In a recent Washington Post opinion piece that was lambasted on social media, a writer named Carey Purcell wrote that she was done dating Jewish men after two previous relationships ended poorly. “I’ve optimistically begun interfaith relationships with an open mind twice, only to become the last woman these men dated before settling down with a nice Jewish girl,” she explains. “At almost every event I go to, [Jewish men] approach me,” she writes later in the piece. “As flattered as I am, I don’t welcome the complications and potential heartbreak I’ve experienced back into my life.”
Purcell’s article—with its descriptions of her WASP-y manners and martini-making skills, its reference to the archetype of the “motorcycle-driving, leather-jacket wearing ‘bad boy,’” and its superficial handling of Jewish identity—has the feel of a personal essay from another era. And, in fact, a contributor tackled the same subject for The Atlantic almost 80 years ago, in an essay for our January 1939 issue simply and provocatively titled “I Married a Jew.” The author of that essay, whose identity was kept secret, reflects on her relationship with love and some pride, even as she delves into the religious and ethnic tensions that make it fraught.
In many ways the contributor’s story mirrors Purcell’s. Raised Christian, and identifying as Gentile, the unnamed writer fell in love with a Jew and embarked on an interfaith relationship. And like Purcell’s ex-boyfriends, the writer’s husband, Ben, is described as far less devoted to the Jewish faith than his parents. Ben “goes to synagogue on Rosh Hashana to please his mother, and during the rest of the year wavers between agnosticism and downright atheism,” the anonymous author writes. “The moment Ben is away from his family, his Jewishness drops away from him like a cloak,” she notes later in the piece.