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â€¦that you are involved with someone of another religion (race, culture or gender)
By Wendy Armon and Joycellen Young Auritt Ph.D.
You have met someone very special and are involved in a relationshipâ€¦. You want to share your excitement with your family but you are afraid that they wonâ€™t approve of the person you are dating.Â How do you tell your parents? Here are a few suggestions of what to do and what not to do.
Suggestions of what you should doâ€¦
1)Â Â Â Â Â Tell them you are happy. Most parents really want to make sure that their adult child is happy and on a path where someone will love them unconditionally. Reassure your parents that you have thought about your choice and you are happy about your decisions.
2)Â Â Â Â Â Acknowledge your fears about your parentsâ€™ reaction out loud. Sometimes when kids are little, parents may say, â€śI want you to marry someone who is XYZ.â€ť Your parents may no longer feel that way about who you marry and may be able to assuage your anxiety early in the conversation. We all change our minds and evolveâ€”maybe your parents did too.
3)Â Â Â Â Â Make clear to your parents where you are in the relationship. If you and your partner are talking marriage, let your parents know. Living together? Dating seriously? If you are in love, tell them. This is a time for you to tell your parents all of the fabulous qualities about your partner. If there are similarities between your partner and one of your parents, point that out.
4)Â Â Â Â Â If your parents are concerned about your choice of partner, gently remind them that your choice is not a rejection of themâ€”you just fell in love! Remind your parents that you love them and appreciate all that they have done. Many parents take the decision that you have chosen someone from a different religion as a rejection of their religion or even a rejection of them. Let them know how much you appreciate various aspects of your upbringing.
5)Â Â Â Â Â Be sensitive. Parents may be a little shocked that you are falling in love with someone and moving forward in your life. Now that you are an adult, they may feel shocked that your life is moving quickly. Sometimes that shock may manifest itself in a focus on religious differences. For some parents the prospect of a wedding or a new generation may make a parent aware of their mortality and the future of aging. Even though you feel a little vulnerable, remember your parents have feelings too.
Suggestions of what not to doâ€¦
1)Â Â Â Â Â Donâ€™t trap your parents. If your parents meet your special person but you donâ€™t tell them how important the person is in your life, there is a chance that your parents may make insensitive comments about the person like: â€śSheâ€™d be great if only she wereâ€¦â€ť Let your parents know your feelings and who is important to you. This is not the time to be deceptive or coy.
2)Â Â Â Â Â Donâ€™t ask a question if you are not prepared to accept an honest answer. If you ask for their input but donâ€™t really want to hear anything negative, donâ€™t ask. Everyone will remember any negative comments for a long time. Questions like, â€śdo you think he is too selfish?â€ť might get the answer you donâ€™t want to hear.
3)Â Â Â Â Â Donâ€™t Rush. If your parents are having a hard time adjusting to your announcement, slow down a little in your discussions with your parents. It is wise to give your parents a chance to digest your news.
Adjusting to the future may take time. Many people have a vision for the future and a vision that their children will make certain choices. If the future looks different than they anticipated, they will likely need an adjustment period to consider what is going on and then hopefully accept your choices. Parents may envision all kinds of things about where their kids will live, what they will do with their grandchildren, how the holidays will be celebratedâ€¦ We all need to adjust when life isnâ€™t how we imagined. Be patient.
Reality Check. Not all parents can accept whom you have chosen. Sometimes, your parents may have realistic concerns. Your parents may have legitimate views regarding compatibility issues that truly matter in the long run. It may take some time for your parents to become comfortable with the new reality.
InterfaithFamily/Chicago welcomes a new staff member to our office which is located on the second floor of the Weinger Northbrook JCC. Susie Field has a child at the JCC preschool and both of her children attend JCC camps. She is herself in an interfaith family and personally interested in our mission of supporting interfaith families open to exploring Jewish life. If you are ever at the JCC and wander upstairs, you will be glad to connect with Susie. She has a warm smile, a great laugh, a wonderful outlook on life and can share lots of ideas about everything from talking with extended family about religion to the day to day task of bringing spirituality and connectedness to our parenting. This is her first blog post with InterfaithFamily in which she shares the real things her son has said as he begins to process what he hears and learns about the religion and culture of Judaism.
