Analysis of the cultural challenges and potential conflicts arising from a marriage between fully and partially Jewish families.
1. Concrete inter-religious conflict
I will describe a case of an inter-religious married couple, a situation I know very well as they are close relatives of mine, and I have observed since I was a little girl. As the years passed by, I have been able to understand through different nuances the diverse circumstances of such a complex situation, in special after all the religious inputs and clarifications learnt through this module.
The members of this inter-religious marriage are a young Mexican couple, Teresa and Jorge:
Teresa was already born into an inter-religious to, her father is of Jewish origin and once baptised and converted to Catholicism, then he went back again to his original religion as a seriously active Jewish, and her mother coming from a typical Mexican Catholic family. From childhood to adolescence Teresa was a very religious Catholic girl, and then she converted to the Jewish faith before marrying Jorge.
On the other hand, Jorge comes from a well known third generation of a Jewish family both father and mother. Firstly, in contrast with Teresa, his environment has always been a clear Jewish basis, that is to say, that he has always lived in a strong system of Jewish values with no doubts to convert into another religion. Secondly and important to mention, living in a Jewish community in Mexico means, as a shared pattern in so many other Jewish communities in the world, the noticeable value of solidarity to help each other mainly among Jewish families, their economical stability is usually excellent, but they seldom interact with members of other communities, as in this case with the majority of the Mexican community. So, the entrance of a person coming from a community different to theirs means entering into a delicate territory and a possible difficult welcome as in the case of Teresa and her children acceptance into a “pure” Jewish family.
It is worth to give a brief historical explanation of the Jewish community established in Mexico. The Jewish presence in Mexico dates back from the XVI century, but their community did not flourish due to the Inquisition period and choice to live a clandestine religiosity. But from 1877 to 1910, the president Porfirio Diaz opened the doors to the European immigration, and the Jewish presence was mainly coming from France was an important one for giving a significant contribution to the progress of the nation. Though at that time they did not establish a unified Jewish community, and most of them came back to Europe. The last Jewish immigration, mainly coming from Syria, Turkey and Greece, together with immigrants from the Eastern Europe, such as Poland and Ukraine constitute the nowadays Jewish community joining to the Mexican cultural diversity. Comite Central de la Comunidad Judia en Mexico: http://www.tribuna.org.mx/presencia/actividades
At first sight, it might probably seem an unfair situation, but this phenomenon is understandable taking into consideration the Jewish community have always been a people of persecution, conflict and violence, victims of tremendous unfair historical events, and anti-Semitism they have beard mainly in the last century during the Second World War and even nowadays with the new anti-Semitism breakouts.
Though they are aware they live in a host country which has always welcomed them very friendly and little by little they were integrated into the Mexican society, I believe they also want to keep and respect the line of the traditions their ancestors have taught to them; and for natural ethnocentric attitudes, it might probably be difficult for some of them to understand their people mixed with some other ethnical or religious groups; and even though their presence has an important economic, cultural and scientific impact in the Mexican country, they might probably feel menaced considering they represent a very small minority of the Mexican society.
It is also important to mention that the ethnocentric attitudes or cultural stereotypes coexist not only within the Jewish community but also within the rest of the Mexican community towards them. The image of a Jewish person living in Mexico viewed from a citizen not from Jewish origin within a social context, means being rich, chic, educated, and in some cases, unfortunately: not very much tolerant with other ethnical and religious groups.
As we can see with this general panorama of both communities coexisting in a common ground, implies an unconscious creation of typical mutual misunderstandings or cultural stereotypes of a given community. These stereotypes make difficult to handle the cultural shock of the first impression or everyday encounters.
2. Identify the value-positions at stake - deeper analyze of the case
Going back to the specific case, I would like to talk about Prof. Fouad Allam’s concept of “identità dilluita dell’immigrato”. Even though it is a concept he applied to explain and better understand the nowadays Islamic situation, I consider it is a universal term that can also be applied in other religious critical situations. It is a concept that called very much my attention as it seems to explain clearly the process of mutation of the cultural identity endured by immigrants. It is true that the fact of being established in a host country it will tailor and finally change the immigrant’s original identity together with all his/her beliefs, a way of socializing, a vision of his/her own past and future, and general vision of the world. Dilution meaning a substantial change in the immigrant’s original identity.
So, In the case of the Jewish community in Mexico, they would represent our national best example of the “diluted immigrant”, they have adapted to a Mexican reality, they have also shaped our Mexican history, and they want to be taken into consideration, to be recognized in their constructive role within the Mexican society. But at the same time, and it seems fair to me, they also want to keep their traditions, both at the religious and cultural level.
Therefore, in some delicate situations, such as in mixed religion marriages, this immigrant phenomenon could represent a critical encounter or cultural shock for the slightest or biggest cultural differences. This immigrant notion will also represent a constitutive relationship with his/her religiosity directly linked with his/her natural evolution of his identity, and a strong feeling to respect his/her religion might appear.
