Did Alzheimer’s Turn My Husband Into an Anti-Semite?

I thought we had aced the interfaith marriage thing — was I wrong?

Yona Zeldis McDonough
Human Parts
Published in
7 min readFeb 1, 2022
Photo: Lucas Ninno/Getty Images

Plenty of Jews who “marry out” ask their new partners to convert. I wasn’t one of them. Yet, I’m deep-in-the-bone and dyed-in-the-wool Jewish. My parents were card carrying Zionists from the Midwest who’d met at a Habonim, a Zionist youth group. My father dropped out of the University of Michigan in 1949 to go to the newly formed state of Israel.

“Israel?” said his mother, clearly not keen on the idea. “What’s in Israel? Sand, s — , and flies.”

My mother disagreed. Barely 17 and as starry-eyed with the dream as he was, she followed him there. They lived first in a kibbutz and later a moshev; my brother was born in the first and I in the second, making me a sabra with a Hebrew name and Israeli birth certificate. My parents left Israel when I was a one-year-old, but the country loomed large, almost mythically, throughout my childhood, even though I didn’t return until I was 18. When I did, it felt like a homecoming.

But I when I fell in love with my husband, it was his very non-Jewishness that made my Jewish girl’s heart flutter. Born and raised in Portsmouth, NH, he was a Yankee through and though, part of a big, extended Catholic family, most of them still in the area.

The first Christmas we knew each other, he brought me to his boyhood home, a charming white house on Miller Avenue. He raved about how the backyard had been filled with lilacs in the spring; I could almost imagine their scent. We passed his nana’s house on State Street, where he’d stop by; together, they did the Jumble in the newspaper while he ate a generous slice of the incomparable apple pie she’d baked. Then there was the Whipple Elementary School, the pond where he’d learned to skate, his father’s sporting goods store on Market Street, where it had been his job to string the tennis racquets and dust the stacked boxes of model airplanes. Molson’s, the drugstore/ luncheonette, was gone, but he wished I’d been able to taste the ice cream Mr. Molson churned in the basement — vanilla, chocolate, peach, and his favorite, coffee.