My 5-year-old son attends a JCC Pre-Kindergarten Program.Â My husband is Jewish and I am not. Even the Jewish side of our family is learning as he learns.Â And, itâ€™s lots of fun to watch and listen as his imagination runs wild. Here are some of the things heâ€™s said lately that have made me smile:
As a mom in an interfaith family, I was worried my kids wouldnâ€™t know where they belonged or how to communicate about their beliefs.Â Instead, I am fascinated by each new spiritual discovery as it develops into value and faith. As my husband and I shepherd them through their journey, we explore our own beliefs. We are re-introduced to Jewish heritage; albeit, sometimes with a superhero twist.
â€śIt is not good for man to be aloneâ€¦â€ť (Genesis 1:18).
The glass on my old iPhone was quite smashed up, or should I say it had cracked up. One drop too many after its two-year obligation was fulfilled, my smartphone soon became victim of a childlike fascination in how busted up it could become (it still works by the way). A few more (albeit unintentional) drops without a case, and it looked like the terminator was at the end of its days, still generating light and information through its busted exterior despite all the odds that it really should have died by now.
But this blog post is not about the terminator or hardware and itâ€™s not meant to be a commercial for Apple either. Itâ€™s about software. Well sort of. Itâ€™s about the family unit in the hands of marketing geniuses that send people into increasing isolation for commercial gains. If you can liken your physical body to hardware, than itâ€™s an easy leap to compare software to the soul. Here is what happened.
I bought a new iPhone (now I didnâ€™t say that I was immune to marketing efforts for cool gadgets) and soon downloaded the new operating software that Apple recommend for their phones: ios7, which is designed (among several other â€śconvenientâ€ť features) to wirelessly synch all of your devices with the iCloud. I updated the iPad that my family uses around the house with the new software as well. The next night, on the way out for an event, a text that was meant for me came to the family iPad. For all of this hype about â€śthe Cloud,â€ť and its promise of sharing devices, one would think that the message would also be on my phone. But somehow it (the message) chose one device as its communications destiny.
But this blog isnâ€™t about texting either. Itâ€™s about sharing. My wife was puzzled why the message came to the iPad she often uses. Then it occurred to me that the technology that we are increasingly relying on every day wants everyone to have his or her own phones and pads and devices tailored for its owner, or should I say user. Apple wants me to have my own iTunes account with my own password for everything. What happened to the â€śfamily computerâ€ť that we share? Sharing is not encouraged and â€śthe Cloudâ€ť is something that I really have a hard time trusting with music and photographs. Can I really delete the photos that I love of my family and friends? Will it be there later when I finally get around to printing something from our 30,000 digital photos? Of course all of that is â€śfleetingâ€ť as Ecclesiastes would say anyway.
But if you can center yourself enough to not be worried about the future and not in regret for something in your past, perhaps you would have the increasingly rare opportunity to be present and in the moment. You would just be with your family and friends. Can you even turn off your device? If so, how long would you last without checking your messages? How many computers and devices do we need to buy until we realize that we are under a spell of being technology junkies?
So is this the new world we have created? All silos doing our own thing with our own messages, gazing down, glum and hunched over with the physiology of a depressed person? Is there any wonder that antidepressants have increased 400 percent in the last two decades? It is a depressing tale that we are weaving no doubt. So put away your devices, turn them off for a little while. Go spend time with your partner and family and friends. You will find the real world easily if you just listen to your spiritual software: Your soul. No GPS even necessary. Our master story, The Torah, teaches that God looks at Adam alone in his Garden of Eden and says quite succinctly, â€śIt is not good for man to be aloneâ€¦â€ť (Genesis 1:18).
Most American Jews step foot into a synagogue at some point in their lives. Are they passing through inside their silos or are they building community?Â It is not the place so much that is important as the people that are passing you by if you donâ€™t take a moment to look up from your device and take part to something much bigger than your self. We can share so much together in endless ways, but in the end, it will not be from the spell of shared devices in a solo, it will be a concert in the key of community. And the song is love when your family is right there with you linked up in a community that grows together.
I was recently giving a presentation about being sensitive to interfaith families and we talked about how Judaism has changed. I compared Judaismâ€™s motivations to “the carrot or the stick.” Many of us were taught that we must follow the commandments or elseâ€¦(the stick). I felt like scare tactics were part of the education. How many people hated their Hebrew school? And now, how many people really want to put their children through a rite of passage that they despised?
