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Because Of Intermarriage, Jewish Educator Says "I Am Coping With Jewish Prejudice"

Allan Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
May-June 1997

Marlena Thompson, who was Judaics coordinator at the Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax, Virginia, declares that, "After devoting almost 20 years of my life to the dissemination of Jewish learning . . . I was shocked recently to discover that, regardless of my life’s work, in some quarters of the Jewish community I am Public Enemy Number One. Why? Because my husband isn’t Jewish."  

Writing in the Washington Jewish Week (July 10, 1997), in an article entitled "I am Coping With Jewish Prejudice," Thompson reports that her "rude awakening" occurred earlier this year when she was contemplating a move to the Pacific Northwest: "I had been pursued by the search committee of a Conservative synagogue in Seattle, for the position of education director. Quite unexpectedly, I received a call from someone on the committee who, on earlier occasions, had extolled my qualifications and achievements with a fervor that bordered on the embarrassing. ‘We’re very sorry, but we can no longer consider you for the position,’ said the clipped, cold voice. ‘May I know the reason?’ I asked, puzzled to say the least. ‘Yes. It has come to our attention that your husband is not Jewish, disqualifying you as a candidate.’"  

Mrs. Thompson declares: "I was astounded . . . It never occurred to me to talk about my husband during a job interview. But had anyone asked whether or not my husband Steve was supportive of my work in Jewish education, I would have answered with a resounding yes -- and then some."  

She concludes: "I am still dealing with my new self-image vis-a-vis Jewish society thrust upon me by the voice of a stranger. But, coincidentally (if one believes in coincidences - and I don’t) it was the voice of another stranger that has helped me begin to heal. A few weeks ago, I received a call from a rabbi of a Reform congregation in the Midwest. He was looking for an education director for his synagogue and had heard of my work. Before allowing him to continue, I said: ‘Rabbi, my husband isn’t Jewish.’ And I proceeded to tell him much of what I had told my caller from Seattle. ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘we are developing an outreach program for intermarried couples. You would be an ideal role model. Who better than someone like you to convince people that there is meaningful Jewish life after intermarriage.’ Who indeed? I couldn’t accept the job. But the words of that kind and wise old rabbi will stay with me for the rest of my life -- a Jewish life after intermarriage."

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