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The other day, Ruthie and I were talking about one of her favorite topicsâ€”her cousins. She ticked off each oneâ€™s name, and talked about something special about them, or what they did the last time they were together.Â Then she started talking about some friends who are like familyâ€”she often brings up this topic of what to call her friends who are like family but who arenâ€™t blood relatives. In speaking about two sisters in particular from a family that we often celebrate Jewish holidays with, she changed the subject a little bit.
â€śSo,â€ť she asked me, â€śwhich one of their parents wasnâ€™t Jewish when they met, the mom or the dad?â€ť
â€śActually,â€ť I told her, â€śthey both were Jewish when they met.â€ť
â€śOh,â€ť she said, and kept talking.
This was not a monumental question to her, but it gave me pause.Â Neither good nor bad, but it gave me pause.Â To her, the question was completely logical.Â First of all, there was no judgment in it. It wasnâ€™t good or bad if they were or werenâ€™t Jewish, it was just a normal question to her about families.
In Ruthieâ€™s Jewish family (my side), most of the pairings in my generation are interfaith. In fact, of my three siblings and six first cousins, only one person has married someone from a Jewish background. This does not stand in the way of our lighting Hanukkah candles together or sharing the Passover seder. Whatâ€™s more, an openness to mixed faith couplings has brought seven fantastic people into our family, seven more adults who nurture and support our foursome.
Because of this, Ruthie really hasnâ€™t been exposed to the idea that being Jewish necessitates having two Jewish parents. It is just not part of how she understands her identity.Â While I spend time every month blogging about navigating a somewhat new path in embracing multiple forms of Jewish identity, Ruthie thinks our family is completely ordinary within our religious community.
When she asked the question, my mind started embracing the 21st century outlook for interfaith families. I went to an exciting place: That maybe because ofÂ the work of community leaders, generous rabbis, individual families who choose love and acceptance and, of course, InterfaithFamily, our girls wonâ€™t ever know to feel different.Â They will know that we are Jewish through our actions.Â As they grow up they will understand that they have a choice about spirituality and connection to a religious community.Â If we are successful, the girls will understand that our goal as parents was to show them our choice, in the hopes that theyâ€™ll love it, but also in the hopes that they understand the benefits of choosing to make space for these connections in their adult lives.
Another interpretation might be that Ruthie is 6. I wasnâ€™t raised in an interfaith family myself, so for all I know every 6-year-old thinks that all families must be like their own, religiously or otherwise.Â Perhaps 6-year-olds with interfaith parents have been asking this question for generations; I have just never encountered their stories.
So, earth shattering or not, I have a new inspiration.Â To hold onto the kernel of celebration that I felt in that moment. To hold onto the idea that I can raise my girls in an environment where their Jewish identity is about our actions, and not about a rule that would prohibit the loving home Eric and I have created as a couple.Â To create a place where they can relish the heritage they carry on through the multiple traditions from both sides of their families, but also firmly choose a path of spirituality and connection that is personally fulfilling to them.Â And, ideally, to imagine a time that feels not that far off when being interfaith will be an important part of how we understand, respect and love our extended family, but wonâ€™t be a significant facet of our Jewishness.