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By Lindsey Goldstein
Before my husband and I got married, we discussed how we would raise any potential children. These children were very theoretical. something I wasnâ€™t sure I wanted. But I began to consider it, since he finally seemed to be the right person to procreate with.
My husband was raised Catholic but hasnâ€™t practiced any religion since he left his parentsâ€™ home and I was raised Jewish albeit not entirely religious. I strongly identify myself as Jewish.
Yet despite those differences, our discussions about raising our kids werenâ€™t profound. They went something like this:
Me: â€śHow will we raise our kids with respect to religion?â€ť
Him: â€śWell, youâ€™re Jewish, so arenâ€™t they Jewish by default?â€ť
Of course, he referred to the fact that any child that springs forth from the loins of a Jewish woman is automatically Jewish.
Thatâ€™s fine and good, but Iâ€™ve found that kids these days, unless presented with a religious upbringing will often default to being â€śnothing.â€ť Or as my brotherâ€™s kids say, they are â€śhalf Jewish.â€ť What does that even mean? Are they sliced down the middle through the navel, one side claiming to be Jewish and the other not? It means nothing. Literally.
Ultimately, my husband and I decided our kids would be educated on Judaism by me and my husband would answer any questions about Catholicism should they arise. He acknowledged that the brunt of our kidsâ€™ formal religious exposure would most likely be Judaism because my parents live 35 minutes away, so we spend the Jewish holidays with themâ€”and unlike him, I practice my religion.
Yet this wasnâ€™t a concrete plan. Essentially, we decided any kids we had could figure out for themselves how invested they wanted to be in their religious upbringing and we would simply facilitate their decision. In other words, our decision about how to raise them was pretty wishy-washy.
When my daughter reached school age, we decided to send her to a Jewish school, where she would stay there through kindergarten and then switch to an excellent local public school, one of the draws of our neighborhood.
As I haveÂ previously written, I am so proud that she became extremely interested in her Jewishness to the extent that she taught me things Iâ€™d long forgotten from my Jewish upbringing. In June, she â€śgraduatedâ€ť from that school and will, as planned, move to a public school.
The struggle confronting me now is how will her Jewishness persevere outside of her current school? I asked her if she would like to have aÂ bat mitzvahÂ and she said yes. I explained to her sheâ€™d have to attend Hebrew school on Sundays to make her goal happen.
Hereâ€™s the thing: When my daughter and I discuss Hebrew school, she forgets about it minutes later. I donâ€™t force the issue because I reflect on the fact that I wouldnâ€™t have wanted to spend every Sunday in Hebrew school when I was 6. I hear my husband and understand his religion was forced on him thereby destroying any religious intentions in him. I know he feels strongly that we donâ€™t do that to our kids. But I remind him that being Jewish isnâ€™t an easy path to choose.
Now that we have real children instead of theoretical ones, I realize our decision to not make any decisions for them was misguided. Kids will never choose to study religion if they donâ€™t have to.
The path of least resistance is being anything but Jewish. I resented being Jewish for most of my teenage years because I was raised among mostly Christians and I hated being â€śdifferent.â€ť When I was 18, I lived in a predominantly Catholic country as an exchange student. For that year, I decided to assimilate and not celebrate Jewish holidays or acknowledge my Jewishness. I had a fulfilling year, yet I felt adrift. Even though Iâ€™ve never been terribly religious, it turned out I was out of place in a religious context that wasnâ€™t my own, and I craved the companionship of people who â€śget me.â€ť
No matter how religious or not a Jew is, I think there is a foundation of similarity that allows us to relate to another Jew easily. There is a parallel upbringing or set of parents or values that bonds us together.
And I realize now: I want that for my kids. I donâ€™t want them to float around in this world incapable of identifying themselves with a community.Â Selfishly, I want that community to be a Jewish one.
Clearly, my husband and I still have some discussion before usâ€”and it wonâ€™t be easy to iron out now that our kids are growing up. We should have made concrete decisions about religious upbringing before.
Thatâ€™s why when other interfaith couples say theyâ€™re going to â€świng it,â€ť I vehemently tell them not toâ€”but rather to hammer those details out before they get married, to seek counsel from an outside source if they need an objective perspective.
