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An In-Law's Interfaith Journey

We asked our son, "Do you love her?" And in a line straight out of "Fiddler on the Roof," he said, "Yes, I suppose I do." And so began our journey.

The lovely woman our son fell in love with is from a warm and wonderful family. Her mother is a practicing Catholic and her father is an atheist. We, on the other hand, are both from strong Jewish backgrounds: one of us from a Modern Orthodox background and one from a solid Conservative background. We always expected--or at least advised--each of our three sons to marry a Jewish girl. After all, the more a couple has in common the more likely the relationship is "to work." And once children are involved it is so much easier to have one religion to embrace as a family. Judaism is also a very important part of who we are and what we are all about.

Our son Eric and his fiancée Rena joined an interfaith discussion group sponsored by the Reform branch of Judaism a year and a half before they planned to marry. This was Rena's idea. In these meetings they shared feelings and discussed potential problems that could arise in interfaith relationships. They knew that many decisions should be made before saying "I do." One major issue, of course, is in what religion their children would be raised and how to include both sets of parents--and eventually grandparents--in their celebrations without offending anyone.

Once these two young adults decided to take the big step, we knew that all we could do as in-laws was to be as supportive as possible without compromising any of our beliefs and traditions. Also, we hoped that what our son had absorbed growing up in our Jewish home would kick in. Fortunately, Rena's family was very open and respectful of their daughter's decisions--including a non-denominational wedding ceremony with Jewish symbolism. For us, the most wonderful gift our new daughter-in-law gave us was the decision to raise Jewish children, even if she did not convert. Eric and Rena are now the parents of two precious children. Their son attends a JCC preschool. His mother is learning, along with him, about our holidays and ceremonies.

Rena's exceptional family participated in Jewish baby namings for both children and even donned kippas, head coverings, for the occasions.

Our son is proud of his Jewish background but is not religious by any means. However, he is very happy to be sharing his religion with his young family. We call each Friday night to say Shabbat Shalom and do not have to remind them to light the candles. Rena has even requested our brisket recipe!

As grandparents and in-laws, we have tried to be as careful and non-judgmental as possible. We are indeed very blessed that our special daughter-in-law has chosen to embrace Judaism. Our grandchildren are learning at a very tender age that some of their cousins, aunts and uncles, and their other grandparents are not Jewish. This is an ongoing learning experience--one of love, acceptance and tolerance--for several generations.

Did I mention that Eric's maternal grandmother's name was also Rena. We are convinced these two are each other's beshert--that this was meant to be.

As this journey continues, God willing, we will be present at the Bar and Bat Mitzvah of these grandchildren and will celebrate many mitzvahs with this sensitive and remarkable young Jewish family.

Hebrew for "Sabbath [of] peace," a greeting on the Jewish Sabbath. Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Plural form of the Hebrew word "mitzvah" which means "commandment," it has two meanings. The first are the commandments given in the Torah. ("You should obey the mitzvah of honoring your parents!") The second is a good deed. ("Helping her carry her groceries home was such a mitzvah!")
Arlene Lippman

Arlene Lippman taught first grade in the New York City school system for a few years before becoming a full-time, stay-at-home mom to her three sons, now all adults. She has been an active member and past president of the Greater Hartford Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, as well as a West Hartford parent volunteer in the schools and a docent at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. She and her husband Lenny are the proud grandparents of five grandchildren.

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