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Her Family, Exactly As It Is

June 11, 2008

I am the mother of three wonderful daughters who are all married, and I have five fabulous grandchildren: three boys, ages 10, 11 and 13, and two girls, ages 2 and 4. I have worked for 32 years as the Director of Religious Education at Am Shalom, in Glencoe, Ill.

My youngest daughter began dating a wonderful young man when she was in high school. By that time I had been divorced for many years and so I was happy that she was dating such a fine person, a real mensch. He came from a great family and we always had a good time together. At one point, I told her that I would never be sad about her marrying a man who wasn't Jewish--I just hoped that she would raise her children as Jews. And I assumed she would do that.

stock photo of dandelionSixteen years ago, my daughter and I went on a trip to Florida and while we were there, she told me that she was planning to marry her boyfriend. They had discussed the religion issue at length. She was going to marry him, go to church with him and was going to have her children go to church too. They would be raised as Christians. She loved me dearly, she said, and she never wanted to hurt me, but she had to choose God, as she knew Him.

I was devastated thinking I would not have Jewish grandchildren. I did not tell many people about her decision. Nor did I tell them she wanted to be married by a minister and not by our rabbi.

I met with the rabbi and suggested that maybe I should quit my job as the Director of Education of our synagogue. How could I possibly stand up each day and tell people how to raise their children to marry Jews when it did not even happen for me? His answer was twofold. First he addressed the pain in my heart, saying, "What is really important to you as a mother? What do you want most for your daughter?" He knew my answer even before I said it. "I want a daughter who is honest, ethical and good to her toes--who has a sense of self-esteem and delights in doing good for others." He said, "And you certainly have that. When she gets married and she goes to church, she will still be all the things you wanted the most. And if she walks on the other side of the street from you, but you always go in the same direction, then that is not so bad."

Then he addressed the professional issue of my helping others. He said that I would find out that I would be better able to help people because I understood the issues better: that having Jewish grandchildren is never guaranteed in this world, no matter what you do.

I did not know how to tell my elderly father, who was a very religious man, so I told my daughter that she would have to tell him. Cindy and her future husband went to my father's home and told him. I picked him up after they left to take him out to lunch and I thought to comfort him. I asked him what he thought of the situation. His whole answer was, "You can't fight City Hall." And that was the end of it for him. His acceptance and his wisdom were a blessing for me.

I remember how I felt when I went to see the movie My Big, Fat Greek Wedding. In the middle of the movie, there is a scene where the mother and daughter are sitting together on a bed. The father has just been harassing the daughter about marrying out of the faith and telling her that she has to break up with her boyfriend. The daughter asks the mother how she feels about her marrying a non-Greek. The mother's answer was simple and profound. She said, "My daughter, I did not give birth to you so you could be me. I gave birth to you so you could grow and become your own person, and you are a beautiful person." I knew that was true for me too. I cried a lot in that movie, but it was cleansing.

My daughter and future son-in-law were so understanding of my feelings. They said they had thought about getting married in a church, but then decided that it would be easier for me if they were married outdoors. They would feel they were in the eyes of God and they thought I would be comfortable at an outdoor wedding. That conversation was the beginning of my acceptance of their choices together.

I told them that wanting them to have a Jewish home was partly selfish on my part. I wanted them to celebrate my holidays and one day perhaps, have the holiday celebrations in their homes and I would attend. I wanted to attend the Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremonies of their children and I wanted to tell my friends about my children's Jewish lives. It was really about me. But altruistically I knew they were so well suited for each other, and they were both such amazing, wonderful children, that I felt they would have a good marriage.

When their children were born, they were beautiful, fun, loving and delightful boys. My daughter made sure they respected and attended all of the Jewish holidays at my home. She had them make Shabbat challah covers and other Jewish gifts for me. I bought the boys sterling silver Kiddush cups when they were 2 and 5. I babysat every Friday and before they left whether it was officially Shabbat or not, we would light candles, say the blessings over the wine and bread and have challah to eat. They know the blessings and are proud to say them. I have taken them on Jewish grandparent/grandchild retreats and they are ready to go on the next one.

I am blessed that my children and I have the kind of relationship where love and respect and kindness is more important than anything else in the world. The boys are now 10 and 13. There are questions that sometimes come up and I answer them as honestly and respectfully as I can, and we are fine always together. I am indeed blessed by this child of mine and her family exactly as it is.

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." 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." A bread that comes in a few different varieties; its most common variation is a braided egg bread, though there are water challahs that don't have eggs, and there are whole-wheat challahs which sometimes also don't have eggs. It is customary to being Sabbath and holiday meals by saying blessings and eating challah. Hebrew for "sanctification," a blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Yiddish term for an honorable, decent person, usually means "a person of integrity and honor," someone of good character and a deep sense of what is right. 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.

Sharon Morton has been the educational director at Am Shalom in Glencoe, IL for 32 years, and is retiring on June 30, 2008. She is the founder and director of Grandparents for Social Action.

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