Natalie Portman's Directorial Debut & Paper Towns' Nat WolffBy Gerri Miller
See how Portman is making her big splash in Israel and don't miss Paper Towns with Nat WolffGo To Pop Culture
Neal and I met at the Jewish Community Center in Houston Texas in 1983. He was playing sports at the center, and I was teaching exercise classes. He participated in a few of my aerobic classes before he got up enough courage to ask me out. Our first date was the Sunday evening before Labor Day. That afternoon Neal called his mother in Boston to tell her he was going out with a really nice Jewish girl he met at the JCC. Sunday evening Neal picked me up for our date, and on the way to the restaurant, he asked me, "What did you do today?" I said, "I went to church this morning, then I went out to the pool and had lunch with a friend." He didn't seem surprised I wasn't Jewish. A few days later Neal called his mother in Boston and said, "Mom, she is great. We had a wonderful time, and oh, by the way she's not Jewish."
Neal made it clear while we were dating that he wanted to raise his children Jewish. I asked him to explain what that meant. I told him I needed more information before I could make a commitment to do that. I knew very little about Judaism at the time. We meet with the rabbi from Neal's temple and the minister from my church in an attempt to seek counsel and gather information about this major decision in our lives. After many hours of serious thought and discussion, we decided to raise our future children in the Jewish faith. A few months later, we were engaged.
Neal's parents and family were thrilled about our marriage. They embraced our love for one another and trusted our wisdom. I never felt any pressure from them to convert to Judaism. They knew I had a strong Christian faith and they respected my religion.
When I told my Christian parents we were raising our children Jewish, there was a mixed reaction. My parents loved Neal very much. My father was excited about our interfaith marriage and our decision to raise our children Jewish. He had a deep love for Judaism, considering it to be part of old Christianity. He went to Israel two different times to visit the Holy Land with his church group. He loved learning how to speak Hebrew and sing Jewish songs and prayers, and at our wedding he sang "Hevenu Shalom Alechum." My father felt that Judaism brought him closer to God. He even wanted a mezuzah (miniature torah scroll that Jews put on the doorposts of their homes) for his house. One year for Christmas we gave him the book Everything You Want to Know about Judaism and More. After he finished the book, he asked if there was a second volume.
My mother, on the other hand, was more hesitant about our decision to raise our children Jewish. She was concerned that I wasn't going to teach my children about Jesus. She asked me, "How will your children go to heaven if they don't believe in Jesus?" I said, "Mom, our children will believe in God, and Jesus is a part of God. Christians believe this, but Jews do not." I told her that we planned to raise our children with a strong religious upbringing. Although she still had concerns, she didn't make her concerns our problem.
After our daughter Lindsay was born in 1988, my mother flew out to Boston for two weeks to take care of her new Jewish granddaughter. During the time she was with us, the rabbi from our temple led a beautiful baby-naming service at our home, and my mother had a chance to be a part of this special ceremony. It was her first Jewish experience, and I know it meant a lot to her. She participated in the Jewish prayers and felt a true sense of joy at being a part of this holy moment. She realized her granddaughter would never be baptized as an infant in church. Instead she had the honor to be part of a beautiful religious ceremony welcoming her new granddaughter into the Jewish faith, into God's convenant. As my mother held Lindsay in her arms, Lindsay received her Hebrew name Mira, which means reflection of light.
Mira's naming service was a true reflection of acceptance and love from her Christian grandmother. Over the years my mother has learned to embrace the Jewish holidays and traditions with the same enthusiasm as my father. She makes a special effort to send Jewish holiday cards to my family and Jewish relatives. She is looking forward to my daughter's Bat Mitzvah in a few years. My parents' love and respect for me and my family has been a true gift. I am deeply grateful to them both for opening their hearts and accepting our decision to raise our daughter as a Jew.