Dawn C. Kepler is director of Building Jewish Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples, located in the East Bay area of San Francisco, Calif.
Don't Bring Christmas Back
An outreach professional's response to Bringing Christmas Back, by Gina Hagler.
First I want to compliment Gina for her honesty. This is a difficult subject and she has done a lot of self-reflection. There are several concerns here. I ran Gina's article by several Jews-by-choice since I believe that her experience is unique and deserves the reflection of others who have walked her path.
Gina has made two significant and demanding life choices, first to raise her children as Jews, not the tradition of her own family and second, to convert to Judaism herself. What she decides now will deeply impact her children. Although she feels they are past the age to be confused, that is simply not true. They are clearly confused by her "changing the rules" of their family, as expressed by their feelings that she was "slightly deluded." Why is Mom giving up on what our family is committed to? They expressed to her that "Jews don't celebrate Christmas," thus letting her know that what she had taught them didn't coincide with what she was now teaching them. Also, since Gina has adopted kids who don't look traditionally Ashkenazi Jewish, if they celebrate Christmas too, they invite the general community to see them as Christian when that is apparently not what the kids or Gina want.
Another message from a Jew-by-choice was that the memories of childhood last a lifetime. But they may not be something that can be recreated. Parents die, siblings move away, many Christian couples mourn the loss of Christmas Past.
And further, developing a Christmas practice with your children may only extend into their generation the sense of a longing and a loss.
Gina's taking up Christmas has the potential to undermine her community's belief that she has completely embraced a Jewish identity for herself.
What to do? First, I would like to see Gina's husband be a loving and committed partner in seeking with her a solution to her sense of loss. Second, where is her community, her congregation, her rabbi? They too owe her their love, their ear, their active commitment to alleviate her situation. Finally, I would suggest that Gina and her family explore celebrating more of the Jewish holidays in ways that emulate the things she misses--family togetherness, familiar repeated traditions, anticipation, the whirl of activity, gift-giving, being part of a community.
I wish Gina a joyful year of exploration and want to tell her that my phone and the phones of my comrades in Outreach are always open.