Knesset member intermarried but not interfaith

By Julie Wiener, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

Julie Wiener

Israeli Knesset Member Einat Wilf has authored two books and served in various senior positions in the business and nonprofit worlds before entering politics.
She also has an 8-month-old son and an international commuter marriage that entails flying to Europe once a month. Wilf is believed to be the only intermarried Jewish Knesset member.

Husband Richard Gutjahr is a non-Jew from Germany. They met on a reconciliation program for the grandchildren of Germans and Jews who had been through World War II; they married in 2007, at a Valentine’s Day wedding chapel set up on the 75th floor of Manhattan’s Empire State Building.

How has your marriage to a non-Jew affected your views on intermarriage, and do you think it could be an obstacle to you advancing further in your political career?

I certainly hope it’s not an obstacle. I’m afraid my views on this issue have been longstanding and entirely independent of my personal life, long before it affected me personally. I’ve always felt Jewish leadership was making a grave error in looking at the issue of intermarriage as a minus one, rather than a plus one.

I’m not talking about conversion, but about extended families, about extending the number of people who feel a sense of kinship with the Jewish people.

Certainly my husband is like that. He’s very supportive of all the work I do for Israel and the Jewish people, and he comes with me for many of my meetings and presentations.

Have you gotten a lot of flak from your colleagues in the Knesset about being married to a German?

I’ve always believed that people treat you the way you treat yourself. If you make a big deal out of something they will make a big deal of something, and if you don’t, they won’t. We recently had a kind of weekend of all the members of the (governing) coalition and their spouses. He was there. And everyone loved him.

How do you manage living in different countries?

We’ve become very good at it. He comes to Israel once a month, and I go to Munich once a month, so we see each other every two weeks. And when we travel, we find ways to coordinate our travel schedules …As with everything, if the attitude is let’s make it work, then it works. It also works really well for the modern life. When we’re apart, each one of us focuses on our work, and can work from morning to night, and then when we’re together we’re 24 hours a day together.

Member of Knesset Einat Wilf

And what about the baby? Does he have Israeli and German citizenship?

The baby lives in Israel. Whenever I go to Munich I travel with him. He has many passport stamps by now!…He’s not a dual citizen and neither am I.

What language do you and your husband speak together?

I’m learning German, and he’s learning Hebrew. We want to make sure there’s no possibility for one parent to talk to the kid in a language the other parent will not understand. And with each other we speak English.

Is it hard to be in an interfaith relationship in Israel?

We have the same faith: atheism. If he were some religious person and I were an atheist, it would be very difficult…We’re both completely devout atheists. We don’t see ourselves as being an interfaith couple. If anything it’s like an international couple: we come from two different nations, two different people, but not two different faiths.

Has your family been welcoming of your husband?
Oh, absolutely. At the end of the day you marry a person. You don’t marry symbols or ideas. My family was very impressed with how supportive he is of my dedication and devotion to Israel and the Jewish people and how deeply he cares about it.

Julie Wiener is associate editor of The New York Jewish Week. Contact her at

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