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Choosing Judaism and Wanting to Pass It Down

Since I was about twenty-two years old, both of my parents have separately expressed to me that they're ready for grandchildren. Good for them. When this nudging began, I was at least a year away from graduating college and had no clue what career I wanted to pursue, but, hey, let's bring on the babies. One more minor detail: I was not in a serious relationship or any relationship, for that matter. Maybe it's just me, but that might be step one.

A year ago, during a trip to my Colorado home, I visited my beloved grandfather--my only Jewish grandparent--in the hospital after he had suffered a heart attack. He was reclining in the bed, thankfully looking much healthier than I had expected. I prepared myself for a conversation regarding his various medical tests, but he quickly directed the conversation towards me and my new fresh-from-college job. As a Hillel Steinhardt Jewish Campus Service Corps Fellow--such a long title that it's nearly screaming for a definition--I already anticipated his follow-up question, "So what exactly are you doing in Baltimore?" My answer was, "Basically, I connect college-aged Jews to other Jews." In his slight Brooklyn accent, my grandfather responded, "Maybe you should connect yourself to other Jews? Maybe find a Jewish man?" In case I didn't already know how, my grandfather offered his suggestion on how his eldest grandchild should meet her future spouse: the Internet. This from a man who had just recently bought a cell phone and still didn't know how to check his voicemail. I've heard these instructions no less than three times since that first day in the hospital when my grandfather explained to me, "You go online, and you say what you want, and tell him you'll meet him in a public place." Priceless.

According to halakha (Jewish law), I was not Jewish at birth. Many have asked why I choose to be Jewish, but the real story is that I didn't choose--I just had to accept it. After learning and researching, I knew where I belonged. There is a midrash, a teaching story, that says that all Jewish souls--including those of converts--were at Mount Sinai when the Israelites accepted the Torah. My soul was at Mount Sinai; I was at Mount Sinai. Some might say that my soul was just born in the "wrong body," but I disagree because my family displays many--if not all--of the traits, and shares many of the values, that I love in Judaism: community, learning, working hard, giving, looking towards the future, cherishing the past, remembering traditions.

I wasn't raised as a Jew, although I was raised with similar values--so maybe I was raised more Jewish than others. Religiously and culturally, I was taught to appreciate everyone and, without a doubt, I know my parents want me to find someone who will help me make a happy, healthy life for both of us as well as for their much-anticipated grandchildren.

My parents divorced when I was four years old and both have since remarried wonderful people. Both are happy and have been prospering in their relationships for a combined twenty-five years. While each couple seems to be on similar religious planes, I've learned from all of them that I need--and am allowed--to find a spouse who understands, encourages, and appreciates me. A few years ago, I made a commitment to officially and technically convert because it was important to me that my future children be Jewish and that my family's Jewish roots continue. Because Judaism is so important to me and my attraction to it often feels fairly unique and powerful (not to mention the JDate membership I'm expecting to receive for my birthday), I will probably build a life with a man who is actively Jewish. But because my parents taught me that everyone is someone, that each person is valuable and beautiful, maybe it doesn't matter.

So does coming from an interfaith family affect whether I will marry Jewish and have Jewish children? That is yet to be determined. But I can tell you that being allowed to question, doubt, and explore my religious options has made me a very strong person... and a very strong Jew. I want to share my religion with the person I choose to build a life with, and to pass it on to my children because... I love it. It wasn't forced upon me; I was allowed to enjoy it and discover that it fits with me. I think the real issue isn't whether growing up in an interfaith family affects what religion my spouse and future children will be. I'm more concerned with how can Judaism be presented to children (as well as adults) in ways that make them want to make their faith/culture a higher priority and, thus, have their own Jewish children.

Hebrew for "Jewish law," it's the body of Jewish religious law including biblical law (those commandments found in the Torah), later Talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions. Hebrew for "story," a way of interpreting biblical stories that often fills in the gaps left in the biblical narrative and expands on events of characters that are only hinted at. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them.
Johanna Karasik

Johanna Karasik is the program director of BCI (Brandeis Collegiate Institute) in Calif. Previously, she spent four years working for Hillel in engagement and programming. Johanna received a bachelor's in psychology from Colo. State University, and has written articles for Interfaithfamily.com and Shebrew.com. She welcomes emails at johnannakarasik@gmail.com.

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