Posted on September 30, 2021

My Militant Sister Campaigns Against Intermarriage. I Am Engaged to a Gentile. Here’s How We Remain Family.

Rachel Hartman, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, September 29, 2021

My sister and I grew up in a small settlement surrounded by Arab villages in the disputed West Bank. We have ended up, however, in very different places.

I am currently pursuing a PhD in social psychology, studying the science of moral understanding and how it can be leveraged to bridge divides. My sister is an activist and full-time employee at an Israeli organization that strictly opposes personal relationships, especially romantic ones, between Jews and non-Jews.

My research focuses on bridging divides, but I am somewhat at a loss for how to traverse the widening gulf between my sister and me. She faces a similar dilemma — she is becoming increasingly (in)famous in Israel for her rhetoric against intermarriage while her own sister is … marrying someone who is not Jewish.


At 15, I enrolled myself into a Jerusalem high school. The narratives in my classes conflicted with my political and religious upbringing. I began to understand there were two sides to the story. {snip}

Months later, in the military, I led an intelligence team, gathering data to inform the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Aspects of intelligence-gathering may be morally questionable, but it gave me the unique opportunity to come as close as possible to reading another person’s mind. We spent long hours learning everything about the “enemy” only to discover that they ate, slept, fought and loved just like we did. There was a wide gap between my family’s beliefs about the enemy’s thoughts and their actual thoughts.

My experiences growing up in the midst of an ongoing conflict fraught with violence and political volatility motivated me to work on bringing people together. Whether the conflict is between Israelis and Palestinians, Black and white people, or liberals and conservatives, I’m looking for ways to move beyond dehumanization and toward empathy and compassion.

My youngest sister, who was born a few months before the second intifada broke out and has known nothing but conflict her entire life, has chosen a different path. Rather than resolving to bring people together, she is working hard to keep them apart. She works for Lehava, which means “flame” in Hebrew, but in this case is also an acronym for the Hebrew phrase “For the Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land.” Lehava fights to prevent “relationships between Jewish girls and Arabs, non-Jews, and foreign workers.” Lehava has been described on several occasions as a far-right and Jewish supremacist group, and elected officials in Israel have embarked on the process of declaring it a terrorist organization.

Given my sister’s chosen career path, telling her that my non-Jewish partner had proposed was … difficult. She had previously told me (on national television) that she would be happy if he broke up with me, since then there would be a chance of me marrying a Jewish guy. Needless to say, she refuses to come to the wedding.

The only solution I have is to try and pull her in, rather than push her away. As painful as it is to hear her talk about how my actions are a threat to the Jewish nation, I know that hating her for saying hateful things will result in nothing but more hate. Instead, I’ve chosen to focus on loving her. {snip}