When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?
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When Bryan and I started talking long-term, I blurted out carefully and tactfully broached the subject of whether he’d want to raise any children we might have as Jews. And, since I’m not Jewish and currently have no plans to convert (nor have I been asked or pressured to), I’m sure my question threw Bryan for a loop. He thought for a minute and said, “Well, I never really thought I’d have that option, especially since Bubba and Bear aren’t.” That was the beginning of our faith discussions.
Never having expected an interfaith relationship to become the love of my life, I had never really thought about what religion I’d raise my children. I took it for granted that they’d be raised the same way I was, in the Christian faith. Now, I needed to think about it, seriously, carefully, prayerfully. I realized that it was important to me to raise a child with one religion. But which one? How do you make that call? If you’re going to raise a child in one faith when there are two faiths in the home, the parents have to agree on which faith to instill. I knew Bryan wouldn’t feel comfortable raising a child in only the Christian faith. However, he was quite comfortable raising Baby the same way that Bubba and Bear are being raised (exposed to both Judaism and Christianity). So, it was on me to decide what I was really comfortable with, and what was truly important to me.
After some initial study and lots of talking together, I told Bryan that I thought I wanted to raise our kids Jewish. He was floored. He insisted that I take more time – MUCH more time – to think about it, study more, and really be sure I knew what I was getting into. We found a synagogue and rabbi with whom we felt comfortable (Congregation Beth Israel). We took an Intro to Judaism course at that synagogue. We found InterfaithFamily.com. We read. A LOT. We got engaged and started premarital counseling with both our rabbi and a minister. We studied some more.
Bryan gave me plenty of time for an “out.” I took several more months to study, learn more, and make my decision. As I learned more about Judaism, I realized that the basics of the two faiths were very similar. (Yes, I know that oversimplifies it, but work with me here; this is a blog post, not a thesis… hopefully.) And it came down to this: I feel very comfortable with the Jewish faith. It’s the basis for my own religion, and the major tenets of being a good person and doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing are the same values I was raised with. Yes, there is the major difference of whether Jesus was or was not the Messiah, but for me, that argument has become less important than the emphasis that both religions place on doing the right thing, acting in the right way, and just in general being a good person.
There really was so much more that went into my thoughts and decisions, but like I said, this is a blog post, and I fear I’ve gone on too long already. I’m happy to answer any specific questions anyone might have (yes, Baby had a Brit Milah ceremony on his 8th day). But, what I hope you’ve gotten from this feeble attempt at explanation is that my decision was entered into willingly, with lots of thought, study, and prayer behind it. I didn’t come to my decision to be any kind of martyr or “give a gift” to the Jewish side of the family, or to disregard my own past or heritage. I simply felt in my heart that it was the right decision for me, for our family, and now, for Baby. It’s not always easy for me or my non-Jewish family (that’s another post altogether), but it’s the right decision for us.
Someday, when I finally adopt, my child will be converted to Judaism. This is, of course, necessary and halakhic (according to Jewish law) and even joyful but somewhere, beyond the bounds of reason, there is a corner of my heart that rebels against it. The other day I figured out why.
Adoptive parents have already warned me: wherever I am, Wal-Mart or shul (synagogue), with the child by my side or not, and especially if we are a transracial family, people will ask, “is he/she adopted?” And then some will question “what happened to his real mother?” or “didn’t her real family want her?” (As incredible as this sounds, I’ve never talked to any adoptive parent that has not had this type of experience.) Whether this is callousness or simple ignorance, adoptive parents face a struggle to become real, recognized as legitimate parents, attached to their children with a bond every bit as unbreakable as biology.
So I imagine that moment at the mikvah, my child and I entering the water and blessings and Jewishness, and my heart fractures between joy and resentment. I think “but I’m the Jewish Mommy so isn’t my child Jewish too? And if I am why do I need a ritual to confirm this?” Am I not the real mother? Am I not the real Jewish mother?
This is when being a Jew by Choice (JBC) makes things easier. I converted 2 ½ years ago so most of my life has been lived as a non-Jew. Our sages taught that that a convert should never be pointed out in public as a convert, but there are times when it’s right to do so. When Passover rolls around my Jewish friends know I don’t have a family to celebrate with so they invited me to their seders. Several of my friends also serve as simultaneous Yiddish translators at Torah study because they know that I didn’t learn mama loshen (the mother tongue; Yiddish) at my grandmother’s knee. This is a great hesed (act of loving kindness) that speaks to both being a member of the community and being a convert.
