I grew up in the land of upstate New York, in an area where there were almost no Jews. I first remember hearing about Jewish continuity sometime in my teens. My mother told me it was very important to my father that I and my sisters marry Jews. She said it in a way that implied it wasn’t so important to her. But my father was a person of depth and character, and her words couldn’t be taken lightly.
At that point, in my teens, I wasn’t too connected to Jewish matters. I thought of Israel as a distant, happy, admirable land — if I thought of it. I knew that in a few years I’d go to a university where there would be a lot more Jews. I was ambivalent about what my mother had told me; it seemed that marrying a Jewish girl would be nice, but how could I control whom I’d meet or fall in love with?
I also knew the matter was sensitive, and didn’t talk about it to my friends — except one, my best friend, himself a person of great depth, character, and intelligence. He didn’t like it and said it was a form of racism.
When I did go off to college, my first girlfriend was an Irish Catholic with flaming red hair. I didn’t write home about it.