But now, in a society where we can do anything with just a few clicks, there needs to be an alternate approach showing the positive side of Judaism. Judaism teaches us a structure to lifeâ€”how to celebrate, how to mourn, how to be healthy. There are also so many wonderful aspects about Judaismâ€”the joy of decorating a sukkah, the peace of a beautiful Shabbat dinner, the joy of singing and cheering for a couple after their wedding.
One of my favorite childrenâ€™s books is The Runaway Bunny. In this story, the bunny talks about running away from his mother and the mother replies each time that she will be there for him no matter where he goes. At the end, he gives up. The motherâ€™s response is â€śHave a carrot.â€ť â€śHave a carrotâ€ť is a wonderful metaphor for Judaism. No matter where we go, our ancestors have provided us with the sustenance to go forward. It may not be super sweet but it will be nourishing. Indeed, the positive carrot (rather than the stick) will sustain us and give us energy and nourishment for the future. Negative motivations may work in the short term but are unlikely to work for future generations.
I want my kids to enjoy Hebrew school and learning about Judaism. I am proud to say that through Jewish camp, and a lot of active parents in the religious school, the kids are having a good time.Â My husband and I also incorporate fun stuff relating to Judaism into our lives whenever possible. My kids enjoy learning when itâ€™s fun. I hope that all children who are getting a Jewish education are enjoying it on a regular basis; perhaps through fun songs, Jewish cooking, a quiz bowl or a Hanukah party. If not, it is our responsibility to insist that their education be pleasant and not torture. Surely, religious education (in any religion) isnâ€™t all joy and play but it should provide us sustenance for our future as human beings.
Perhaps you have heard this old joke about an elementary school boy who comes home very excited to share some news with his parents. â€śI got a part in the school play!â€ť
â€śThatâ€™s wonderful!â€ť his mother replies, â€śwhatâ€™s the part?â€ť
â€śI play the Jewish father,â€ť the son beamed.
His mother sat up, alarmed and with full sternness, â€śYou go back and tell your teacher that you want a speaking part!â€ť
In light of so much talk about the recent Pew study, I would like to turn our attention to an equally fascinating study prepared by CJP,Â The 2005 Greater Boston Community Study: Intermarried Families and Their Children.
First, the good news for intermarried Bostonians who want to raise their kids Jewish: According to this study, 60 percent of intermarried families in the Greater Boston area are raising their kids as Jews. This is good news compared to the more recent Pew study that found the national average in the rest of the country around 25 percent. If 2005â€™s survey was any indication (and I know this is a rough comparison of two different studies), Boston is faring stronger for raising Jewish children than the rest of the country. Why is Boston doing so much better? Well that is a whole other blog to write about.
But hereâ€™s an interesting part of the CJP analysis that I want to get to: If the mom is Jewish, so the survey says, there is an 80 percent likelihood that the children will be raised as Jews. If it is the father thatâ€™s Jewish, only a 32 percent chance (p.19).
Why is this? Dads see themselves as lacking the time? The passion? Are we lazy on Sundays? Whatâ€™s the deal?
I am proud of our long and storied history of the classic, strong Jewish mom who runs the household, but why are so many of our â€śclassic dadsâ€ť so complacent? The world is changing fast and our children are growing even faster. I must confess that the reason why my daughter makes it on time to Hebrew School on Sundays is because of my wifeâ€”the not Jewish counterpart of my interfaith relationship. So I must be the exception, more than the rule. I lucked out that my wife understands commitment and once we made up our mind to raise our kids Jewish, she is exceptionally committed.
But if she were not so on the ball, I can see how easy it is to fall behind the eight ball. Many of us didnâ€™t love our Hebrew School experiences, and are indifferent. Our parents followed their role models of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants, who were anxious to lose their authentic ethnic backgrounds and fit in. To be fair to my assimilated ancestors, there was horrible anti-Semitism back then that I did not have to suffer through as they did. Although anti-Semitism is not gone by any means and has a deep decoy of anti-Zionism (thatâ€™s another blog too), it is safer to be “publicly Jewish” now.
But there still comes a time in everyoneâ€™s life when they need to stand up for what they believe in. Everyone is so very busy these days and our children are as over-programmed as the adults. I get it. It can feel like a real schlep to get to Hebrew School on the weekends, but if we engage in some Jewish education ourselves, it need not be such an effort. It can be downright joyful. So as we enter a new year, ask yourself, â€śAm I a lazy dad?â€ť or better yet, â€śWhat do I really care about?â€ť Judaism has so many answersÂ and there are tons of amazing opportunities to learn in Boston.Â Why walk away from the most amazing education you can give your family. Just try it out. Start the year our right and get involved.