The other day, these two threads of thought, my child’s conversion and my experience as a JBC, crossed and that unwilling, hurting corner of my heart healed. By converting my child I am acknowledge that child’s whole life: a non-Jewish origin and her/his Jewish beginning, as my child and as adopted. Going to the mikvah does not submerge any part of his/her identity or mine but allows both embrace who we really are – a great gift that this real Jewish mother can give with all her heart.
Deciding upon a name for your child can be one of the most fun and most stressful experiences parents-to-be can face during nine months of pregnancy. Honoring family members, naming after favorite authors or television characters and the age old close-your-eyes-spin-three-times-and-point-to-a-name-in-the-baby-book are all perfectly good methods of deciding on the name of your child.
Even after all those discussions, you have to go through the obligatory fail-safe name rules:
“Nope, can’t use that as the middle name… look what the initials spell.”
“No, that name rhymes with a part of the anatomy I do not want associated with my sweet child.”
“Hannah Hannah Bo Bana… Fi Fy Fo Fanna, Hannah!”
On top of all this, we, as an interfaith couple, have had extra “rules” to follow.
First, of course, our Jewish child should have a Hebrew name. Per my husband’s Ashkenazi side, the baby cannot be named after a living relative, but should honor a relative that has passed on. Per my husband’s Sephardic side, we should name after a living relative so that person may enjoy the honor. Per my husband’s Israeli family, our child should have a modern Israeli name. Per my husband’s Orthodox family, only traditional names from the Torah are acceptable.
Confused yet? Then we have to take into account my husband’s particular sensitivity to names since he grew up with a very traditional Israeli name in the United States that turned out to be the name of a Disney character while he was in third grade… a girl Disney character. Poor guy. So since we plan on living in Israel and the United States during the child’s life, the name has to work in both Hebrew in English (sorry: Nimrod, Dudu and Moron are out!).
Plus, my American family has to be able to pronounce this Hebrew name (not an easy task with Southern accents).
After months of searching, throwing out names, rediscussing names, arguing and maybe just a few pregnancy hormone induced tears, we finally have a name for our child!! Baruch Hashem! We happily share the name with our family. Yes, sharing the name before the brit milah is a big no-no, but I think we deserve a break on this one. What do you know? They hate it.
One of the teachers at Baby’s school (aka daycare) was killed in a car accident last weekend. She was much loved at the school and has a daughter who would have moved up to Baby’s class in the next week or so. (That child is safe with her grandma, out of school right now.)
While I’m thankful that Baby is too young to comprehend this loss; my own confusion on how to react has me thinking about his confusion when situations like this–death–arise in the future. Death, unexpected or not, is confusing enough for adults and adults of one faith. How much more so will it be for Baby as he grows, when he’ll be dealing with two faiths? While he’s being raised with a Jewish identity, half of his family is not Jewish. Plus, we live in the Bible Belt, where most people assume you’re like they are and that words like “He/she is safe and at peace with Jesus now” will give you as much comfort as it gives them. How will we help him navigate the well-meant condolences of others, and offer his own? How will we help him understand (far, far in the future, G-d willing) that we’ll sit Shiva for Bubbe and Zayde and Grandma and Grandpa D, but not for Granny and Popi or Grandma and Grandpa G? (Or, wait, will we sit Shiva for Granny and Popi because they’re Daddy’s Mommy and Stepdaddy, even though Granny and Popi aren’t Jewish? See? Confusing!)
Probably people are going to tell me not to worry about these things yet; that there’s lots of time to figure it out, and they’re probably right. I HOPE AND PRAY they’re right. But as time and this blog goes on, you might discover I’m a bit of a planner. And while this is hopefully very long-term planning, it’s still something I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on. How would you/have you handled it in your own families?
(Author’s note: I promise to not post such “downer” topics all the time. This is just something that, sadly, has been on my heart since I found out Monday.)
As a Catholic who converted to Judaism three and a half years ago, I thought at first that my family and I had put the “interfaith” part of our religious life behind us. I was raised in an interfaith family—my mother was Catholic and my father at turns Baptist and Methodist—and let’s just say that religion was hotly debated in my childhood home.
