Teach non-Jewish family members about the upcoming ceremony of bar/bat mitzvah.
Take the time to let non-Jewish relatives understand why your child is preparing so hard for his/her special Shabbat. Help them learn what Torah means, how Jews understand bar/bat mitzvah.
Show non-Jewish family members what being Jewish means to your family and to your community. Invite them to join you when you celebrate a holiday or Shabbat in your home. Allow them to experience another child becoming a bar/bat mitzvah, so they will be more comfortable when their relative stands on the bima.
Such preparation can begin a few months before the ceremony or even before a baby is born. But there is another type of preparation. The challenge of an interfaith family raising Jewish children is balancing each parent's own religious tradition and the Jewish tradition in which the child is raised. Emotional and religious dynamics come to the forefront during this time. Questions parents should ask of themselves include:
- As the non-Jewish parent, what has been my commitment to my child's Jewish life? Have I helped to instill Jewish values and traditions? Will my participation in the ceremony be a natural extension of who I have been all along?
- As the Jewish parent, will my spouse be comfortable participating in rituals that s/he may not believe in, or may not feel apply to her or him?
- Has our extended family been supportive and nurturing of our decision to raise our child as a Jew? Will they be comfortable participating in a Jewish service, when they themselves do not choose to be Jewish?
If the answer is no to any of these questions, this can be a wonderful teaching moment, where parents help their child understand that values and actions go hand-in-hand. Clearly, most children desire their parents and family all to celebrate. They want to be "like everyone else." This is an opportunity for parents to teach about the statement one makes when leading Jewish worship (by accepting an honor during services). And the statement is: "I support my child's Jewish choices, my child's Jewish identity."
The parent (or family) who has been uninvolved Jewishly can still celebrate authentically and participate fully in the "secular" aspects of the celebration (party, etc.) and in those aspects of the service which involve "presence" but not "participation." In this manner, the child is honored by both parents (and family) and the child understands the privilege of "being Jewish and behaving Jewishly."
Honest answers will help each family know what level of participation is appropriate for this "coming-of-Jewish-age" ceremony for the child.
It is an extraordinary opportunity for learning and growing when interfaith families approach the time when children become B'nai Mitzvah. Asking a few questions--both of self and of synagogue--and sharing one's Jewish heritage in advance can make the event one of true celebration for every member of the family who attends.
The entire text of this article can be seen at Interfaith Families and Bar/Bat Mitzvah: Questions and Opportunities.
The Bar/Bat Mitzvah Ideas and Primer for Interfaith Families is also available as a PDF document.