When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?Go To Parenting
October 9, 2009
It was a hard rule to break, my rule about dating non-Jews. I had good reasons for the rule. I'd grown up with kids who were the products of intermarriage. Nice kids. They always claimed to be both Jewish and Catholic though. This is something I'd always learned in Hebrew school that you couldn't be, though, as one often contradicted the other. But I really don't think these kids were really ingrained with the little details and customs. To them, it was presents at both Christmas and Hanukkah. I grew up with that too. But the rule was there for a reason.
I am the child of a father who is a Jew by birth and a mother who is a Jew by choice. My mom, who grew up Anglican, converted to Judaism for my father prior to their marriage. His culture as a Jew mattered to him more than the religion itself, but my mother understood the importance in raising a family in one faith, and therefore decided to convert. He would have married my mother either way, he told me.
My rule stemmed not from my parents' influence, but from many of my peers. I had a Catholic girlfriend in the 10th grade. She was not accepting of my Judaism. She did not appreciate the culture, and stated that she would never raise her children Jewish. At the time, I was a 15-year-old kid and I had a girlfriend when so many others didn't, so I didn't argue. But deep down, it hurt. I don't go to synagogue every Shabbat. I rarely observe any holidays other than Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach and Hanukkah. I eat pork. Far be it from me to turn down a Christmas ham. However, I know our history and plight as a people is deeper than rituals and laws.
My rule was about preservation. I need not mention the countless times in history and in the present when groups have tried to make us change our identity, run us out of our lands and annihilate us. Yes, it's history, most of it, but it's a living history. And I take it personally. When Bin Laden announced that he would target anywhere where there are Americans or Jews, I thought, "What the hell do we have to do with this?" When I watch documentaries about Americans praising Adolf Hitler, I seethe. I want to bludgeon these people with baseball bats and ask them why. "What is your problem?!" But I'm not a violent person. I just want to preserve. By having children not brought up in the Jewish faith, I feel I'm feeding into the plans of the haters of this world and just helping them along.
But I broke my rule. I met a wonderful girl and fell in love. She's not Jewish. The funny thing is, it never really bothered me. When we started to get serious, we discussed our feelings about religion. She even considered converting for a little while. But it wasn't for her. It wasn't in her heart to give up her Catholicism to become a Jew. I had no intention of pushing the issue. We agreed, though, that if we ever got married and had children, we would raise them in the Jewish faith--send them to Hebrew school, have them become bar or bat mitzvah and, when they were old enough to choose, they could make the decision to remain Jewish or become whatever else they wanted. They would grow up knowing the customs and beliefs of their mother and her family very well. We would have Christmas, and we would hunt for eggs at Easter (so long as it doesn't coincide with Passover). But most of all, we would have a household filled with love and faith in God and traditions.
And now we are getting married. And we are having our ceremony on a beach in Mexico officiated by a Mexican non-denominational minister. And it will be beautiful. And when we return home to New York and have to sign our papers legalizing our marriage in the United States, we plan to have a rabbi officiate. We plan to sign a ketubah. We both want our marriage to be blessed by a religious leader, and it will be. And whether that religious leader is Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, etc., it will be fine. A blessing is a blessing is a blessing. We chose a rabbi together. That was our choice. If she wanted a priest present, I would not argue. It is not my intention to steal away her faith, her religion or her beliefs.
I come from a family with strong values and faith in God, and I know she does too. Our love, mixed with our mutual faith in God, will be all we need to make the marriage work. Well, that and a few other things that will remain between the two of us. We will have a family. The children, however many, will be brought up in a loving household and will know their cultures from both sides of the family, because preservation is key. It was key when I made my rule and key when I broke it. But I am happy that I broke it, because I am marrying someone I love very much, someone I want to spend the rest of my life with. And that' s all that should matter.