The Pull of the Holocaust


This week’s Sunday New York Times had a beautifully written piece in its Style section by a secular Jewish woman who is in love with an atheist non-Jewish Irishman. Called “When a Relationship Carries the Weight of History,” it’s about a very particular, very common kind of modern Jew who is unsure about the existence of God–and therefore uncomfortable with religious ritual–but is certain about the importance of the Holocaust. Lauren Fox, the author, says:

I was raised Jewish, but in some fundamental way, it didn’t take. I wanted it to. I tried. When I lived in Minneapolis during my 20’s, I attended High Holy Day services at practically every synagogue in the area, hoping to find one that would speak to my heart, but I always left feeling empty, more confused than before I had gone.

All the talk of God bothered me. I was not sure if I believed, but even in the most liberal of synagogues, even on the weirdest left-wing fringe of Judaism, where you met in a basement and sang songs about ending world hunger, it seemed as if you couldn’t get around God if you wanted to be Jewish. God is everywhere! So I tried to uncover a latent faith in a higher power, but all I have ever found, deep down, at my spiritual core, is a well-developed sense of guilt and a craving for Ho Hos.

I suppose this is, in some part, how I ended up with an irreverent Irish atheist for a boyfriend.

Granted, she’s a tad ignorant; there’s a whole movement of Judaism called Secular Humanism that proudly downplays the importance of God to the Jewish tradition.

Despite her ignorance and disavowal of the Jewish religion, there is one piece of Jewish identity that has a powerful hold over her: the Holocaust. As if history itself were tapping her on the back to remind her of her roots, right around the same time her relationship started, she discovered a box of letters. Dated from 1938 to 1941, they were letters that her great-grandmother in Germany sent her grandmother in America.

Her devotion to understanding the letters turns into a weekly pilgrimage to a university professor to translate the German into English. And this absorption into her history leads to a painful conclusion:

I would need to find a Jewish husband, raise a Jewish family, to defy genocide in this small but significant way.

This heartbreaking decision is so interesting because I think it speaks to a common affliction of many modern Jews who simultaneously feel distant from the Jewish religion and powerfully connected to their Jewish heritage.

But she soon comes to another conclusion as well:

My mother used to tell me, jokingly but also, I suspected, kind of seriously: “It’s as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one.” But it’s not easy to fall in love at all. And now that I had, I didn’t want to give it up, even to the hungry mouth of History.

The statement “it’s not easy to fall in love at all” spoke to me deeply on both a personal and professional level. It speaks to the raison d’etre for

We’re not promoting intermarriage, but we are saying that intermarriage is an inevitable result of being a minority in America. And sure, any interdating Jew could break up with their non-Jewish partner if they wanted, but soulmates don’t come around every couple of dates–and they don’t always come from the same religious tradition. If Jews who were dating non-Jews all broke up with their partners in a quest to find a Jewish match, we would have fewer Jews intermarried–but we would also have fewer married Jews. Once you find love, it’s hard, and often foolish, to give it up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *