My parents told me that when I got married, I should marry a nice Catholic man. My mother had married a Catholic man, my grandmother had married a Catholic man and, as far as I know, every woman in my family before her had married a Catholic man. That was just the way it was. Period. So when I met a nice Jewish man, fell in love and got married, I broke my family's age-old Catholic tradition.
Fortunately both families accepted the situation, but there were questions about how we would raise our children. After much discussion, my husband and I decided to raise our children with a Jewish identity. We wanted to honor those members of his family who had been killed in the Holocaust. We agreed, however, that I would continue to practice my Catholic religion and that our family would celebrate Christmas and Easter. Our children would learn the beliefs and customs of both religions. My husband's side of the family was thrilled with our decision. Although my side was disappointed, they graciously accepted it.
We had a lovely wedding ceremony, complete with a rabbi and priest. It was symbolic of the life we would share together, a mix of Jewish and Catholic tradition.
|Sherry Ellis with her husband and two children.
Our first child, a girl, was born seven years ago. It was then that I realized that I had a lot to learn about Judaism. How was I ever going to teach my children about something of which I knew very little? I read books--Idiot's Guide to Understanding Judaism, The Jewish Book of Why and The Book of Jewish Holidays to name a few. I also attended a Taste of Judaism class held at a local Reform temple. There I met other people who were in the same situation. We developed a sense of comradery as we shared notes and learned from each other.
I became more involved with the temple and even learned Hebrew. My daughter attended several "Tot Shabbats" and summer day camps that were offered through the temple. Her Jewish identity solidified while my own knowledge of Judaism increased. I was able to make Judaism a real part of our family life. We observe Shabbat every week. My daughter says the Hebrew blessing while I light the candles. We celebrate Passover and Hanukkah as every good Jewish family should. I am very proud to say that I have even learned to make matzo ball soup and gefilte fish the way Granny used to do.
My family and I do another thing that helps connect our two religions. Every night before my children go to sleep, we sing the Sh'ma Yisrael prayer. The Sh'ma is a Jewish prayer that is said twice a day, morning and night, by every observant Jew. It proclaims that, "The Lord is our God, the Lord is One." It is a beautiful tradition that unifies my own beliefs with those of my family. We also say a prayer that my mother taught me when I was little: "As I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul will keep. But if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul will take." It is a simple prayer, but it reminds us that God is the same for all people whether they are Jewish or Catholic. In the end, which religion you are doesn't matter. We will all return to the same God.
Through the process of learning about Judaism and teaching it to my family, I have come to the realization that our religions are not as different as they might seem. Both religions believe in monotheism, that there is only one God. Both religions share common roots in the Torah and Old Testament. Both religions teach you how to live your life as good people. When I consider these things, I do not feel all that different from my family.
My Catholic identity has not been lost. I still go to church. We put up a Christmas tree and exchange presents every year and my children always look forward to a visit from the Easter Bunny. My children understand that I am part of a different religion and although we share many of the same beliefs, there are things that are different. They understand that Christmas and Easter are Christian holidays and that Jewish people do not usually celebrate them, unless of course they are part of an interfaith family.
How do I feel being the only Catholic person in my family? In some ways I feel like I am walking alone. When I go to church by myself and see all of the other families with their children, I wish I had my family sitting next to me. I also admit that I would have liked to seen my children make their first communion and confirmation. Those were special moments in my life. But I know that their bar and bat mitzvahs will be special moments in their lives.
I think that learning about Judaism and teaching it to my children has enriched my life. I try to focus on the beliefs I share with my family rather than our differences. Whenever I find myself wishing that I had someone to go to church with, I think about what Granny used to say: "As long as there are still Jewish children in the world, Hitler has not won." And that makes it all worthwhile.