In the meantime, my daughter will still have a connection to her Jewish school since her brother will matriculate in a month. I am hopeful she will choose to follow through with her desire to have a bat mitzvah and continue to feel at home in the Jewish community as she has for the last several years.
I hope she is ultimately persuaded by my example since she enjoys going to synagogue and celebrating Jewish holidays with me. Of course, I am not upset with my husband for his view on religious upbringingâ€”especially in light of how he was raised. But, I should have been absolutely forthright with him that my ultimate goal for my kids is as follows: when someone asks them what they are they respond without hesitation, â€śJewish.â€ť
This article was reprinted with permission fromÂ Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids.Â Follow Kveller on FacebookÂ andÂ sign up for their newsletters here.
In the local stores in my neighborhood it seems that everyone is pushing everyone else aside. People donâ€™t say â€śexcuse meâ€ť anymore. In the kosher bakery I get hit in the eye with a challah bread when one woman reaches past me, past Adrian and over Helenâ€™s stroller. She really socks me one with the golden dough. Then she doesnâ€™t say, â€śIâ€™m sorryâ€ť or even acknowledge my familyâ€™s existence. At least the challah was fresh and warm so it was a soft blow to my right eye, and anyway it smelled good.
We try the Mexican bakery next for Adrian. He loves a traditional â€śconcha.â€ť A concha is a type of bread shaped like a roll covered in chocolate, vanilla or strawberry sugar and traditionally it is eaten in the morning. It looks a little bit like a shell from the beach and thatâ€™s what concha means in Spanish: â€śShell.â€ť We have this routine. On Friday mornings before Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts we hit the bakeries. Everyone else in our neighborhood has the same idea. Friday mornings can be overwhelming.
At the Mexican bakery we grab a tray and tongs and pick the bread we like. On the way over to the counter a woman cuts in front of me slamming her tray down on the counter and demanding a bigger plastic bag for her bread. I take a step back. Iâ€™ve been hit with enough dough for one day.
On our walk home a cyclist (riding on the sidewalk) nearly runs us all down and yells â€śWatch it!â€ť No one holds the door for the stroller in our building and when I say, â€śHi Frank!â€ť to my super, her grunts, curses, spits and stomps up the stairs murmuring, â€śEverybody wants somethinâ€™ from me all the timeâ€¦â€ť
I feel defeated. Why is everyone so rude? I have this thought while stress eating in my kitchen standing up. Helen goes to her crib to take a nap and I decide to look for some spiritual inspiration. I put away my bag of popcorn and salted caramel ice cream.
I Google the word â€śmitzvah.â€ť In the Yeshiva I attended as a girl the teachers taught us that the word â€śmitzvahâ€ť means â€śa good deed.â€ť The plural in Hebrew is â€śmitzvot,â€ť for many good deeds. But, as I search deeper into the meaning I come to find out that â€śmitzvahâ€ť actually translates as â€ścommandment.â€ť So in the Jewish religion it is commanded by God that we complete the task of doing good deeds every day.
This is interesting. What have I been teaching Helen about good deeds?
What have I been teaching her about commandments? Itâ€™s easy to point a finger. Friday at the two bakeries it was so simple for me to become the victim. But, what did I do to help the people around me? Did I do any mitzvot on Friday? What about the rest of the week? What did I do to help anyone besides myself?
I know thatâ€™s a pretty harsh self-judgement. But I wasnâ€™t blaming myself. I was merely trying to dig deeper into the similarities of my two-faith household. I understand that a mitzvah is a commandment. In Catholicism there is the belief in â€śgood works.â€ť This is the same concept. It sounds simple because these teachings from both religions donâ€™t involve complicated holidays, recipes or traditions. These ideas and beliefs arise during the everyday. Maybe that is what makes them go unannounced and unnoticed. Maybe thatâ€™s also why they are harder to commit to.
This is a situation in which Adrian and I believe the same thing. Nothing is complicated about doing good deeds out in the world. But how do we teach each other and how do we teach our daughter about the power of mitzvot?
