Mark Young lives in northern New Jersey where he is an active member of congregation Beth Haverim in Mahwah. Mark serves as the secretary of the Men's Club (and head rabblerouser), as well as outreach co-coordinator with his wife, Jane, co-leading a newly created monthly discussion group for interfaith couples. Though he is not "officially" Jewish, Mark is proud to call Beth Haverim his spiritual home. This article was an entry in the InterfaithFamily.com Network's Essay Contest, "We're Interfaith Families...Connecting with Jewish Life."
Our Oy Goy Boy
Neither my wife nor I was very religious before our marriage twenty-two years ago. Culturally, she was Jewish. Physically, I was Presbyterian. We had spiritual similarities, but we were both adamant about avoiding the dogma and ritual of organized religion.
Then along came Harry. Our son was bright and inquisitive. From the time he could utter the word "why," he questioned us about everything. Soon the practical became boring to him. Impractical queries of an esoteric nature began to take over. We both agreed to celebrate all major religious holidays, and remain "creator-non-specific" so he could find his own path. But this house of cards quickly crumbled under barrages of koans and conundrums that would wither the most astute Talmudic scholar.
We knew we must find help. It came in the form of a sweet and persistent lady who kept asking for details till she uncovered our "assorted" past. She said we should visit her temple: "It's a friendly place--you'll feel right at home." It wasn't until later that we found out she was on the synagogue's membership committee (and by the way, married to a non-Jew).
One of the first things I was told about Judaism is that all holidays have the same theme: "We suffered, we survived, let's eat." The next thing I heard was that according to Jewish tradition, spiritual education of children was matrilineal. This was okay with me, since at that time I didn't care anyway. We did visit the temple, and I was very relieved to meet the McVeighs, the O'Flahertys and the Gianninotos. Harry liked the kids there, and since only members could attend Hebrew school, we signed up.
The rabbi was kind and grandfatherly. Back then the schedule was low key and the obligations were minimal. It seemed like the perfect situation for a couple of lazy seekers. As our son learned about his heritage, he began to build a foundation for making some sort of sense out of this crazy world. In the meantime, his mother and I found ourselves attending services and functions that gave us the space to start asking a few questions of our own.
Congregants began to feel that we were part of their community. Many came to respect our input and participation. By the time Harry became a Bar Mitzvah, I was the first gentile that the old rabbi, may his memory be for a blessing, had ever allowed on the bimah (podium).
I've since taken on the responsibility of helping to resurrect and run the temple Men's Club. Jane has been a successful Sisterhood president, and has gone on to work for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) and hold prominent positions in the World Reform Judaism (WRJ). Our current rabbi invited us as a couple to head our temple's first official Outreach initiative.
Harry's Jewish education through Confirmation was rich and rewarding. At almost 20 years old, his heart and intellect have continued to expand. As a multi-talented musician, he has carried his quest for truth and meaning into the lyrics he writes day and night.
Our temple recently participated in a wonderfully uplifting exchange program with a local Presbyterian church. There have been well-attended discussion groups at both places, the minister preached at one of our Friday night services, and our rabbi gave the Sunday morning sermon on Father's Day. As a person who hasn't attended church in decades, this experience has been very fulfilling for me. The same goes for Jane, who lets me know daily how much my involvement in Judaism means to her.
Even though Harry is definitely a night person, he agreed to get up early and accompany us to that special Father's Day Service. By honoring my roots, he chose to acknowledge me for supporting his discovery of his Jewish tradition.
He also wrote and recorded a beautiful song for me that we listened to for the first time on the way to the Father's Day Service. In part it said:
Twenty years and twenty thousand lives have begun.
We've grown to understand and wonder just what lies beyond.
And for everything you do, I want thank you--thank you.
So now's the time to discern the good & bad--
A simple opportunity to say I love you, Dad.
And for everything you do, I want to thank you--thank you.
Once again, the teacher has learned from the student.
The words that best describe our interfaith family now are synergy and empowerment.
Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. The elevated area or platform in a synagogue, from which Torah is read. Worship service leaders, such as clergy, may lead services from the bimah as well. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.