Getting back to that old joke about the speaking part. There are many plays that could use a re-write, and there is no reason to continue putting all of the pressure on one spouse to do everything. Get involved and speak up, Dads. Your future is counting on you and if you get involved just even a tad more, a whole world of beauty and wonder from Judaism will open before you.
As a rabbi, itâ€™s not unusual for me to get a call from a Jewish parent whose child is engaged to someone who isnâ€™t Jewish. The parent usually asks if we can get together to talkâ€”sometimes they want to talk because theyâ€™re having a hard time accepting the fact that their child is going to be in an interfaith marriage and other times they want to discuss a particular issue that has come up. Here is some advice that I often give to such parents (which is really just a variation on advice that I give to parents of adult children in general):
1. Your childâ€™s marrying someone who isnâ€™t Jewish isnâ€™t necessarily a rejection of Judaismâ€¦or of you. As I wrote in my recent blog â€śMarrying Outâ€ť Is Not â€śAbandoning Judaismâ€ť just because a person falls in love with someone of another religion (or no religion) it doesnâ€™t mean that they donâ€™t value their Judaism. Many people today donâ€™t see loving someone of a different faith and having a strong Jewish identity as being mutually exclusive. Your child can love their partner and they can love being Jewishâ€”and they can love you too!
2. Give your child the time and space to make his/her own decisions. You probably have lots of questions: Will they have a Jewish wedding? Are they going to have a Jewish home? How are they going to raise their children? While you may want to know the answers to all of your questions NOW (if not yesterdayâ€¦), your child and his/her partner may not have all of the answers yet, and even if they do, they may not be ready to share them with you. Let them know (through your words, and even more important, your actions) that you respect their right to make decisions on their own time frame and to share them with you when they are ready.
3. Accept that these are your childâ€™s and his/her partnerâ€™s decisions to make. Notice that I didnâ€™t say that you have to agree withâ€”or even likeâ€”all of their decisions. It may be very upsetting to you that your daughter has decided not to be married by your rabbi or that she is going to have a Christmas tree in her home. But she is an adult and these are decisions for her and her partner to make, not for you to make. Odds are that she already knows how you feel about these things and if you critique everything she tells you then she may not want to keep sharing with you.
4. Be honest, but respectful. Itâ€™s OK to be honest about how you feel. You can tell your son that it makes you sad that he wonâ€™t be married in a synagogue or that his fiancĂ© isnâ€™t converting to Judaism. Most of us arenâ€™t such great actors anyway and itâ€™s always best to be honestâ€”while recognizing that sometimes, as we learned as children, â€śif you donâ€™t have something nice to say, then donâ€™t say anything at all.â€ť As you share your feelings, make sure that you are clear that they are your feelingsâ€”and while they are real and will hopefully be acknowledged by your son, remember that he and his partner are going to make their own decisions and that while the intent of these decisions isnâ€™t to make you sad, this may be the unfortunate byproduct of some of their decisions.
5. Ask your child if s/he wants your opinion or advice. Your daughter may share with you some of the challenges she is dealing with in her interfaith relationship. For example, she may tell you that sheâ€™s angry at her fiancĂ© for insisting that she go to church with his family on Easter, or that sheâ€™s hurt that her fiancĂ© wonâ€™t come with her to synagogue on Yom Kippur. Odds are that if you offer advice and she doesnâ€™t really want it, or you propose a solution that ends up not working for her and her fiancĂ©, the result is that she will be mad at you. So how do you know what she wants? ASK! You can simply say: â€śDo you want to just vent and Iâ€™ll listen to your feelings, or do you want to hear my opinion and my advice?â€ť That way, youâ€™ll know her real purpose in sharing with you and you can respond accordingly. And if she tells you that she wants you to just listen but not offer your opinion, but this is too difficult for you to do, then you should be up front about it and not get into a conversation that wonâ€™t be productive for either of you.
6. Get to know your childâ€™s partner. Your son fell in love with the woman heâ€™s going to marry, so presumably thereâ€™s something very special about her. If you havenâ€™t already done so, then get to know her and treat her with kindness and respect. Invite her to participate in Jewish events and celebrationsâ€”that is, if these are things you would be doing anyway. If you have Shabbat dinner as a family, invite your son and his fiancĂ© to join you so she can share the beauty of Shabbat with your family. Be welcoming and explain to her whatâ€™s going on, while being careful not to be patronizing. But if you donâ€™t regularly go to synagogue on Saturday mornings, donâ€™t invite her to synagogue with you just so you can â€ścounteractâ€ť the fact that she isnâ€™t Jewish.
