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I love being Jewish. I grew up in a Conservative home. My family kept kosher, went to synagogue every week, and celebrated all of the Jewish holidays. I even went to a Hebrew day school until high school. I never dated a guy that wasn't Jewish until I met my husband. What a jolt to my family! I'm happy to say that even though we had to overcome many obstacles through my dating and marriage, we are still a very close family.
My dad is one of those people who equate intermarriage with assimilation. So when I became pregnant with our first son, it was only natural that his strong feelings would reach the surface again. I sent my dad a few articles that I read on InterfaithFamily.com that supported the view that families of interfaith relationships can successfully raise their children Jewish--which is a decision that my husband and I had made before we got married. Although I thought these articles might alleviate some of my father's anxieties, I don't think sending them worked very well. What it did do was open up an email conversation between us that I'd like to share. It is an example of the love between a father and daughter who see things very differently but are still respectful of each other.
Too many times I hear stories of children and parents or grandparents completely cutting off their relationships with their loved ones because of differences in opinions regarding their interfaith choices. This is very sad. I hope that by sharing my letter to my father, you can see that it isn't necessary to break relations with family members who don't agree with your own personal choices. With enough love, patience, understanding and dialogue, hopefully you, too, can work things through, or at least come to the understanding that you think and feel differently.
This email dialog has turned into what probably needed to be a telephone conversation, but I will try to respond to some of your concerns. First, I want to say that I know your heart is in the right place. However, you are coming on very strong and I know that it is because you love me so much.
Please believe me that I know how you feel about Mark not being Jewish and why you feel the way you do. Mark understands this, too. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately for us), Mark and I don't feel exactly the way you do. Do you remember when Grandma told you that the WTC bombing happened because God was punishing the USA for being immoral? She really believed that it was God's doing, and you didn't agree fundamentally. It doesn't make her right and you wrong (or vice versa), it makes you two people who think differently about God's actions. In parallel, you and I think differently about my relationship and future with Mark and our children.
I know that Mark being knowledgeable and observant of Jewish culture and mores doesn't make him Jewish. But it would be silly to think that being Jewish (in name only), without knowledge or practice, is more effective in passing on the religion than it is for people who are not Jewish but committed to raising their children Jewish. I am certain that our children will have more of a Jewish identity than many of my Jewish friends' kids. Both Mark and I share our desire for our children to have a strong Jewish identity.
In your last email, you stated, "My concern is that Mark will be the father of your children. If he is not Jewish, I believe it is a horrific example for your children. Please understand that I know that Mark is a moral and good individual but I believe that without Mark being Jewish, we are jeopardizing the faith of your children. I want your genes to be passed on to future Jewish generations. I would like that to have a very high probability."
Your concern above is understandable, but perhaps not completely fair. Please remember that according to Jewish law, our children will be Jewish since I am Jewish, and I am their mother! In my opinion, Mark, being born to a different faith (and who now doesn't follow that faith), will not be a "horrific" example for our children. In reality, my genes will be passed on to future Jewish generations as long as my son marries a Jewish woman and they raise their kids following Jewish law. In this regard, whatever Mark's religious affiliation may be, my son's decision is ultimately out of my control. If we have a daughter the second time around, we are guaranteed that her children will be Jewish simply since she will mother them as I have mine. I am not missing your point. I want our kids to be Jewish, too. Of course it would be "easier" for all involved if Mark converted, but I don't want him to do it for the wrong reasons. I want him to do it if/when he wants to do it and not because he feels pressured into it.
I also think that it is possible for Mark to study Torah and enjoy Sabbath worship without converting. His commitment right now regarding Judaism is to me, our future children, and our extended family, and he shows his commitment in the way in which we live our daily lives. Together we keep a kosher home, we go to synagogue, we celebrate only Jewish holidays in our home, and we will be raising our children Jewish.
I am very sad that you feel so much pain. I feel bad that I can't help you feel more secure about my decisions. I think that the difficulties you "see" in the future are your personal fears for what could happen, but neither you nor anyone else has a crystal ball. I believe that the best way to be a good influence is to live by example--not to preach or dictate what to do or how to live. It is neither in your control nor in your best interest to do so. So hopefully, we will all live long past the point where you can see for yourself and enjoy your Jewish grandchildren regardless of Mark's decision to convert or not.
Dad, I really appreciate your expression of love to us both and I genuinely feel it. I am copying Mom on this email, not because I want her to back me up, but because I would like to share this conversation with her so that she is aware of what came out of sending you some articles. Who would have thought it would have unleashed so much! And since I'm not doing such a good job at addressing your concerns, maybe she will be able to help alleviate some of them.
I love you too, Dad.