Thus, from my own point of view, both Teresa and her children have been in a constant encounter with their relatives who endured both the process of “identità dilluita” and “deficit di cittadinanza”, creating a tense familiar situation. For the first concept, Prof. Allam takes also into consideration the family conflicts emerging between one generation and the other, together with the unwilling contamination of their own identity. For instance, it might be the case of the Jewish family celebration when at the end of every year Teresa and her two little children have to face some problems in regard to understand to which religious traditions they have to belong despite the fact they are supposed to have chosen the Jewish religion. Unfortunately for them, during the Jewish family celebrations, their Jewish grandmother did not consider Teresa’s children as part of the delivery of Hanukah gifts, as the ones given to their cousins from both mother and father Jewish origin; while in the Catholic celebrations at Teresa’s mother they were not allowed by their father to be given gifts with a “Christmas significance”.
Consequently, this atmosphere created a religious confusion in the children’s mind and identity. This example might probably seem superficial as we are talking about material things like “gifts”, but I consider that there are some key religious celebrations such as Hanukah and Christmas which are useful to shape and build the religious identity of a person from a very young age.
At this point, I consider that Jorge’s relatives wondered if Teresa’s interest to convert into the Jewish religion was authentic, or if she just decided to carry out this religious conversion for love and be able to marry Jorge. It might probably be a reason why they behave like this with all of them. But what it is true is that the close relationship of both religions wandering in the everyday life of this family created uncertainty, tension and confusion at the level of faith and correct religious institution to follow, as belonging to one of them represented for them a critical cultural value to solve.
Then, in order to better understand the behaviour of Jorge’s mother and her role as a grandmother of children in an inter-religious/inter-ethnical situation, I would also like to analyze her from some other points of view, as proposed by Prof. Flavia Monceri:
Taking into consideration that one of the main reasons of intercultural incidents originates in the concept of “ethnocentric impulse”: to consider every single human being behaves the way we do. It could be said that the grandmother’s possible attitude of respect towards “the other”, reacted in a mistaken way due to this natural “ethnocentric impulses”. Probably, she did not know how to handle this new situation and decided to ignore the children during the Jewish family celebrations to avoid possible misunderstandings, as she was aware of the double religion position her grandsons were in contact with.
So, a positive exercise for the grandmother to improve her relationship with these kids would be to meet them frequently, so that she can get a closer and more understandable approach of “the other”.
Besides, according to the teachings by Prof. Flavia Monceri, one should also be aware or ready to discover patiently when in an inter-religious or intercultural encounter, a possible illogical ideology to understand, with values and conceptions of life opposite to our usual way of reasoning. This situation could also be a key element to accomplish a respectful intercultural communication.
3. Identify different strategies for mediation and solving the conflict as a mediator
My first solving action as an intercultural or inter-religious mediator would be to talk to Jorge’s parents, and make them aware they are going to be in constant encounter with their grandsons and ask them if they are willing to fully accept Jorge and Teresa’s grandsons as they do with the other grandsons, without making noticeable differences. Even though within their system of values being a real Jewish means being born both from Jewish mother and father, they should also be willing not only to tolerate them but also to try to integrate them into the family activities whether religious or social, as it would be better for the family harmony to show affection for these children because those small ethnical and religious differences do not represent any superiority or inferiority for an agreeable and peaceful relationship with all the members of the big family.
The following step would be to talk also to Jorge so that he can have the reinforcing role of this initiative of respect and integration for his own kids. Teresa should be aware that this initiative would represent a complete integration of his kids into a Jewish society, it means that being in contact with their other Catholic cousins they will also feel different, but at least they will be fully integrated into one family and will stop wandering from being accepted into one or another. She should also be aware that in the moment she decided to convert into his husband’s religion the education of his kids would tend to be into the Jewish one, despite the fact all her family from her mother’s side, the one she is in more contact, was educated in the Catholic tradition.
I consider this case has been a long suffered situation for the different members of this family, and it might probably take a time to experiment a positive change in this complex situation. That is why, apart from the possible theoretical key instruments to solve an intercultural/inter-religious situation, I believe that the basis of a successful respect for “the other” who in a certain way is different to oneself, would also be the development of a concrete ideology abundant in concepts of respect, considering the element of diversity as a key value to carry out a harmonious and rich intercultural or inter-religious encounter.
Therefore, I consider that respect and appreciation for a different culture or religion, are very important values to make people aware, as we are in a critical point of the world history of immigration and constant mobility of peoples, encounter with an enormous and varied cultural diversity. Though I am also aware, this ideology could take a time to be digested and adopted for natural reasons of ethnocentrism, respect for the own system of values, defence of the native territory, etc.
On the other hand, another personal point of view is an urgent need for an important update of the main traditional religions, according to the critical and tense social and political world situations. The emergence of new religions with the combination of both traditional religious values creating an interesting religious syncretism, the so-called availability of “supermarket of religions5” is a clear example of this religious need to bring to the latest state of modernization or modern awareness of what is actually going on around the world, specially to recover a lost of spirituality visible in the nowadays sometimes materialistic humanity.