7. Talk to other parents whose children have intermarried. As in many situations, itâ€™s often nice to feel like youâ€™re not alone. It can be helpful to speak with someone who has had a similar experience who can understand how you are feeling and who can provide you with advice and support. If youâ€™re in the Philadelphia area, join our Facebook group and get in the conversation.
What advice would you offer to a parent whose child is intermarrying? If your child is married to someone of a different religion, were you given any advice that you found helpful? Is there advice you found not to be helpful?
Rabbi Simchah Green, a veteran Modern Orthodox rabbi and graduate of Yeshiva University sees intermarriage as an opportunity for the Jewish people. He recently wrote for InterfaithFamily: â€śNow is not the time for us to bury our heads in the sand. Now is not the time for us to bemoan the situation. Now is not the time to sound off against this phenomenon.â€ť
â€śAnd without question I shall not consider that an intermarriage represents the END OF THE LINE, BUT RATHER THE BEGINNING OF A JOURNEY.â€ť (See his full essay here.) Rabbi Green is right! Intermarriage is not the end of the Jewish people. Intermarriage is not a time for us to hem and haw or say â€śwoe is meâ€ť about the future. We must look at intermarriage as an opportunity. An opportunity to embrace those around us who are interested in learning more about Judaism and participating in Jewish life with those they care about.
Carol, my sisterâ€™s mother-in-law, demonstrates this fully and completely. She recently asked me, â€śWhere can we go to learn more about Judaism?â€ť She explained that she (who was not raised Jewishly) wanted to be fully involved in helping to raise my newborn niece with a Jewish identity. Carol is amazing! Even before her granddaughter was born, she reached out to learn more, to become more educated about Judaism, the holidays and the values.
I was excited to help educate Carol. I first led her to the free booklets from InterfaithFamily, formatted for online reading and printing: interfaithfamily.com/booklets. I also suggested that she may be interested in signing up for an upcoming Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family class. And, as I would offer to everyone in the community, staff at InterfaithFamily/Bay Area are always available to answer your questions.
I hope that all grandparents, parents and partners are welcomed by those around them. Let us all help each other explore Jewish life in a way that feels comfortable and may that exploration be supported by those we love as well as the leaders of the Jewish community.
I often feel that life is a series of days unless we pause occasionally to celebrate. There are definitely highs and lows of each day and some events stay with us for days or weeks, but generally days and weeks come and go. This is why entering a period of pause each week, called Shabbat is so crucial. This is why holidays and life cycle events are so important. They mark our time with meaning.
This past weekend, two events occurred in our house which felt they changed our lives. Although the two events were not monumental to most, they felt dramatic to me.
The first event was that my six-year-old had her first spelling test. First grade is very different from â€śhalf-dayâ€ť kindergarten. In first grade, she gets on the bus at 8:30 and comes off the bus at 3:30 and has had all kinds of experiences that she navigates herself. Most of her day is at schoolâ€”not at home now. However, this first spelling test brought me nearly to tears of joy. She had reached a new place in her young life. Now, she was being tested and judged based on what she studied and how she performed. Now, we as parents, had a new responsibility on our shoulders: to help her study.
The second event that occurred was that our daughter went on her first sleep-over at a friendâ€™s house around the corner from where we live.Â We were proud and filled with nachas (a Yiddish word meaning pride from a loved oneâ€™s accomplishment). She had to make her needs known. She had to perform her own self-care.
I got into bed the night she was not home and felt Godâ€™s presence as I have not felt in a long time. Perhaps because I have been moved by the stories my colleaguesâ€”fellow rabbi-rabbi parents have shared about their own sonâ€™s brave fight of childhood cancer and about the thousands like himâ€”I cherish even more keenly and with a different perspective our childrenâ€™s lives.
When I say I felt Godâ€™s presence, what I felt was the support of thousands of other parents over generations who have had the joy of seeing their children accomplish new feats. I felt excitement at what was to come. I felt in awe of how life moves along and how obstacles are overcome.
