Penina Adelman is an author and educator living in Newton, Mass.
A Video with a Mission: Who Am I?
Review of Who Am I?, directed by Lena Romanoff, produced by the Jewish Converts & Interfaith Network, 1112 Hagy's Ford Rd., Narberth, PA 19072, 610-664-8112, 1994.
Lena Romanoff has a mission: to convince whoever will watch her video that raising children as Jews is the best way to go in an interfaith marriage. Her reason is simple. That's what the children of these marriages are telling her.
Ms. Romanoff interviews adult children of interfaith couples and listens to what they have to say about the issue of how to handle children's religious identity. Lo and behold, they are all saying the same thing, at least, as Romanoff understands it. They are saying, “I wish I had been brought up as a Jew. . . Choosing between two faiths is too difficult and confusing for a child to understand . . . I am bringing up my children as Jews and I'm proud of it.”
The one interfaith couple she interviews before they have children utters all the wrong words. The woman who is Jewish says, “I'll let my children decide for themselves what faith they want to be. That's the fair way, right?” The man who is Catholic says, “I love being Catholic, but I guess I'll raise my children the way she decides.” One can hear the thoughts rolling around in Ms. Romanoff's head: this couple is going to have problems, BIG TIME!
That's the problem with Who Am I? There is no space for the viewer to make up his or her mind about the issue of how to raise children in an interfaith marriage. Romanoff has already decided for all of us. This video is preaching to the converted, so to speak. That is, if you've already made up your mind about how you are going to raise your children, you don't need to see this video. If you haven't yet made up your mind, this pounding over the head will not convince you. However, it certainly could be used as a brainwashing tool. Perhaps that is what the director had in mind--to tell this audience exactly how to raise their children.
But this approach is far from the current wisdom among professionals who work with interfaith families, which is to educate families, and let them decide how to raise their children. Empower them to make this life-altering decision by giving them solid, unbiased information on childrearing when parents are of different faiths. Do this in a calm, non-judgmental way and couples will be able to make the best choice for their particular situation.
Unfortunately, Lena Romanoff has created a video with the tangled, guilt-ridden message of the stereotypical Jewish mother who says, “I'm so glad you're getting married, finally. Christine is really very nice, but if you don't give me Jewish grandchildren, what's the point of my life?”
Who Am I? could turn a perplexed Jew away from Judaism, let alone from raising Jewish children. There is a need for a fair, multi-dimensional portrayal of Jewish family life minus a narrator with a deafening message. In the meantime, keeping this video far away from those in the midst of one of the greatest interfaith dilemmas might be the biggest mitzvah (good deed) one could do.