, computers, and Indian food. We were amazed at how much we had in common. Like typical romantic couples, we spent most of our free time with each other, sometimes engaging in juvenile activities. One of our favourite pastimes was to go to parks and look for trees to climb. Once we played an entire game of Chinese checkers seated high up on tree branches, with a bag of snacks hanging beside us.
I knew that when my parents found out about my latest girlfriend they would vehemently oppose the relationship unless, perhaps, Belinda were to convert to Judaism. I feared being ostracized by my immediate family. Perhaps on a deeper level, I feared cutting myself off from my ethnic roots. As painful as these thoughts were, they did not deter me from pursuing the course on which I had already embarked.
If you find these excerpts interesting, you will find this true story fascinating.
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Jack Botwinik grew up in a culturally rich environment, speaking five languages. He attained a Master of Arts degree in Political Science from McGill University in Montreal. He worked for Toronto's Welfare Department for several years, before landing a job with the Correctional Service of Canada. Jack's experience in dealing with destitute and under-privileged people, and his re-examination of his religious heritage, significantly altered his outlook on life. In addition to speaking in public, and appearing on radio and TV, Jack helps couples in interfaith dating relationships by listening and talking to them one-on-one. Jack enjoys spending time with his wife and young children.
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