I love the shehecheyanu prayer (the Jewish Kodak moment blessing). It is said at new and joyous occasions and it thanks God for sustaining us and enabling us to reach this new place. The word â€śchaiâ€ť (life) is in the middle of this hard-to-pronounce word, shehecheyanu. Judaism is obsessed with life. With living the best life we can. Harold Kushner wrote a whole book called, To Life. Think Fiddler on the Roof, â€śTo life, to life, lâ€™chayim.â€ť
Of course I said shehecheyanu. I say it at every wedding. I said it when a first tooth was lost. (I think I was too sleep deprived to say it when that tooth grew in at three or four months old!) I said it when it snowed for the first time this season a few days ago in Chicago. But, I wanted a different, more specific prayer for this occasion of watching my daughter grow up.
Those who were raised with Judaism can be skittish about spontaneous, personal prayer. We like scripted prayers that start, â€śBaruch Atah Adonaiâ€¦â€ť I wrote my rabbinic thesis on spontaneous Jewish prayer because I am terrified of it. But, I prayed to God from my heart in my bed that night.
Over Thanksgiving dinner or the first nights of Hanukkah, maybe give yourself the freedom to add your own words, your own sentiments to our scripted prayers. Or fill the words from the sheets you read or which flow from your mouth out of memory with kavannah, special intention.
Judaism is all about turning the mundane into the sacred. A spelling test? A sleep-over? Yesâ€”these were sacred moments to mark.
I recently spoke with a couple that Iâ€™ve known for a while. The husband (Iâ€™ll call him Ben; not his real name) is Jewish and the wife (Iâ€™ll call her Rachel; also not her real name) is Lutheran. They are very excited because Rachel is pregnant with their first child. They both grew up in religious households, and each of them take their religion very seriously. They had agreed before they were married that while they would each continue to practice their own religion, they would raise their children in only one religion, but had not decided which one. Not long after Rachel became pregnant with their first child, they together decided that while Rachel would continue to attend her church and practice her religion, they would have a Jewish family and raise their children as Jews.
As a person who values Judaism and Jewish peoplehood and continuity greatly, I was thrilled to hear that Ben and Rachel had decided to raise their children as Jews. I know many families in which mothers who are not Jewish are raising Jewish children while continuing to practice a different religion and finding this to work very well for themselves and their families. I see Ben and Rachelâ€™s decision to raise their children as Jews as a testament to the fact that they were married by a rabbi who was open and understanding as well as to the fact that the Jewish community has become increasingly welcoming to interfaith couples and families. In addition, Benâ€™s family accepted Rachel from the very beginning, embracing her and welcoming her into their family.
I was very happy when Ben and Rachel shared their decision with me. A Jewish family! As a rabbi and as someone who advocates for inclusion of interfaith families in the Jewish community and works to encourage interfaith families to embrace Judaismâ€”and as a Jewish person who greatly values the beliefs, values and traditions of my religion and who knows how wonderful and meaningful it is to be part of a Jewish family and the Jewish communityâ€”I was thrilled, both for Ben and Rachel, as well as for the Jewish community as a whole.
But I also felt a pang of sadness. I realized all that Rachel was giving up. I thought of how meaningful it is for me to say the Shabbat blessings with my children every Friday evening before dinner and how it connects me to saying those very same blessings with my parents on Friday evenings when I was growing up. I thought of how much I enjoy saying the Shema with my kids before they go to bedâ€”just as I said the Shema with my parents before going to bed when I was a child. I love sharing MY rituals and MY beliefs with my children, as I pass them on lâ€™dor va-dor, â€śfrom generation to generationâ€ť and they become OUR way of life.
Rachel, who has committed to raising her children in a religion different from the one in which she grew up, will be able to pass on her values to her children, but she wonâ€™t have the opportunity to pass on her beliefs and traditionsâ€”to share with them the religious rituals she enjoyed as a child and continues to find meaningful today. She wonâ€™t have the opportunity to raise her children in the church in which she grew up. When her kids celebrate Christmas and Easter with her, they wonâ€™t be THEIR holidays, they will be HER holidays. In committing to pass on Judaism, her husbandâ€™s religion, to the next generation, Rachel is giving up the opportunity to pass on her own religion from one generation to the next.
Rachel spoke of the sense of loss that she feels in having decided not to raise her children in the religion in which she grew up and which she still practices. She further spoke of how this loss isnâ€™t felt just by her, but by her family as well. But she also spoke of how she has come to embrace her decision to raise her children as Jews, and how she is excited that she will be able to fully participate in her familyâ€™s Jewish celebrations and observances, while still having a religious life of her own. She knows that this is the right choice for her familyâ€”and for herâ€¦but that doesnâ€™t mean it will always be easy.
