Carol Churgin, a single mom, lives in West Orange, New Jersey, with her thirteen-year old son and two dogs. While juggling the demands of an active teenager, Carol works in the Newark Public Schools as a drug prevention and school safety coordinator.
Interfaith Peace During Our Marriage, Hell After
How appropriate for me to be writing this just after the "formal" part of my son's Jewish education has concluded--at least according to our divorce decree--which means that my former husband no longer is legally obligated to contribute to expenses for our son's religious education.
My son Tommy, a Bar Mitzvah (when a person assumes responsibility as a Jewish adult) this past March, has been ambivalent about his religious identity. He loves to be Jewish when his close friend invites him to shul (synagogue) with his family and when Tommy can miss school to do so. And Tommy loves when Easter and Christmas come, and he can look forward to lots of presents, attention, and big meals.
I certainly do not know what the future will bring, but Tommy has recently internalized being Jewish, it seems, as he no longer claims to be "half-Jewish." Just last week, as I was driving Tommy and two of his non-Jewish friends to baseball practice, one of the other boys started to talk about the "Jewish team." Tommy got indignant, asking how anyone could call one of the teams the "Jewish team." After all, he said loudly, "I'm Jewish!"
Back when my former husband Denis and I planned our wedding and then during our four-year marriage (we were technically married for six years, but split after four), Denis and I did not have conflicts over religious issues. He wanted his children to be raised Jewish as he felt that the Church had done too much damage to him and he didn't want his children to have the same negative experiences. Yet there was no way he would convert. That was fine with me.
Although I had always wanted a Jewish wedding, I realized that the only person my fiancé and I both had any relationship with who could marry us was my uncle, a judge. It was a joyous celebration.
Then, when Tommy was born two years after our wedding, as I was arranging for the brit (Jewish circumcision) from the hospital, my mother-in-law called. My husband answered the phone, and she asked him if there was a priest in the hospital. He said "Of course, it's called St. Barnabas!" When she then asked if the priest could come and bless Tommy, my husband adamantly told her "No! Tommy's Jewish".
How quickly the tables turned when my husband and I separated and divorced. Magically, his "holidays" became important to him. I had to push to get Tommy's Jewish education (which Denis had always been in favor of) funded through the divorce decree, although Denis has still not paid me his share of those religious school and Bar Mitzvah expenses. Denis and I have also clashed over religious holiday visitation, particularly when Christian and Jewish holidays coincide, as frequently occurs with Passover and Easter.
I have seen the toll these conflicts take on our son, who wants to stay connected with both of his parents, religious identities and all. Now that Tommy has become a Bar Mitzvah and enjoyed the religious ceremony and tradition so, I hope that it will strengthen his identity as a Jew. He has talked about his connection to God, and I hope that this belief will offer support when needed and enable him to help his father celebrate the Christian holidays while knowing that he is Jewish.