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By Judy Mollen Walters
My 22-year-old daughter is seriously involved with a wonderful guy. He’s smart, funny, kind, and they just click. He lives in England, so they only get to visit every eight weeks or so, and have been flying back and forth to each other’s countries since they met while my daughter was on a semester abroad trip a couple of years ago. Video chats and texting and phone calls have been their lifelines. I’ve spent time with them together, observing them, and they are very much in love.
Last week, I bumped into an acquaintance at the grocery store. I hadn’t seen her in a year or so—her children and my younger daughter had been in the same high school class. We chit chatted a bit, catching up on how the kids were all doing, adjusting to their first year of college. Then she asked me about my older daughter. How was she doing, what was she up to? I told her about my daughter’s graduate school work and how hard it is but how she is excelling. Her next question was, “Is she seeing anyone special?”
“Yes,” I responded enthusiastically. I told her all about the lovely boyfriend with the charming British accent and the incredible commitment each of them have made to keeping their relationship alive. She leaned down then (I am short!) and whispered, “But is he Jewish?”
This was a Jewish woman with a Catholic husband who had raised three kids with both traditions—b’nai mitzvot for her children one year, communions the next. The question she asked was not made in light or silliness or fun. It was dead serious.
“No,” I said, feeling uncomfortable.
“That’s OK,” she said, “since he’s a great guy.”
I turned the conversation back to her children and her life and left the grocery store quite disillusioned. But not shocked. Or even surprised. Because the fact is, I’ve been getting this question from Jewish friends—even if they had married someone of another faith or don’t care about being Jewish personally—for the entire two-plus years my daughter and her boyfriend have been dating. It is often the first question out of their mouths—before “Do you like him?” or “What does he do for a living?” or even, “How do you feel about him living in England?”
Then there is the inevitable pitying look they give me—as though I somehow screwed up in raising my daughter. As though my life is going to be terrible if my daughter marries this man who may be her beshert. And that feeling hurts.
So I’ve asked myself the question a dozen times, maybe more—am I uncomfortable if my daughter marries someone who’s not Jewish? I’m strongly Reform Jewish. I love the holidays and look forward every year to making Passover for 16 people with all of the classic dishes and a simple, short Haggadah. I enjoy toasting the Jewish New Year and take the days of awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur very seriously. I enjoy lighting the candles and making latkes at Hanukkah and giving the children in my life gifts. I feel very Jewish. I use Jewish values in my everyday life and let them guide me when I feel I need guidance. Those values inform how I treat others, how I think about the world, and how I choose my political affiliations.
My husband is Jewish. We raised our children in a very purposeful, Jewish way. They started Hebrew school at the age of 3 because we wanted them to learn that Hebrew school was part of everyday life. They attended a private Jewish preschool where holidays were celebrated. When they attended public school, I fought for the school to stop bringing Santa Claus into their winter holiday party—and won. They were bat mitzvahed and my older daughter chose to go to Hebrew high school at our synagogue until her high school graduation. She actively participated in the temple youth group and spent a semester in Israel her Junior year of high school.
So we did everything we could to instill a love of Judaism in our girls’ hearts. We think we were successful.
But were we? Because now my daughter is seriously involved with a man who is not Jewish.
And people are questioning her choice.
And they are making me uncomfortable.
And all they seem to care about is whether he is Jewish.
And that’s not all I care about, but I get it.
And I wish they would stop asking.
Because in the end, what I want for my daughter is a lifetime of happiness with whomever she marries, Jewish, Christian, Muslim…I want her to feel Jewish in her spirit and heart and know who she is and what she stands for. But I also want her to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and atone at Yom Kippur and get excited about the Passover seder she might make for her own family. I want her to think and act Jewishly. I want my grandchildren to embrace Judaism, in whatever form, just like she did.
Can she do that with a non-Jewish husband? I like to think so.
But when these people keep asking, first thing, “Is he Jewish?” I feel like I failed. Maybe I did. But, then again, maybe I didn’t.
This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters here.
Judy Mollen Walters is the author of five novels, A MILLION ORDINARY DAYS (March, 2017), START AT THE BEGINNING (2016), THE PLACE TO SAY GOODBYE (2015), THE OPPOSITE OF NORMAL (2014), and CHILD OF MINE (2013). She is also an essayist whose articles ave been published on the Washington Post, The Huffington Post, SheKnows, and ScaryMommy. She can be reached via her web site at judymollenwalters.com.
