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Being Honest With Ourselves

Reprinted with the permission of Reform Judaism magazine, published by the Union for Reform Judaism. Originally published in the Winter 2007 issue.

I am a 50-year-old Roman Catholic who has been married to Mindy, a Reform Jew, for almost 25 years. We have three children, 17, 15, and 13, all of whom have been raised as Jews. Mindy and I are proud that our family is a strong, faith-based group. We are most proud of how comfortable our children are with themselves and how committed they are to their religion.

Tim McMahon and family

Getting here was not always easy, but I think it has its roots in a few key decisions Mindy and I came to early on: that we had to be honest with ourselves and to make decisions based on what was right for us and our children. There is no right or wrong way to do things. It is what works for you.

Being honest with ourselves started with our both realizing that we were committed to our faiths and that shouldn't change. I am Catholic and Mindy is Jewish. For us conversion was not an option, and I like to think our children feel better knowing this. That's not to say that parents who convert are wrong, but they should only do so if they believe that it's the best long-term decision for them.

In the end our decision to raise our children as Jews came out of a simple realization: I would be more comfortable having my children be Jewish than Mindy would be having hers be Catholic. If we tried to debate which religion was "better" we would have failed. So we told our children of our belief that a person should grow up with a real commitment to a single faith. We therefore needed to pick one for them, and we chose Judaism. They respected this honest explanation.

Of all our challenges, the biggest has been getting past making decisions based on not hurting or trying to please family. As an interfaith couple you become a constant target for people--family, friends, as well as strangers--all of whom have an opinion as to what you should do about children, holidays…. If in the end you aren't willing to make decisions for yourself and your children and to tell your family and friends that they don't have to agree, but you expect them to respect your choices, then you are doomed. If I had tried not to hurt my mother while making the decision to raise our children as Jews, I would have failed. In the end she has been very supportive of her grandchildren because she sees how comfortable they are with themselves. The only thing worse than trying to incorporate family feelings into a decision is not making a decision in order to "avoid" any troubles. Children suffer in families that avoid commitment.

In all honesty, organizations have not been very helpful to Mindy and me. Organizations tend to have agendas. When Mindy and I were getting married, most everyone we met with had "rules" we needed to follow. It was a priest who helped both of us understand how to get comfortable with ourselves by talking to us about what we had in common: a commitment to God. It was a rabbi who helped us most when it came to raising our children. He didn't lecture us on rules like "if the mother is Jewish the child must be." Instead he focused on how we wanted to raise our children, what was important to us for them. I would hope that organizations will come to focus more on what can be done, rather than on what cannot.

For the last 25 years I have attended church and temple regularly. To be sure, there are many differences in the two religions, but I know that a person committed to either faith will live a good and decent life and in the end that's what is important. I am very proud to have children committed to their faith, and I would challenge anybody who says that they are not Jewish in every way.

Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.

Tim McMahon is an investment banker living north of Boston.

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