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Choosing a Birth Ceremony and Telling My Parents

When I married my Jewish husband, David, I was Presbyterian and had no thoughts of conversion. David asked that our children be Jews--that was the only decision that was comfortable for him.

When I agreed, I had a clear understanding of the theological implications of raising our children Jewish and was comfortable with them, although I did not realize all the practical implications--fulfilling religious school obligations, observing a variety of holidays I was unfamiliar with, and planning a Bar Mitzvah (when a person assumes the privileges and obligations of an adult member of the Jewish community) ceremony and celebration!

The hardest part, for me, was talking to my parents about this decision. My father is an atheist of Christian background, and my mother and I had spent lots of quality time together in the church community where I grew up. I knew that I would be disappointing each of them in different ways. However, my parents' main concern was that I be happy, and so they accepted our decision.

It was not easy to invite my parents to the brit milah (ritual circumcision) of any of our three sons, as I knew that my father was very uncomfortable with what seemed to him something tribal and almost barbaric, and that my mother was very concerned about what to expect. Geographic distance was a factor as well. For our first two sons, my parents were not able to be in town on the eighth day, so we had the ceremonies without them and planned naming ceremonies in the synagogue to occur when they visited. However, they finally were in attendance when we celebrated the brit of our third son.

To my great relief, however, my father entertained the young children in attendance during the ceremony, and my mother stayed at the back of the room--amazed at how quickly it was over and how little her grandson fussed. While it was not what they had envisioned for their grandson, they knew that it was our decision as parents, and they were there for us.

By including my parents in events such as these, I am hopeful that our family's Jewish identity has become more comfortable to them over time. In fact, at my oldest son's Bar Mitzvah, by which time I had become Jewish, my mother said two things that I will never forget: "I can hardly wait for the next one" and "Now I have a better understanding of why you wanted to become part of this community."

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." Hebrew for "covenant of circumcision," a ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old. It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple."
Ruth Goldberger

Ruth Goldberger is the Regional Outreach Director for the Mid-Atlantic Council of the Reform movement. She lives in Herndon, Virginia with her husband David and three sons--Ari, Daniel and Zak.

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