Behind the name

When I was a little girl, the bulk of my connection to the Jewish people came from my love of the 1971 movie, Fiddler on the Roof. My favorite character was, understandably, Chava. In the days before I understood the severe implications of the pogroms and other forms of persecution against Jews, my heart went out most to her. Of course, I had a personal impetus to believe that her story was the most tragic. My mother had married outside of the faith, too, and the protagonist, Tevye, was saying that not only was it ok, but it was mandatory, to cut his wayward daughter out of the family.

Of course, my family was very different. I don’t think they would have even considered denigrating my mother for choosing an Italian American of Catholic descent. My father has always been a respected and cherished member of my extended mishpachah– (perhaps even more cherished than the rest of us! ;))

I continued to keep the spirit of “Chava” alive; I named most of my Internet addys after her, and even my beloved, childhood cat. Then I read Tevye the Dairyman stories, on which the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, is based, and was thrown into uncertainty again. The author, Sholem Aliechem, not only endorsed Tevye “counting his daughter as dead,” but even had Chava ultimately leave her Christian husband in order to rejoin her family and the faith. According to Hillel Halkin, who translated the works from Yiddish, Chava’s fate was “too heartbreaking” to leave alone.

Mind you, this comes from an author who has another daughter drown, and Tevye’s wife, Golde, drop dead shortly before the family leaves for Palestine. But it is Chava’s fate, to intermarry, that is the most “heartbreaking.” So Aleichem decided to break from a more believable story (intermarriage was a growing phenomenon even in 19th century Ukraine,) and “right history,” as it were.

Aleichem, like so many other Jews, both past and present, failed to address a more innovative, a more groundbreaking theory—what if a person who intermarried did not have to leave the faith? (Granted, conditions for Jews in 19th century Ukraine are a far cry from Jews in 21st century America.) But in the present, what if the community could accept the non-Jewish spouse while encouraging the family to make Jewish choices?

Very little, if no attention, is directed to my generation—the children of these interfaith unions. It is assumed, perhaps, that we are beyond help, that we are obviously being raised without any connection to the Jewish faith. This blog is here to correct that notion. I pose the question—leaving Chava’s story as it is, what would have happened to her descendents? What follows in Chava’s footsteps?

For me and several other Jews from interfaith families, that answer is that we continue to identify and engage with the Jewish community, despite any snags and pitfalls along the way. I hope that you enjoy the journey.



  1. Savi said,

    My mom has a set of cousins, their dad is Jewish and took them to synagogue, their mom was Catholic and took them to her church. Some chose the Jewish faith some are Catholic and one didn’t choose. The parents are happily married and all are accepted by both families.

    • chavalah said,

      That’s great to hear. My family’s story is relatively similar, and I think that’s the case for most interfaith families today.

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