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December 3, 2006
They call me Nana.
I am a Jewish grandmother of four beautiful grandchildren. I'm the kind of nana that knew I would get to celebrate Hanukkah, tell the story of Passover and share all the wonderful Jewish traditions, holidays and cultures of my heritage with my grandchildren.
Only, my life took a radical turn, my daughter married a Christian man, my son married a Christian woman, and I was told my four grandchildren were going to be raised Christian. I didn't actually believe it until my granddaughter, five years old, started asking me, "Do you believe in Jesus, Nana?" I could see how important it was to her for me to say yes. The look on her face when I told her that Nana didn't believe in Jesus was devastating.
Both my children were educated in the temple and had Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. They were raised in a Jewish home with love and lots of the typical food that Jewish families enjoy. We shared some of the Jewish holidays with family and friends in Orange County, California.
Somehow what I did wasn't enough. My children didn't connect with Judaism. Each started attending church with their spouses and felt a connection they said they never had in temple. I didn't understand how they could do this. After speaking with a professional and numerous rabbis with my children and by myself, I learned that this wasn't my fault. We raise our children in a society that is free thinking and they are taught to think for themselves. I taught them this, and when they exercised their right to think and make their own choices, I didn't like it. There were times when I was ready to disown them and never see them or my grandchildren again because their decisions were so painful for me.
Now whenever the High Holidays, Easter, Passover, Christmas, Hanukkah come around, I'm always challenged, depressed and hurt because I no longer enjoy Jewish holidays as I did before. For example, my husband and I are invited to my son's home for Easter dinner and have decided that the right thing to do is to share in the holiday they are celebrating. However, I did bring my grandchildren what I called a "spring basket" instead of an Easter basket. I was later informed that I had insulted my Christian daughter-in-law by not acknowledging what the gift really was an Easter basket.
Passover is celebrated at my home with my kids and my grandchildren. I choose to have a very abbreviated seder and have made my own haggadah that is interfaith friendly, highlighting the main points of the Passover story. Do they all enjoy attending the seder? Probably not, but they come to appease me and my husband.
At Hanukkah, the family comes over to our home to be together and share the great latkes my husband cooks. My husband and I light the menorah and recite the prayers without the participation of my grandchildren in this. We were told it is too confusing to the children to be included in the lighting of the menorah as they are being raised Christian. So, they watch my husband and me.
I have always given my kids and grandchildren their gifts at Hanukkah instead of Christmas; however, this year I was informed, "The grandchildren celebrate Christmas, so please be observant of this and wrap their gifts in Christmas paper or generic snowflake paper." The celebration at Christmas is really new territory for us, as my husband and I have always been away on vacation at Christmas to avoid situations just like this. This year, however, we find ourselves at home with our kids and grandchildren and needing to respect their wishes.
The most painful part of this was that I almost lost my daughter. I couldn't understand her choices. She, the Jewish mother of my grandchildren, my Jewish daughter, is choosing Christianity for her family and herself. She attends church with her husband and their children, and they never go to temple. I have been so upset about this that I couldn't even look at my daughter without total resentment and actually felt as if I never wanted to see her again. I experience a daily struggle within myself: Can I accept what she has done and have a positive relationship with her and her children? It's a work in progress.
My daughter and I never really discuss what has happened and why. But after two years of this tension, other forms of communication--touching, kissing and loving each other--are starting to come back. We are able to feel better about each other now, due to the counsel of a wonderful therapist who has helped us both to understand our feelings toward each other, the situation, and our expectations of each other.
Currently, my daughter and I are working very hard on our relationship. In the past, we were more than mother and daughter, we shared a very special bond of friendship. She lives nearby, so distance was never an issue. We would see each other two or three times a week, talk on the phone everyday, go out to lunch and shop, just have a good time being together. That all changed in these past two years, as we avoided seeing each other and only talked on the phone when necessary.
My son also lives in very close proximity, but he chooses to go along with his wife's decisions in raising their children Christian. He attends church certain times of the year and really isn't committed to any religion. He prefers to avoid any confrontations with me or to discuss what his choices are.
I don't receive much support from my husband in my efforts to try and bring the families together to celebrate the Jewish holidays because he feels they don't really want to be doing any of this and why do I just keep frustrating myself. Our two philosophies are different on the acceptance of Christianity by our children. His: they are not doing anything bad, they are good people, they aren't hurting anyone, so why turn his back on them? So that pretty much leaves me out there on my own.
However, after speaking with a specific rabbi who teaches Jews about Jesus and Christians about Jews, I am learning to forgive myself. I have been able to turn myself around and to stop feeling responsible for this terrible outcome.
The turning point in my life came when my father, eighty-one, was visiting me for Rosh Hashanah and we were talking about my mom, who had just passed away the previous year. My father had no idea about how his great grandchildren were being raised. He thought they were having both religions taught to them. I told him to discuss religion with my daughter and let her explain how and why this happened. He did, and I was so proud of him, and of course an enormous relief came over me knowing he knew what was happening in my family. After his discussion with my daughter, he came away with the impression that if I were to open myself up and attend a church service with her and her family that could help the situation. In the past year, when my daughter was going through this change in her life, she didn't directly ask me to go with her to church, but indicated it would mean a lot to her if I could see and hear what she gets out of these services. At the time, I just couldn't do it.
Perhaps, knowing what I know now, if I do attend a church service with her, I might possibly be allowed to take my grandchildren to a Shabbat service or a Purim carnival. Being the oldest woman in the family now, I need to set an example by putting myself out there and showing acceptance for my children's choices in life, whether I agree with them or not. Who knows, maybe I'll be rewarded in the future. We never know what the future holds.