I think that everything begins at home and so I start to think about our apartment building. We live on the fourth floor of a walk-up apartment built in 1927. The stairs arenâ€™t just tough to climb, theyâ€™re made of marble. But in my own building my neighbors have done the deed of a mitzvah many times for me. There have been so many nights that Adrian has been at work and Helen and I have to go to the store to bring bags of groceries back. The boy who lives on the first floor always carries the stroller up the stairs for me if heâ€™s around. The superâ€™s son has carried Helen for me. There is a woman named Veronica who lives on the second floor and she’s carried four bags from Whole Foods filled with canned goods up to my apartment. Once, a young girl from the other side of the building (our building has two sides) saw me and helped me. She was 11 years old!
The mitzvah starts at home. The commandment begins in the hallway of our building and spreads far out into the community. A good deed speaks many languages, follows many cultures and faiths. This Friday at the bakery Iâ€™m going to hold the door for someone because maybe I wasnâ€™t looking behind me the last time. Maybe I slammed the door in someoneâ€™s face instead of holding it. Maybe the woman who smacked me with a challah bread had plenty of reason to do so. It was like God was saying â€śWake up! Youâ€™ve got a lot of mitzvot to do!â€ť
My daughter, Helen Rose Castaneda, wakes up one day at 10-and-a-half months old, pulls herself up in her crib and says â€śhola!â€ť at the top of her lungs. â€śHola, hola, hola!â€ť This makes sense because Adrian and I speak to Helen mainly in Spanish at home.
She says â€śholaâ€ť for an entire day and then stops saying it. Was this her first word? Does it count if she says it but then stops saying it? I ask myself these questions and think it incredible that I grew up speaking one language at home (English), yet my daughter understands two. My brother and I later learned Hebrew in school and I learned to speak, read and understand Spanish at 18. But Helen Rose understands two tongues, and I find this fitting for a household where two seems to be a theme.
There are two religions in our home: Jewish and Mexican Catholic. I say Mexican Catholic as opposed to just Catholic because Mexican culture is deeply tied to its Catholicism, and the culture itself is rich with colorful history. But one of the things I love most about Mexican Catholicism is the belief in the Virgin of Guadalupe. Guadalupe is like the Virgin Mary and is thought of as the mother of Mexico.
When Adrian and I decided to build an interfaith family and raise Helen believing in both Judaism and Catholicism, it was Guadalupe who swayed me. I like that Helen can look up in her room and see a statue of not only a religious icon but also a female religious icon instilling in her at a young age that women are powerful.
This brings me to my current dilemma. My family belongs to an Orthodox Jewish synagogue. This means that women and men are separated when they pray. What is the reason for this? At 5 years old, I turned to my mother one Rosh Hashanah in synagogue and asked, â€śMa, why are the men in jail?â€ť My mother said she knew I would be fine in life after that question because I was seeing that the men were separated, not the women. Then I had friends who werenâ€™t Jewish when I was growing up say they thought it was sexist and horrible that women and men were separated. It wasnâ€™t until recently as an adult that I asked what the deeper meaning for this separation was.
As it turns out, the reason is not so obvious. Many Jews will tell you the separation between men and women at synagogue is because the focus in synagogue should be on God and not on the opposite sex. Though that is a valid reason, itâ€™s not the whole truth.
According to some scholars, the reason women and men are separated is that the soul of a woman and the soul of a man, though equal, are different. It is because of this basic difference that women and men need their own space to pray and to become in tune with their natural and true selves. It is more of a spiritual reason than a sexist reason.
Iâ€™m not sure if I agree with the rules, but I respect them in my own synagogue. It feels important to me that I have the right answers to the questions my daughter might ask me one day. I think about the Virgin of Guadalupe and how men fall to their knees before her. In some Mexican towns, men tattoo Guadalupe on their backs as a form of protection so no one will ever stab them from behind. I think of how Guadalupe is the mother figure and then I think about Judaism again.
â€śWho are the strongest women in Judaism?â€ť Helen might ask me. I think about my answer to the question that doesnâ€™t exist yet because my daughter is too young to form a sentence, let alone ask a question. But within my interfaith partnership, I find myself increasingly aware of the differences between the way Adrian and I grew up, and I find myself asking my own questions in order to answer my daughterâ€™s future questions.
So, who are the strongest women in Judaism? The answer I came up with is similar to Mexicoâ€™s Virgin of Guadalupe. The strongest women are our mothers. They are not glorified saints, but they are saints. Our grandmothersâ€”they too hold the wisdom of decades.Â Guadalupe appears to the poor, the needy and the hungry. Our mother figures are there for us when we need them most.
