As I hurry home from work to get ready for Friday evening services, or wake up early on a Saturday morning to take my daughter to Tot Shabbat, I often wonder if I would be this dedicated to Judaism if I had married another Jew. I believe that marrying out of my faith has made me a more religious Jew and more dedicated to raising my children in a Jewish home.
I want my children to grow up appreciating Shabbat (the Sabbath), to enjoy celebrating the holidays, and to have a strong pride in their Jewish identity. I want them to appreciate that they are part of a worldwide community that has been linked from generation to generation for thousands of years. I wasn’t in touch with these feelings until I married a non-Jew.
In many situations, the Jewish partner in an interfaith marriage feels compelled to be less involved in Judaism when she has children in order to “compromise” with her non-Jewish spouse. In my marriage, I have felt just the opposite. After marrying my Catholic husband and having our first child, I felt the need to become more involved in Judaism and in the Jewish community than I would have been if I had married within my faith--after all, even though my husband is learning about Judaism and participates in all the holidays with us, everything he will be able to share with our daughter will be akin to textbook knowledge at worst and an outsider’s view at best. The responsibility of providing for our children’s Jewish identity lies with me.
As I look around at other people who have intermarried, it saddens me that many have abandoned Judaism to “compromise” with their non-Jewish partner, while others have gone to such great lengths to equalize the practices of Judaism and Christianity within the home that they have stripped the meaning and beauty out of both religions.
If children view Judaism as nothing more than a compromise of lighting a few candles before opening Hanukkah presents, and the occasional Yom Kippur service or seder, they are unlikely to ever grasp the importance of their Jewish identity.
Children will learn a great deal about Christianity from society even if they are not exposed to it in their home; however, it takes a larger commitment and effort to actively teach your children about Judaism.
I know that in all likelihood my children’s religious identity will be shaped by their childhood experiences--both positive and negative. If they have positive associations and warm memories of celebrating Shabbat, active participation in the holidays and their Jewish education, they will be more likely to share those traditions with their children. If they see Judaism as boring or irrelevant to their lives, they will be less likely to want to continue the traditions when they are adults.
Many Jews say that intermarriage will cause the demise of the American Jewish community. Current statistics show that only 28% of intermarried Jews are raising their children in the Jewish faith. By intermarrying in such large numbers and choosing not to pass on Judaism to our children, we are effectively phasing out our culture, religion, and traditions. For hundreds of generations, our ancestors had to fight against anti-Semitism, persecution, pogroms, forced conversions, and genocide to keep their identity, and now that we are relatively free from such discrimination, why are we freely choosing to cut off our children from their Jewish roots?
Intermarriage does not have to be the downfall of the American Jewish community. Those of us who marry out of our faith still have the option to make Jewish choices for our families. I know that I have to work harder at providing a Jewish home for my children than someone who married within the faith, but by doing so, I will show them that Judaism is worth passing on to their children.