When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?Go To Parenting
Before my husband and I decided to get married, we had the discussion about religion. No, not the conversion discussion; we discussed how we planned to raise our children.
Would they be Christian--the religion of my upbringing--or my husband's religion, Jewish? Little did we know how quickly we would have to decide! When our daughter Tabitha came along a year later, we were faced with the task of learning how to raise a Jewish daughter.
Had Tabitha been a boy, the first step would have been simple. A bris (circumcision) is the traditional ceremony for a Jewish male child. But what about a Jewish baby girl? My husband and I wanted to find a way to commemorate Tabitha's birth and our decision to raise her Jewishly. After consulting with our rabbi, we decided on a baby- naming ceremony, which is a relatively new celebration: the female equivalent of a bris.
Which is how we found ourselves, on a beautiful Shabbat evening in July 2007, gathered at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield Michigan for the ceremony. The rabbi who performed our interfaith marriage was there, presiding over the service, and so was most of our immediate family. Tabitha was sleepy and squirmy as her proud and happy parents looked on. Little did she know, everything that happened that day was the result of a great many decisions by my husband and me.
A few months ago, the rabbi had sent us different versions of the ceremony. Our assignment: choose one. From all the options, we chose a version that suited our interfaith family. We were careful to include my parents in the ceremony.
Next, we had to pick a Hebrew name for our daughter. We wanted to honor both sides of the family, so we decided on Azriela, a Hebrew name close in meaning to Charlotte my deceased grandmother's name. We also chose Zimra as the closest Hebrew name to Sidney to honor my husband's great-uncle. Thus, our daughter's Hebrew name would be Azriela Zimra.
Before any of that, however, there was the initial--major--decision. The decisions to raise Tabitha in the Jewish religion wasn't one I took lightly. I had done a lot of soul searching. It was also a touchy subject in my family. Not wanting to alienate them further, we chose a reading for my father that was inclusive of both religions, Jewish and Christian, instead of a traditional reading that was more geared for Jewish grandfathers. We also chose a reading for my husband's father to recite during the ceremony.
All of this was prologue to the ceremony. When the day arrived, I began to get nervous. I had theoretically decided to raise my family in the Jewish faith, but this was reality: it was time to show my commitment to the process. That is one of the reasons this ceremony was so important to us. It was our way of showing to our families and to ourselves that we were going to do our best to send Tabitha down this path.
The rabbi started by saying, "According to the Talmud, one is very successful only when she acquires a good name. To inspire Tabitha we give unto this little girl the heritage of those who came before her." He then went on to give Tabitha her Hebrew name and explain what it meant.
Justin and I then responded: "As this cup of wine symbolizes the gift of joy, so our hope and prayer is that Tabitha be the source of happiness in our lives and may the sweet kiss of love and laughter ever be on her lips."
We then did individual readings, followed by readings by my father and my husband's father. The final words were spoken by the rabbi, and I think they sum up the reason that we decided to have this naming ceremony: to celebrate the miracle of our daughter.
"Every person born into this world represents something new, something that has never existed before, something original, special and fine. It is the duty of every person in Israel to know and consider that she is unique in the world, in her particular character, and that there has never been anyone like her in the world. Every single person is a new thing in the world and is called upon to fulfill her special part. As we give this child a Hebrew name, so we give her our blessing. Let her learn and discover the beauty, the goodness and the decency that is implanted in her soul."