The latest outrage in Israel involves a bombshell–not a rocket from Gaza, but a blonde from Norway. Sandra Leikanger is 25 years old and a student at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. She is also reported to be dating fellow student Yair Netanyahu, the 23-year-old son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Leikanger is not Jewish–though her elder sister converted–and so Israel’s politicians are having a field day. One religious party leader gave Bibi the classic Jewish guilt trip: “As the prime minister of Israel and the Jewish people, he must display national responsibility via the values he presents inside his own household.”
Not to be outdone, liberal figures seized upon the scandal to push their own political agenda. Leikanger “should not be limited to a Judaism as understood and interpreted by a Chief Rabbinate with an antiquated interpretation of Judaism that is out of sync with the majority of Jews around the world,” one said.
Yet the most dramatic–and the worst–reaction came from Netanyahu’s family. His brother-in-law called the relationship a “threat” to the continuity of the Jewish people and said that if the two married, he “would bury myself, I don’t know what I would do with myself, I’d take to the streets and rip the hair out of my head.”
Such reactions are, sadly, familiar to many Jewish young people. Other ethnic groups have similar issues about continuity, but the recent memory of the Holocaust exacerbates the anxiety. Unfortunately, such pressure does little to encourage Jews to marry each other–quite the opposite, since it often prevents normal interactions.
A bit of advice, from personal experience. Three points:
1. Yair Netanyahu is not responsible for the collective existence of the Jewish people. Yes, he comes from a prominent family–and so did Moses, when he “married out.” (God punished Moses’s sister for gossiping about that relationship.) More pressure does not help.
2. The only guarantee of Jewish continuity is Jewish faith and practice. That is also the purpose of Jewish marriage–either within the community, or to someone who has converted. The right way to guide young people is to set an example, and educate them. After that, their choices are their own–not their parents’.
3. Given Leikanger’s sister’s conversion, it is likely she might be open to the idea, especially since she is already studying in Israel. She is less likely to be open, however, if news of the relationship is greeted with such intolerance and vitriol. The whole exercise of outrage is not only shameful, but self-defeating.
Photo: Sandra Leikanger