The primary mission of the Jewish Outreach Institute (www.JOI.org) is to "reach out and welcome in" the intermarried, and to promote inclusiveness in the Jewish community for intermarried families and disconnected Jews. Originally founded in 1988 as a think tank and research facility devoted to the study of intermarriage, JOI's services have since grown to include advocacy, training of outreach professionals, and the sponsorship of innovative outreach programs throughout North America as part of its Jewish Connection Partnership program (www.JewishConnectionPartnership.org). This column is an opportunity for JOI to share its findings and views with the InterfaithFamily.com readership.
It's been months, maybe even years after the wedding and its attendant challenges. Perhaps parents on both sides are getting used to their children's interfaith marriage. Things have settled into a routine. Then you tell your parents, "We're going to have a baby." The joy is quickly overshadowed by a mix of anxiety and frustration. And it is about much more than what name to choose. Whom to honor, for example. That alone is difficult. Now, amidst the challenges of pregnancy, balancing work, physical exhaustion, bodily changes, you have nine months to plan. So what is your strategy and what are the challenges that you face in implementing it? And how has your outlook about raising a child in an interfaith marriage changed since you were first married or even since your relationship started getting serious?
Begin by revisiting the decisions you made and the process you used to make them. Consider what changes have developed in your relationship or in your attitudes toward religion and spirituality. Remember: kids are no big deal. They just change your whole life.
Often there are traumatic events that develop that change our perspective on things. Sometimes it is an illness, the death of a parent, or even a scare like 9/11 that shakes you to the core. Try not to be persuaded by parents or community on either side. Instead, consider what is best for your child. Not what is easiest for you or makes you feel or look better.
If the child is to be raised in the Jewish faith, consider what plans need to be made. While you can't arrange for a mohel (ritual circumciser) that far ahead of time, you will want to make sure that when the time comes you can arrange for one who is comfortable with your decisions. If you plan to name your child in a local synagogue, determine what their policies and practices are, and what kind of options they offer for creative participation. If you haven't gotten involved in a local synagogue, now is the time to go "shul shopping," in order to determine in which community you feel most comfortable and most welcomed. Talk to various friends and relatives about their comfort in participating in the naming ceremony and the roles you anticipate reserving for them.
Take advantage of the time you have now to plan. The days following the delivery of your child will be hectic enough!