My Geni Journey: On Paul Newman and Intermarriage

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A few weeks ago, I discovered several new branches of my family on

I was thrilled to find distant cousins that I never knew! We emailed old stories of people long gone, and verified our common history. We updated each other on our family news, and even figured out a certain ancestor’s Hebrew name. I have since friended some of my new cousins on Facebook, and several have agreed to join Geni. It has truly been an incredible experience.

For those of you unfamiliar with, it’s a website where you can input your family tree. And when Geni sees that you and another person have both described the same person as a relative, it prompts the two of you to connect your trees. This is how I found these long-lost cousins. Geni is pure genius.

Paul Newman

Paul Newman was my second cousin three times removed

This discovery put me on a Geni high. But weeks later, one thing is still gnawing at me. I discovered that a good chunk of that side of the family is married to non-Jews.

I wonder whether their kids will ever connect with mine as “family.” I wonder if these memories of my grandmother’s great “Tante Rezhin” will mean anything to them.

I wonder whether they will ever take an interest in their “Jewish side” and study this family tree that has become so dear to me.

I don’t know how it happened along the way. I don’t know if a closer-knit family—or a more religious family—could have prevented it. But somehow, somewhere, these cousins decided it was okay to marry out of the faith.

The truth is that I should not have been that surprised. Our celebrated family connection to Paul Newman (the famous actor, 1925-2008) should not be our biggest pride. Though quite the celebrity, Paul was born of a non-Jewish mother, and felt little relationship to us, cousins on his “Jewish side.” He gave to many important philanthropic causes, but not specifically to Jewish ones.

And I am beginning to realize that there are also other parts of the family that are no longer Jewish….

One of my distant cousins married Jewish and became frum through Chabad. He said that if you look at this family tree, you see what the landscape of the Jewish community will be like in 20 years. I replied that I find comfort in the fact that at least some of us are still holding down the fort.

But what does “holding down the fort” really mean?

Does it mean that I teach my children to marry Jewish? That’s it? What if they don’t? What am I doing to actively prevent intermarriage?

I guess you can say that I try to show my children the beauty of Judaism and that I teach them the Orthodox lifestyle.

But there are no guarantees. I’m sure my ancestors back in the “old country” never thought their children or grandchildren would marry non-Jews. They probably never imagined it possible.

But here we are. So many American Jews marrying out of the faith. Even in my own family.

I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but I felt it warranted a blog post.

Do you have intermarriage in your family? How do you feel about it?

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5 Responses to “My Geni Journey: On Paul Newman and Intermarriage”

  • Rivka F.:

    Leah, great blog, I’ve been enjoying it.
    My Aunt Lena (Leah) was always insulted over Paul Newman not being willing to meet with her. And she was obviously much more closely related 🙂
    People always laugh that we’re in touch with our 3rd cousins once removed, It’s hard to explain that you’re our only furm/ Jewish relatives. I’m so happy for my kids that their part of the family tree is just growing 🙂

  • admin:

    Rivka, I just love, love, love that you posted a comment – it means so much that you read it, and we’re so lucky to have you as family!

    I keep thinking that they must be Jewish in their souls. That even though he wasn’t technically Jewish, that Paul must have felt SOMEthing when he filmed “Exodus” in Israel in 1960. That maybe, just maybe, if I befriend my distant cousins, that they will connect with the extended family, and discover their Jewish heritage….

    But who knows.

  • Ilana:

    I also enjoyed the post. While reading it I said, hey, that’s me! (or my father, but same thing)
    Rivka, you beat me about Aunt Lena!

    An interesting fact about my husband’s family, all of the children on one branch of the family are girls. These are all girls who have intermarried. We say that an ancestor somewhere along the line must have a big Zchus that all of his descendants are still Jewish!

    • admin:

      Wow, it seems I’ve started a family discussion! Ilana thanks for your comment – so good to hear from you!

      I think our grandmothers and our grandfathers would have merited that zechut!

      Maybe one day we can do a big family reunion and it will be in a kosher place and we can sit around and tell stories about Tante Regine who apparently was quite the strong Jewish woman!

  • Thanks for the great write up of Geni, we’re always so glad to stumble across these types of stories.


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