I will tell Helen my thoughts on the separation of the sexes in synagogue. I will say that even though a curtain separates us, or a wall or a door, the belief is that our prayers are just as important. We will sit in synagogue on the womenâ€™s side this year with Rachel, Sarah, Rebekah and with the Virgin of Guadalupe.
“Thirty miles north of Lakewood” is usually what we say when we talk about where we live. Lakewood, NJ, is the largest pocket of Orthodoxy around us, and many Orthodox Jews know someone (or rarely have more than two degrees of separation from someone) who lives in Lakewood.
Thirty miles north of Lakewood is a Catholic pocket of New Jersey. We live within walking distance of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The priests at this church are known throughout the dioceses of Philadelphia and Trenton. Our entire neighborhood is Catholic. We’ve sat with our next-door neighbors at church. The neighbors’ kids go to the St. Mary’s school. There is a family on our block that has been going to St. Mary’s for two generations. I see schoolchildren walking to and from school, from our front porch. Unfortunately when Jack becomes of school age, he will not attend St. Mary’s school, because we are raising him Jewish. I often wonder what it would be like for him, being the only Jewish kid on the block in a very Catholic neighborhood.
Will Jack be able to use this as a way to strengthen his own faith? Will his neighborhood peers question his faith? We would like Jack to have the freedom to struggle or wrestle with his own faith; after all, he is a child of Israel (Gen. 32:28). We would love for him to be able to explain why he believes what he believes, and why he observes Jewish rituals. This may be the first experience that some of the neighborhood kids have with Judaism, which puts a lot of pressure on Jack and meâ€”the Catholic mom who is raising her son Jewish.
Because Jack will probably be the only Jewish kid on the block, will this cause scheduling and other conflicts? Jack won’t attend the Catholic school down the street; he won’t be in classes with the neighborhood kids or part of the same school-based extra-curricular activities. He will probably have different days off of school than the neighborhoodÂ kids. Will this cause him to be excluded? Will it make him feel “different?” And will that cause a rift in playgroups or will his friends be interested in learning about his school and his activities?
Thirty miles north of Lakewood there will be a small Jewish boy growing up in a Catholic neighborhood. Itâ€™s not the first time, but it is for us.
Hello again. Anne and Sam here. You may remember us from the InterfaithFamily Wedding Blog. A few years have passed and we have a 5-month-old son, Jack. As new parents we may not know how to handle teething or potty training yet, but we would like to share some of our experiences with you, especially those having to do with raising a child in an interfaith household.
Sam is Jewish and I am Catholic. Growing up, religion has been a very important aspect in both of our families and our faith will continue to be at the core of our growing family.
When we were planning our wedding, the topic of children came up frequently in conversation. We decided that our future children would practice only one religion. We thought it would be very confusing to send children to Hebrew school and Catholic school, believing in Catholicism on Sunday and Judaism on Shabbat. The question was which religion should we choose?
When I got pregnant, the conversations about religion became more frequent. We came to the conclusion we would raise our children as Jews. Below are some factors that fed into our decision.
Despite choosing Judaism for our children, I will still practice Catholicism. My religion willÂ notÂ be hidden or kept a secret from our children. Sam and our children will be able to celebrate the Catholic holidays with my family and me, but Catholicism will beÂ myÂ religion, not the religion of the household.
I will be able to keep my Catholic faith while maintaining a Jewish home and teaching our children about Judaism. I feel as though I don’t have to believe all aspects of the religion in order to keep a Jewish home. I can practice the cultural aspects of Judaism by cooking traditional holiday foods, hanging mezuzot, building a sukkah, lighting the HanukkahÂ candles, reading from the book of Esther during Purim, keeping leaven out of the home during Passover and celebrating other Jewish holidays, all while staying true to my beliefs.
It is much easier for me to teach our children about Judaism than for Sam to teach them Catholicism. SinceÂ Catholicism is partly rooted in Jewish scriptures,Â IÂ believe in most of the teachings of the Torah, as it is the first five books of the Catholic bible. By raising our children as Jews, we can embrace the similarities of our religionsÂ by teaching our children the stories and traditions that we both believe in.
