Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Welcome to the Jewish people, Karlie Kloss!

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner, and their family arrive ahead of the inauguration with her father aboard a U.S. Air Force jet at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, on Jan. 19, 2017. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

This is not about the Trumps, or even about the Kushners.

This goes way beyond them.

It is actually about the Jews.

Supermodel Karlie Kloss recently married Josh Kushner, founder and managing partner of the investment firm Thrive Capital and brother of  Jared Kushner.

She joined the Jewish people — a term that I prefer to “converted.”

Apparently, some people must have been throwing some shade, because she felt the need to clarify the reasons for her choice.

“Changing part of who you are for someone else can be seen as weak. But you know what? Actually, if you’ve been through what I’ve experienced, it requires you to be anything but weak. It requires me to be stronger and self-loving and resilient. I really did not take this lightly…

“It wasn’t enough to just love Josh and make this decision for him. This is my life and I am an independent, strong woman. It was only after many years of studying and talking with my family and friends and soul searching that I made the decision to fully embrace Judaism in my life and start planning for a future with the man I chose to marry.”

The fact that Karlie needed to say that points to one of the most persistent, annoying facets of contemporary Jewish identity.

It is the suspicion that if someone joins the Jewish people/converts, it must be because of the person that he or she has chosen to marry.

First, it dismisses those people who join the Jewish people “on their own” — without any romantic partners.

Second, it dismisses those who are married to Jews and have raised Jewish children, and who decide later in life to make that momentous change.

Third, and worst: it assumes that there is no intrinsic value to Judaism and/or the Jewish people that would have been attractive in and of itself.

I find that attitude, on the part of “born” Jews, to be baffling — and, frankly, offensive.

Because it has also been my experience that many gentiles/future Jews-by-choice are drawn to Jewish partners — precisely because they are drawn to Judaism itself.

Whether they knew it or not, they were “searching” for the family context in which they could express what they already believed themselves to be.

I am not only saying this about Karlie.

I am also saying this about certain snark comments that I have heard, over the years, about Ivanka.

Again — this is not about the Trumps, or about the Kushners.

You are free to say anything you want to about the outsized role that Ivanka and Jared have in this current administration — and I might even agree with you.

You are free to say that Ivanka and Jared are “complicit” in policies that go against certain Jewish values — and I might even agree with you.

You are free to extend the conversation, and to wonder aloud about other Jews in the Trump administration.

You are free to debate whether the policies that they agree with are in accord with the faith, people, and history that they profess.

For the moment, let us de-politicize the conversation.

Ivanka took the process of joining the Jewish people quite seriously.

Her Orthodox conversion process certain would not have permitted anything less than that.

Irony alert.

President Trump’s grandchildren will celebrate becoming bnai mitzvah — and perhaps, bnot mitzvah.

Bernie Sanders’ grandchildren will not – at least, not as of this writing.

Like many Jews-by-choice, Karlie has not only embraced a Jewish family; not only embraced the Jewish people.

She has embraced Judaism and Jewish spirituality.

She told British Vogue that “Shabbat has brought so much meaning into my life. It helps me reconnect to the actual world.”

Good for her! If only more of us “born Jews” knew that.

One last word.

About that “not as of this writing” comment a few lines ago.

If I have learned anything in my 38 years in the rabbinate, it is simply this.

You never know what Jews are going to do.

You never know what the children of estranged Jews are going to do.

You certainly don’t know what their grandchildren are going to do.

I would not pin the whole future of the Jewish people on hope. Hope is not a strategy, and we are sorely in need of strategies.

But, I will quote Rabbi Yogi Berra.

“It ain’t over till it’s over.”

 

 

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

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