I am sorry, grandma. All your great grandchildren have intermarried.

When you passed away at age ninety-four, your grandchildren were married to Jews, but their children were too young to get to know you.

They didn’t spend every Saturday with you as I did; they didn’t experience the peace and beauty of the Sabbath. Your house was a sanctuary, a place that transported me to a more innocent, spiritual time. Your great grandchildren never experienced that. They didn’t absorb the traditions and history; they never fully understood what it meant to be Jewish.

I wonder if your great grandchildren knew about the sacrifices you made to live a Jewish life. As a young, impoverished widow in a foreign land, you brought up three children all alone. I wonder if they’ve been impacted at all by your legacy of Jewish pride and your resolve in the face of tragedy.

Living a Jewish life in a vacuum is difficult -I tried. I moved to a town with a big, beautiful Jewish Center, but instead of finding grandmotherly Yiddishkeit, I found a cold bureaucracy.

I sent my daughter to a Jewish nursery and to Hebrew school, and we celebrated every Jewish holiday at home, but without an extended family or a close-knit community, it was not enough.

I assumed my daughter’s Jewish education had quality and substance; it had neither. When she was ten years old, a writer for the local Jewish newspaper came to her Hebrew school. She asked each child to explain what Chanukah meant to them. My daughter said she didn’t think it was just about getting gifts, it was something more important. I wouldn’t have known, if not for the article in the paper, that the other children laughed at her and insisted gifts were the most important thing. I was disgusted to see the article, and she was embarrassed. She didn’t want to go again, but I insisted. I didn’t realize how unqualified the teachers were, how unmotivated the students.

Instead of investing in Jewish education, Jewish philanthropists squandered their wealth on secular causes. Now we see the result. Jewish children don’t have the knowledge or strength to stand as proud Jews in an increasingly hostile world. You would be astonished that 40% of American Jews are unaffiliated, and more than half are intermarried!

The demonization of Israel by the U.N. and the E.U., augmented by the venomous B.D.S. movement, infects public opinion, even among Jews. Professionally and socially, they disavow their Jewishness to fit in. One of your great granddaughters devotes herself to third-world children, and has decided not to have children of her own.

Another has just posted an article online about overcoming her hesitancy to get a Christmas tree. She assured her largely Christian readers that she was a Jew “who finally saw the light.” So casually does she cast off her Jewish heritage that I doubt she even knows your father, her great grandfather, was an eminent rabbi in czarist Russia, persecuted for his beliefs.

Her children and your other great, great grandchildren get mixed messages, Christmas trees and menorahs. Either in their house or another’s they will find presents under the Christmas tree. Surrounded by these symbols, devoid of spirituality, they will naturally go along with the mainstream. Your family is part of an alarming American trend: going from Jewish to secular to Christian in four short generations.

Article by Author/s
Helen Applebaum
Helen Applebaum is an artist, writer, and teacher who has lived in New York City for most of her life. Her artwork is in the permanent collection of the Museum of the City of New York. Her articles have appeared in Women in the Arts newsletters, Art Times Journal, and Salt Magazine. She has visited Australia six times and plans to relocate there soon.

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