Recent research has shown that children are more frequently raised in the mother’s religion than the father’s religion, so when a non-Jewish mom raises a Jewish child, their family is bucking the odds. What’s more, these women are often the ones driving their children to Hebrew school, reading their children Jewish children’s books and buying their children dreidels. What a noble sacrifice they make to their husband’s religion.
A beautiful example of such a mom is Amy Cummingham of New York, who writes about preparing for her son’s bar mitzvah in The Times and Democrat of Orangeburg, S.C. Cunningham is a committed Christian who attends church on a weekly basis, but agreed to raise her children Jewish because she “felt that the world could not, should not, lose any more of its radiant Jewish people.” She did indeed drive her children to Hebrew school twice a week and even went so far as to work events at the synagogue. She has some goals for the bar mitzvah ceremony:
I want the bar mitzvah ceremony to be memorable, meaningful, imbued with gratitude and love. I want the whole day to be authentically ours, as well as in keeping with what millions of Jews have done before us. I want to bring myself, as a supportive non-Jewish parent, to the table … or to the Torah, proud of my son and his Jewish heritage. I want to show that Jewish-Christian intermarriage won’t complete what Hitler started and that, at our house at least, faith breeds faith, and love is all that matters.
Like most moms, she worries about whether the party is going to be too ostentatious–“too much Martha Stewart… and not enough shtetl,” she says. But it’s her husband who pushes her to involve her heritage more in the planning. And she does so in a lovely way, which I won’t reveal.
You could argue that Susan Ivers of Montgomery, Ohio, has maken an even greater sacrifice. When she and her Jewish husband Joel got married, they decided to raise the children in her Lutheran faith, mainly because she was more religious than Joel. Their first child was baptized but their second child was not as Joel started to have second thoughts. Then their second child attended a bat mitzvah “and was mesmerized.” He pleaded to go to temple services with his dad, and they relented. When they were pregnant with their third child, they decided to raise all their children as Jews. So not only did Susan make a huge compromise for the sake of her husband, she also felt the rejection of her faith from her children. She says the healing process took years.
In the Jewish community, the simple “solution” to intermarriage–and the one we promote–is for couples to decide to raise their children Jewish. But we should never forget the enormous sacrifices that non-Jewish parents, especially mothers, have to make for this to happen.
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