Sam is more active at his synagogue than I am at my church. SamÂ is very active with the synagogue’s Men’s Club, frequently reads from the Torah, has established a tight-knit, faith-based community within his synagogue and will become the Chairman of the Rituals and Practices Committee. Unfortunately we do not have these same strong ties with my local church.
When we found out that we were going to have a boy, there was a certain level of tradition that we wanted to uphold.Â Jack is our first-born.Â Sam is the first-born in his family; Sam’s dad is the first-born and Sam’s paternal grandfather is the first-born in his family. We wanted to ensure the future patriarch of the Goodman family continues to be Jewish.
Should you have any questions regarding how we came to this conclusion, or any other topic related to raising children in an interfaith household, feel free to ask away! Weâ€™ll be happy to address your questions in future blog posts.
If youâ€™re a parent, thereâ€™s always those questions you know your kids are going to ask you at various ages and stages that you mostly want to avoid. Things like â€śwhere do babies come from?â€ť â€śWhatâ€™s sex?â€ť and â€śHave you ever tried drugs?â€ť I think over the years Iâ€™ve done a pretty good job at either changing the subject or placating them with a vague answer and offering up real facts when necessary. But as they get older, the questions become less about physical body functions and more about real subjects that I honestly donâ€™t know HOW to answer. And a recent conversation with the kids proved more challenging than I thought.
It started innocently enough as the 6 & 8 year old were getting dressed to go to Friday night family services at our synagogue.
Kids: â€śHey Mommy? Does Matt go to church?â€ť
Me: â€śUm, no, not really.â€ť
Kids: â€śBut isnâ€™t he supposed to go to church? Isnâ€™t that like the opposite of temple? Like people who arenâ€™t Jewish who are Christmas go to church, right?â€ť (Yeah, my kids still donâ€™t get the concepts of the names of other religions. Either a mom fail or they havenâ€™t paid attention to half of what I say to them. Or both. Letâ€™s be real though, trying to explain to them the difference between Catholicism and Episcopalians is pretty much next to impossible at this stage. I know my limits.)
Me: â€śWell yeah. I guess heâ€™s *supposed* to go to church. If youâ€™re part of a religion a lot of times you go to services. But not everybody belongs to a church the way we belong to the temple. Matt doesnâ€™t belong to a church and he doesnâ€™t go. We donâ€™t go to Shabbat services every week either, so thatâ€™s OK, right?â€ť
Kids: â€śYeah itâ€™s OK, but did he EVER go to church?â€ť
Clearly they werenâ€™t letting this go. My brain was spinning trying to figure out how to explain that my Irish Catholic boyfriend grew up with a serious religious education, went to Catholic school, was the head altar boy, represented the church at community functions like funerals and actually hung out with his clergy because it was fun. Mattâ€™s connection to religion growing up very much shaped him, much like how my involvement in my synagogue shaped me. But as an adult? Times change. Views change. Beliefs change. New traditions get formed.
We had a good talk, but the questions kept coming.
Kids: â€śDoes Matt pray to Jesus? Or does he pray to God?â€ť
Oh. Dear. Now they want to talk about prayer?!? Itâ€™s a subject that Iâ€™m not entirely comfortable with because *I* wrestle with it.
Me: â€śUhhhhhh, kind of? I mean, he believes in God. Itâ€™s really hard to explain guys.â€ť
Kids: â€śWell remember that time we went to church for that wedding and everybody kneeled and said prayers to Jesus and then ate those cracker things? Jesus was Jewish. Did you know that mommy? Does Matt know that? Did he do that stuff at church?â€ť
This is seriously so hard to talk about. So the conversation continues, which at times has inspired our own adult conversations about what we each believe, various experiences we had in our lives and how we live now. I recently shared with Matt that one of the things I love about being a Reform Jew is being able to interpret prayer and beliefs to create personal meaning. I never expect him to one day tell me heâ€™s converting, but the longer weâ€™re together, the more he seems to get and appreciate my connection AND the more I understand his own connections â€“ yes, even if he no longer goes to church, sorry kids.
I think with lifeâ€™s experiences we turn to what we know in looking for answers, healing, serenity and more. My kids are starting to figure this out as they ask me those tough questions and Iâ€™m proud of them for wanting to understand and decide things for themselves. As parents we provide these types of tools for our kids; my family and Mattâ€™s family gave us amazing foundations to start with. We may not have grown up attending the same type of services, what we both believe in now might not always mesh up, but the values we both learned along the way match perfectly. So keep the hard questions coming as we all learn more about ourselves in the process.
