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Mixed Blessings: A Religious Journey That Has Led Nowhere

On August 18, 1974, a Jewish man from South Philadelphia married a Southern Baptist woman from a small town in North Carolina. From that marriage two daughters were born. They were told that they were Jewish and Christian and that neither religion was better than the other. They were raised to celebrate every holiday, but received no religious schooling at all, only the opportunity to spend the religious holidays with friends and family of different faiths.

Both the maternal and paternal grandparents supported the decision of the couple and tried to help their grandchildren identify with their religion as much as possible. Due to the fact that the couple resided in suburban Philadelphia where they had many Jewish relatives, the children were exposed more to the Jewish religion. They spent more Jewish holidays, such as seders on Passover, lighting the Hanukkah candles and receiving gifts, and breaking the fast on Yom Kippur, around their extended family as well as their grandparents. The only Christian holidays they took part in were stockings/gifts and a Christmas tree in December and Easter baskets in the spring.

Twenty-eight years later, I, the eldest daughter, have mixed feelings about religion in general. My mother has continued her religious practice by joining an Episcopalian church. My father only practices on religious holidays, but has never joined a temple. Being told we could choose our own religious path when we became "adults," neither my sister nor I have done so. When asked what religion I am, I say Jewish and Southern Baptist. Of course, that always gets funny looks and/or a series of follow-up questions. I don't know if I could ever identify with one religion or the other at this stage of my life, which leads me to ask the question, did my parents make the correct decision by not choosing one religion or the other for my sister and me?

My mother once told me that if they had settled in North Carolina, she would have taken my sister and me to church on a regular basis. But, since we stayed in Pennsylvania, she felt uncomfortable doing this while being so close to my father's family. Although I can't say I believe Jesus Christ is the savior, would having been raised in the Christian religion have changed my attitude about that? Would I have resented my mother for making that choice for me without my input? And, although I do enjoy all of the Jewish holidays I take part in, I cannot read or speak Hebrew and don't believe everything the Torah has to say. Had my paternal grandparents had more say, I may very well have received a Jewish education, very possibly out of their pockets. Would I have then resented them for "forcing" me to choose that path?

While in elementary school, I had one other classmate that was from an interfaith family. His parents were divorced and his mother was Jewish while his father was Christian. He told me at one point of our educational career that I wasn't really Jewish because my mother wasn't. It was the first and only time anyone ever told me that. At the time, I didn't think much of it and for some reason I didn't come home and ask my parents if that were true or not. I now realize that he was probably fed that information due to his family situation, but it still makes me wonder if there are people who believe that theory to be true. I really don't think I believe that and it certainly didn't change my opinion of my true Jewishness/non-Jewishness in any way.

For many years I said that when I became an "adult" I would most likely choose the religion of my future spouse because although I thought it to be cool at the time to be able to take part in both religions and celebrate all of the holidays, I didn't want my children to have to choose their religion one day. Then for a while after my teenage years, I thought I would choose the Jewish religion because I enjoyed the holidays and was willing to take the classes involved and then take part in a Bat Mitzvah to show my faith in that religion. I'm really not sure why I said or thought that, possibly because I felt closer to my paternal grandparents for most of my life.

At this point, I cannot truly say that I feel any connection to the Jewish religion or to any of the Christian denominations. I don't feel like either parent tried to sway me one way or the other. I don't feel more Jewish or more Christian than I did while growing up: All I feel is more confused. I often feel resentment toward my peers who were raised in one religion or the other, who got a religious education and today can relate to something spiritual while I never may be able to.

Due to all of this, religion has become a part of my life that causes more grief and confusion than peace and comfort.

 

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." Hebrew for "Day of Atonement," the final of ten Days of Awe that begin with Rosh Hashanah. Occurs during the fall and is marked by a 24-hour fast. One of the most important Jewish holidays. Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
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 first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them.
Jennifer Gordon

Jennifer Gordon was born outside Philadelphia in 1977. She was raised in an interfaith family by a Jewish father and Southern Baptist mother. Although she has a secondary education degree, she is currently working as an office manager.

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