Rachel and Ben have made a big decision. They are excited to have reached this decision and Rachel is happy with it. But she doesnâ€™t deny the loss she feels, and neither does Ben. I am optimistic that as their children grow up they will both feel good about their decision to have a Jewish family and that Ben will continue to be supportive of Rachel in acknowledging that it may not always be easy for her. But just because something isnâ€™t easy doesnâ€™t mean it isnâ€™t wonderful. I know first-hand the joy and rewards of raising Jewish children and I am excited for Ben and Rachel that they will know them as well.
I think itâ€™s important for all of us in the Jewish community, when we celebrate a coupleâ€™s decision to raise their children as Jews, to acknowledge how difficult this may be for the partner who is not Jewish. Yes, we can (and we should) be excited that Judaism will be passed on to the next generation and that the children will be blessed to grow up as Jews and that the Jewish community will be blessed to have them in our midst. But we canâ€™t pretend that this will always be easy for the partner who isnâ€™t Jewish and we need to give them the opportunity to feel and express their loss as we respect the sacrifices they have made.
Are you raising your children in a religion different from the religion which you grew up? Has this been difficult for you? What are the greatest challenges? What are the rewards? Respond in the comments section below.
A few weeks ago, my son was reading Torah at a Saturday evening service. It is a very small service of 15-20 people and a nice opportunity for him to read without a large audience and to practice reading before his
At first I thought they were uncomfortable because they were taking an honor from someone else. So I looked at them and said, â€śThere is no one here, go ahead.â€ť They said no thanks again. I was perplexed. They are both Jewish and have participated in synagogue life elsewhere. They are completely comfortable in a synagogue and knew most of the people in the room.
An Aliyah is an honor within the Torah service. It allows the honoree(s) to stand beside the Torah reader (their grandson) and witness his reading. I also always think it is fascinating to be up close and personal with the Torah. (I always am amazed that this beautiful scroll is in every synagogue in the world and created by hand. When you factor in the longevity of the textâ€¦it is really cool.) I thought my in-laws would be thrilled to be up there with their oldest grandson and to watch him read from the Torah. Wouldnâ€™t they want this honor?
The concept of a Jewish person not wanting to accept an honor in a synagogue struck a chord. I recently wrote a blog about the beauty of the blessings given by someone who is not Jewish during a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. In many congregations, someone who is not Jewish cannot say a blessing for their child. My feeling is that the person who is not Jewish and blesses their child and the childâ€™s Jewish learning is making a wonderful statement of support to the community. So why wouldnâ€™t my in-laws want to participate?
Then I remembered my days in high school choir when we were in churches singing our hearts out. Sometimes there would be communion after we sang. Being raised in a strict Jewish household, I would refuse to participate even though I was the only one from the choir that wouldnâ€™t go up to the altar. I had a friend who was also Jewish but she did go up for communion. We spoke of it once and she said she didnâ€™t feel comfortable sitting on the pew when everyone else was kneeling or taking communion. I always remember this conversation and that one personâ€™s comfort is another personâ€™s discomfort.
Now, as I often think about welcoming a person of a different faith inside a Jewish institution, I have to remember: Sometimes people want to participate, and sometimes they want to opt out. Either way, we should do all in our power to make them feel comfortable whatever their preference.
I have been thinking about my in-laws sinceâ€¦we only do what we are comfortable doing. We all have different experiences and influences. Certainly no one should be forced to do something when they are uncomfortable. Religion is obviously a very personal decision and experience. My in-laws were not mentally prepared for an aliyah and this isnâ€™t a synagogue where they are members. I get itâ€”it wasnâ€™t right for them. Still, I know they were very proud of their grandson and his ability and intent to carry on the traditions.
While many synagogues are re-evaluating the role of the family members from various religions during various ceremonies, we must realize that not every person who isnâ€™t Jewish will WANT to participate. Some people think that their synagogue doesnâ€™t need to offer options because, â€śWhy would a person who isnâ€™t Jewish want to participate?â€ťÂ My response is: Let each individual decide what their comfort level is. We all have to remember that welcoming means offering options for inclusion. And, by simply offering the option for participation, the community sends the message of welcoming.