I believe in the mystical. Tarot Cards, Ouji boards, even the woman on the corner of Ocean Avenue who stares at me with one blue eye and one gray eye and says â€śyou have a purple auraâ€ť when I walk by. Yes, I believe in her too. As I watch my newborn grow and change every day I wonder what magic I will teach her. What mysticism will her father share with her?
The Hebrew word for Pregnancy is Herayon. In Hebrew every letter is paired with a number and the letters in the word Herayon add up to 271. This is because a womanâ€™s pregnancy generally is equal to 271 days. Here is another interesting Kabbalistic fact about Herayon: Har, the first part of the word in Hebrew, means â€śmountain.â€ť This is because a womanâ€™s belly is shaped like a mountain. I try to explain this to my significant other, Adrian. We compare notes on magic.
The month before my daughter was born I went to the Judaica store in my neighborhood and bought Channaâ€™s book of Prayers for Jewish Women. I was nervous about delivery. I was looking for a magic spell. I called Adrianâ€™s mother on a regular basis. â€śSeĂ±ora,â€ť I said, â€śIs it very, very painful? Is it unbearable?â€ť She did not lie. She said it was. My own mother told me the truth as well and then she added, â€śBut the pain doesnâ€™t matter. In the end you get a baby.â€ť
But I needed magic! I needed the Zohar to whip me up a flying carpet and deliver me from the agony of childbirth. More than this I wanted my newborn delivered into the world safely and with the prayers of both my Jewish background and Adrianâ€™s Catholic background.
I thought of the word Tzirim. The Hebrew word â€śtzirimâ€ť means â€ścontractionsâ€ť or â€ślabor painsâ€ť but there is another literal translation as well. â€śTzirimâ€ť can also mean â€śhingesâ€ť like, door hinges. This is because a woman is opening a door for her child to exit through during childbirth. The Kabbalah compares contractions to snake bites and when this happens the woman gets ready to push the baby out of the womb and into the world. Snake bites make me nervous. Again, I needed magic.
Adrian is from Puebla, Mexico. In his small village his parents speak a language of the Aztec empire. They speak Spanish but they also speak a language called â€śNahuatl.â€ť It is an indigenous language. It is a dying language. It is the Hebrew of Mexico.
The Nahuatl people believe that when a boy is born his umbilical cord should be buried on a battlefield and when a girl is born her umbilical cord should be buried in the field because the cornfield is where tortillas come from.
But the birthing process for both cultures, for both religions is the same. In ancient times Jewish women gave birth in tents surrounded by other women. The same is true for Nahuatl women. In fact, when I spoke on the phone with Adrianâ€™s mother she told me that she had birthed all seven of her children in her house surrounded by her female family members and one witch doctor.
I asked to speak to the witch doctor but I never could get a hold of her. My pregnancy began to take on an artistic form in my head. In my imagination, my giving birth began to look like Frida Kahlo and Amedeo Modigliani had lunch together and then had a painting competition. I saw myself painted slim across a canvas with a dark red background and serpents coming out of my nose. My imagination was winning over my mysticism.
Here is the truth about birth: It hurts. It hurts, but it is the one true visible sorcery. I had been so concerned about what my newborn would learn, how she would grow, what she would believe in. What I didnâ€™t realize is that SHE was pure wizardry. On every contraction I felt the hinges inside swing back and forth. On her long entrance into the world I asked Adrian, â€śCan you see her head?â€ť he nodded yes. I asked, â€śIs her hair black?â€ť he nodded yes again. She arrived black haired as the raven, audacious as the eagle and breathtaking as an Aztec monarch.
The Hebrew word for love is ahava, andÂ its numerical value adds up to the number 13. There are other words that add up to the number 13 as well. Zeved, for example, means â€śto giftâ€ť or â€śto bestowâ€ť and its letters add up to 13. To whisper or meditate is Hagah in Hebrew, also a numerical value of 13. Even the number 1 in Hebrew, which is Echad, has a numerical value of 13. Thirteen plus 13 is 26. In Hebrew, the letters in G-dâ€™s name add up to 26. Love is a gift, love is a whisper, love is one and so is magic in any culture or religion.