Our Passover Seders are typically enjoyed at the home of one of Hubby’s Aunts and Uncles. They always do an incredible job, and are some of the few people we know who are equipped to handle 20+ people for dinner (and make it look pretty darn easy, even though I KNOW it’s not). Last year, I have to admit, I was dreading the Passover Seder. Baby boy was almost 1, he was mobile, and I just KNEW he was going to be a handful. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it all went.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I WASN’T worried about this Passover… on the contrary. Baby boy is now almost 2, and all that goes along with that. His big brothers, while typically well-behaved, have a penchant for egging him on (mainly because he’s so darn cute, but also because, well, they’re big brothers). Add to that the fact that I realized about half an hour before we needed to leave that I never procured a travel high chair. I had no way of
Again, my fears were *mostly* unfounded this year. As he climbed the front steps, Baby boy excitedly called out “Aunt Su-san house! See. Aunt Su-San!” (Try to read that in your best squeaky-toddler voice.) Baby boy was pretty good, if somewhat restless. He mostly sat in my lap, until he realized that Zayde was at the next table, and then he’d sort of roam between Mommy, Daddy, and “Zalie’s” lap. He didn’t eat much dinner (not that I expected otherwise; he’s definitely in the “picky” stage of toddler eating), though he did ask for more and more “apple-cinn-mon” (charoses). He wore his kippah, (he kept calling it his “hehmet” because anything that goes on one’s head right now MUST be a baseball helmet) except for when he shared it with me or Daddy. (Even showing him that his big brothers were quietly and calmly wearing their “hehmets” didn’t persuade him to keep his on.)
There were a couple “extra” (i.e., not related to us) kiddos at this year’s Seder, which made the hunt for the Afikomen even more exciting! Bear found it this year, and after some pretty intense negotiations for its ransom, we had to have a little “lesson” with Bear about the ransom’s fair division between his co-searchers. All the kids did GREAT on their reading (and considering the youngest reader is only in kindergarten, I’m SO, SO impressed), and they all (with the exception of Baby boy) behaved very well at the table. It was a late night, as usual, and maybe a little wilder than in years past, but I’d still say it was a very successful Seder. Maybe one year Hubs and I will be brave enough to have our own
Can we tolerate one more post about the December Dilemma? I promise to be short. I just want to share with you what my oldest child (he is in 6th grade) did at school recently.
The district has a program called Christmas Sharing where they collect clothes and food for families in our area who are less fortunate. Great program! At our elementary school they call it Holiday Sharing. When our oldest went to middle school we learned that the program is actually called Christmas Sharing. As part of the program they ask the kids to donate money and then they can create an ornament to hang on the Christmas tree. If they donate enough money, food, and clothing Santa will visit the school. Yes, this is middle school.
For obvious reasons my son was upset that all other religions were being excluded. He took it upon himself to write the Principal about the issue. He detailed his concerns. He said that he was uncomfortable donating to a Christian program. That some of the Muslim or Buddhist families in our school might feel the same way. He had questions about who benefited from the program. Was it only Christian families? There might be families of other faiths that need help too.
He told the Principal that he did not have an issue with the motives behind it, but would like to have the public school be more aware that not everyone is Christian and offer more inclusive activities. He detailed some ideas that would be more inclusive. Rather than creating ornaments, perhaps the kids could create holiday/winter pictures that could be hung on the walls in the cafeteria; instead of Santa, how about homework passes or a day with no homework?
Our Principal is great. He asked Mac to participate in the newly renamed committee, Holiday Spirit. It was Christmas Spirit until Mac brought up the issue. He will be the only student on the committee, until now it was compromised entirely of teachers and staff. He will be able to talk about ideas that will make things more inclusive. The Principal has invited Mac to attend a meeting with the Superintendent and the local churches to discuss renaming Christmas Sharing to Holiday Sharing.
Mac is beginning to work towards creating a world that is more tolerant and understanding, more inclusive to people who are not Christian. Not only is this a proud parenting moment, it proves that in spite of everything, our child is a Jew.
Well, hello! I wanted to take a couple quick minutes to introduce myself as one of the Parenting bloggers. First, I suppose, I should cover the basics. I’m a non-Jew (Christian, United Methodist) married to a Jewish man (Bryan). We actually blogged here together on the Weddings blog a few years ago. We have three boys; for now I’ll call them Bubba, Bear, and Baby. (English major nerd alert; I like alliteration.)
Here’s where it gets complicated… Baby is Jewish, Bubba and Bear are not. How is this, you ask? Well, Bubba and Bear are my stepsons. (Believe me, I’d love to claim them fully as my own because they are truly that wonderful!) Their mother is not Jewish, and she and Bryan decided that they would expose the boys to both religions and let them decide when they were old enough. How we came to the decision (okay, really, how I came to the decision, and yes, it really was my decision) for Baby to be Jewish really could be a post by itself; in fact, I think it will be!
To make our lives even more fun, we have a large extended family. My side is Christian: United Methodist and Catholic. Bryan’s parents are divorced and both remarried. His dad’s side is Jewish (his step-mom converted from United Methodist before she and my FIL married). His mom converted to Judaism before marrying my FIL, but was then re-baptized before she married Bryan’s step-dad. Did you follow all that? And that’s the “simplified” version.
So, you can see I have LOTS of interfaith learning experiences coming my way. In fact, I imagine I’ll gain more wisdom from my Parenting co-bloggers (is that a word?) and our readers than I impart. I hope to at least make it an even trade. So, with that, what’s on your mind?