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September 2, 2014 | 7th Elul 5774

Conflict and identity II

Galilee Diary #403, August 17, 2008

Marc J. Rosenstein

 

You shall not intermarry with them: do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your children away from Me to worship other gods, and the Lord's anger will blaze forth against you and He will promptly wipe you out.
-Deuteronomy 7:3-4

[In the harem] Esther did not reveal her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had told her not to reveal it.
-Esther 2:10

Being part of a joint circus troupe can be, as we saw during our summer collaborations last year and just now, of the Galilee Arches Arab-Jewish circus with the St. Louis Arches youth circus, very intense. The hard physical work and the 24/7 togetherness help the teens rise above their particular national, ethnic, and religious identities and bond into one close-knit group, a circus family. This is beautiful and moving to watch.

On the other hand, ever since I started speaking to Jewish groups from North America about the work of our foundation in seeking to provide such experiences of shared culture and breaking down of barriers, I have regularly been asked: "But aren't you concerned that this will lead to mixed marriage?" I don't consider this question trivial. Especially in the case of the circus, with its intensity, the possibility of teenage romance is definitely lurking. Boys and girls working intensively together in a deliberately culturally/religiously neutral environment, experiencing strong emotions together and even physical contact – it would be surprising if such romances did not sprout, presenting us with a real live Romeo and Juliet scenario. But then, it's not only the circus that is a potentially problematic environment: any openness, any environment in which the ethnic segregation of Israeli society is relaxed, is likely to lead to the same consequences; for example – at the university, or in the workplace (as far as I know there are no integrated high schools). In other words, the more Israel comes to resemble other multicultural democracies, the more the likelihood of mixed marriage. That is why there are many people who feel that the status quo should be maintained – Arabs and Jews should live in separate communities, attend separate schools, and in general live apart. Those who accept this approach do not view with favor circuses – or schools, or choirs, or youth movements, etc. in which Jews and Arabs participate together. Looking at Jewish demography in open western societies, it is indeed tempting to suggest that Israel should not aspire to that ideal.

However, there is a price for the status quo of segregation: mutual ignorance and fear, economic gaps, a lack of social solidarity, a lack of shared civic loyalty. In other words, it seems to me that the perpetuation of the fragmentation of Israeli society does not contribute to the strength of the Jewish state, but rather seriously weakens it. So we face a dilemma, similar to that in other places but more acute and perhaps ironic: we have to decide which we prefer – a stronger, more sustainable state of Israel – or a better chance of sustaining Jewish endogamy. A lose-lose game.

It seems to me that a strong, just state should come first, and that if we are concerned that Jews should marry only other Jews, then we have to find the educational means to instill that positive commitment in them – and not try to prevent them from marrying out by means of maintaining the conflict between Jews and Arabs. And we know, in any case, that even the most hermetic separation and the most extreme cultural distance will not absolutely prevent mixed marriage; even Tevye (Fiddler on the Roof) had to face it in that ultimately isolated Jewish enclave, the shtetl – to which, no matter how much we romanticize it, I don't really think we want to return – either in the Diaspora or in Israel.

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