Judy Petsonk is co-author, with Jim Remsen, of The Intermarriage Handbook: A Guide for Jews and Christians (Quill Paperbacks, William Morrow Publishers, NY). She is also the author of Taking Judaism Personally; Creating a Meaningful Spiritual Life (The Free Press), which can be ordered through the author. She has led workshops throughout the U.S., both on intermarriage and on Jewish spirituality.
A Christian Tells How and Why She is Raising Jewish Children
There has not been much guidance available for the intermarried Christian who has decided to help raise children as Jews. Andrea King, an active Episcopalian who is committed to bringing up her son with a strong Jewish identity, provides a much-needed model in her book, If I'm Jewish and You're Christian, What are the Kids?: A Parenting Guide for Interfaith Families.
The most valuable part of the book is the introduction, where she explains how she made her decision to raise her child Jewish and how she explains it to her son. With humor and verve she records her own son's questions and how she answers them.
In the main body of the book she contrasts two families, one in which children are being brought up with a single identity, and one in which children are being brought up with a dual identity (both Christian and Jewish). The two families are actually composites, drawn from interviews, discussions and informal conversations. King paints a convincing portrait of the advantages and disadvantages of bringing children up in both religions, as well as the different issues that arise as the children mature.
The simplicity of the book is both its strength and weakness.
Contrasting two families clarifies the choices and their consequences. But in her portrait of the family bringing children up Jewish, King portrays only the successes. My own children, who have two actively Jewish parents, seem to have more ambivalence and more difficulty adapting to being Jewish in a Christian society than hers. Near the end of the book, King looks at some of the problems that may occur "When things don't go as planned." She does a good job of sketching the problems, but I think only skims the surface in suggesting how they can be worked out.
Though brief (145 pages), the book is repetitive. "Comments" after each chapter restate what has been said without adding new insights. This space could have been used to give us a deeper look at the spiritual and psychological process of a Christian bringing up Jewish children, and at some of the questions adolescent Jews may ask about their parent's Christian faith.
It is clearly better for the Jewish community if the 52 percent of Jews intermarrying today bring up children with a strong Jewish identity, rather than a weak dual identity. But it's a wrenching decision for many interfaith couples. King's book provides a positive model of how choosing Judaism can work for an interfaith family, and asks good questions for a family considering "doing both." Add it to your reading list.