My Jewish husband and I are raising our three children—ages 16, 11, and 7—as Jews. I’ve memorized the prayers and figured out how to make latkes. We’re active participants in our interfaith synagogue. I faithfully sat in on my older daughter’s Hebrew lessons and watched with tears in my eyes as she recited her portion at her bat mitzvah. In fact, her bat mitzvah was what finally spurred me to convert. Religious identity, complete at last.
But I’m learning that in reality we will always be interfaith. When my mother died a few months ago after a brief, heartbreaking struggle with cancer, I found myself thrust back decades. Memories of my mother and I attending Mass, going to confession, and saying the rosary together came flooding back. It turns out the language of my grief right now isn’t Jewish—the prayers that pour out of me are Hail Marys and Psalm 23. I tried to say Kaddish to myself in her final moments, but couldn’t remember the words. Our family and friends, Jews and Christians alike, came to my mother’s funeral in a beautiful, old Catholic church on a chilly spring day. My youngest asked what the kneeling pads were for, which came as a weird shock to me. I’m trying to take comfort now in the fact that, as my husband pointed out, my mother is remembered in (at least) three faiths.
HI! Welcome to the Interfaith Parenting blog. Since we are starting with introductions, I will take a moment to introduce myself and my brood. I am the non-Jewish partner in an interfaith family. When my husband and I got married, we were told: It will never last, you will get divorced, it is doomed, interfaith marriages never work out, don’t get married unless you convert. Having just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary, I want to say pppbbbttt to all the nay-sayers! We are still going strong and I would be very surprised if we divorced because he is Jewish and I am not.
I am still not Jewish. I really don’t plan to become Jewish. It isn’t part of what I want to do for me. It isn’t part of my reality. That does not mean that I don’t drive the kids to Religious School every week, make challah for Shabbat, take them to temple… alone, and do what a “real” Jewish mother would do. My relationship with G-d is mine, and it isn’t Jewish.
We have three wonderful, Jewish children, two boys (11 and and a girl (5, almost 6 (she wanted me to say that)). They are more than Jewish, but living in what seems to be the epicenter of Christianity, I find that describing them as Jewish happens more often than not. Oh the looks I get when I tell people that our babysitter is going to Israel for a semester and wants to be a rabbi.
As a family we struggle to educate people that Christmas is a Christian holiday, that Santa Claus does not go to shul and that Easter is not for everyone. One of my biggest surprises was going into my son’s kindergarten class and asking how many of them had heard of Hanukkah. It was shocking how many really didn’t know anything about it. Our challenge is to teach people about tolerance, and we believe that education is the route to that.
We are also embarking on many life cycle events: our oldest started middle school and is preparing for a bar mitzvah, our middle son is starting Hebrew school on Wednesdays, and our baby is going to kindergarten. We are experiencing a great deal of change. How that impacts our family and our sense of who we are, well, I guess you will have to keep reading to find out.
Hope you take some time to put us in your RSS reader and keep coming back. It is a great group of bloggers.
“You don’t need one. It becomes useless very quickly,” my friend tells me. But I still want one.
We’re debating the utility of that nearly ubiquitous piece of baby room equipment called the changing table. No more than a couple of pieces of balsa wood with a flat surface on top for re-diapering a baby and a shelf below, I’ll admit it doesn’t have much to offer in the way of aesthetics. And yet, months after our conversation, paging through an Ikea catalogue, I stop dead at the sight of one and with a whispered reverence say to myself, “ahhh, it’s a changing table.” My eyes linger over it for a long moment and I nearly choke up.
I’m aware that there’s something deeply psychological about my attachment to this particular item of furniture. I suspect it’s the name – “changing” table. The arrival of my child has been so long anticipated that it’s painful to even think of it at times. First, I waited to get married. Second, I waited because I didn’t think I could raise a child on my own. Then I waited some more, overwhelmed by the choices in adoption (private, foster, international?). And now, I wait for “referral,” that lodestone of adoption-speak, meaning finally, finally, I have been matched with a baby.
And I wait for all the surfaces in my life to become “changing” tables – spaces transformed by the presence of a child –the dining table to become the family dinner table, floors to become play areas, and my ordinary rocking chair to become the point of departure for “Goodnight, Moon” and “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” Like most perspective adoptive parents, I’m working on my Master’s degree in waiting… waiting for change.
This blog is about a single Jewish woman hoping for motherhood. The journey so far has been unpredictable, filled with both promise and tears. I hope you’ll climb up onto the changing table with me as I wait for the simcha [joy] of a new son or daughter.
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