The (Baltimore) Jewish Times recently printed a moving column from Haydee M. Rodriguez, who writes about his impending conversion to Judaism.
It reflects the tension that many converts feel between believing and feeling Jewish and not being Jewish. Unlike most American Jews, his connection to Judaism is religious, not cultural. He believes “in the tenets which have guided Judaism for more than 3,000 years,” that “God spoke to Moses in an attempt to guide his people to righteousness and ethical living” and that he has a “responsibility to bring healing to the world.” But, at the same time, his parents were not Jewish, and he has no connection to Jewish culture.
Even in interfaith marriages that don’t end in conversion, the non-Jewish partner can feel a similar disconnect with Jewish culture. No amount of immersion into Jewish life will allow a convert to “claim a tradition of Yiddishkeit,” as Rodriguez says. However, as Rodriguez also says:
While I cannot claim Jewish history as my own, I hope to learn it. And while I cannot claim Jewish culture and tradition, I hope to learn it, to cherish it, to preserve it.
While non-Jewish partners in interfaith marriages cannot claim Jewish history for themselves, they can claim it for their children.