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Through a Parent's Eyes

February 8, 2010

Life is full of choices. One of the most monumental choices we make is selecting the person with whom we will spend the rest of our lives. Marriage impacts not only the two people who join in marriage but also their families. As I've recently come to realize, this choice also impacts future generations of a family.

Heather Subba with her baby
Heather Subba with her son.

Becoming a parent has changed both how I understand my own parents and how I feel about being Jewish. My parents did everything they could to raise my brother and me in a Jewish home. I spent much of my childhood years in a Reform temple, I became a bat mitzvah and I was confirmed at the age of 17. My parents actively participated in leadership positions in our synagogue and they always integrated Jewish values, customs and traditions in our family life. Naturally, they had always assumed that my brother, Adam, and I would marry Jewish people.

Sometimes our choices do not always reflect the path that has been laid out for us, and we follow our own intuition, passion and sense of who we are. Adam married a woman who was raised as a Catholic, and I married a man who was raised as a Hindu. My parents felt disappointed and hurt by our choices. I think they felt they did something wrong and somehow blamed themselves. After all, didn't we turn our backs on Judaism by choosing to marry two people who weren't raised as Jews and who weren't interested in converting to the Jewish faith? Furthermore, by making these choices, weren't we also rejecting the values that we grew up with? In addition to the hurt they felt, my parents also believed that Adam and I were breaking with tradition and that our lives would be made more complicated by marrying outside of the Jewish faith.

In my first two years of marriage, I didn't experience the difficulties that my parents had forecasted. This was probably because our choices as a married couple were mostly about the two of us. My husband participated in Jewish holiday gatherings as I navigated the Hindu festivals that he grew up with. The bond of loving each other made crossing the cultural barriers far from insurmountable. However, now that we have a child, I think I understand my parents better, and I also think I understand myself better.

First, I understand the hurt and humiliation that my parents felt when we chose to marry non-Jewish individuals. I understand this because now I can see through a parent's eyes. I see how a child is the central light of his parent's world and how a child gives his parents an endless amount of motivation to be better people. I also understand how a child's happiness rests in the hearts of his parents. When you raise a child to be a certain way, you can't imagine this child to be any other way. While I may not envision my child only being Jewish, I do envision him following a certain path. If he chose to radically sway from the path we are forging as a family, I would, of course, feel disappointed and I would, of course, question what we had done wrong to cause him to stray from our beliefs. Yet, at the same time, I recognize that staying true to one's family isn't always the same thing as staying true to one's self. I understand that it is not always possible to explain why every decision is chosen and why it is sometimes necessary to break with tradition. I also understand how difficult and even painful these decisions can be for both the individual and for the family that the individual belongs to.

I have gained a deeper sense of understanding my parents' views regarding interfaith marriage. Yet I can also feel a renewed spark for my faith that I thought had completely been extinguished. When I look at my son, I imagine him at his bar mitzvah. I see him dressed smartly in a tailored gray suit accented with a red shiny tie and proudly wearing his kippah. He is standing on the bimah, carefully holding the Torah for the first time. My visions of my son becoming a bar mitzvah are based on my own memories of my life's rites of passage. In this way, I feel connected to my parents and to the home I was raised in. I also feel connected to my grandparents and my great-grandparents and to all the Jews in our family who held the Torah for the first time as they became a bar or bat mitzvah. I feel a dual sense of pride in both my heritage and in the man that my son is becoming. My child has brought the being part of Judaism back to me, even if I am not always practicing it. I may choose not to always practice Judaism, but I can never choose not to be Jewish.

Though I chose to marry outside of the Jewish faith, I can also choose to share Judaism with my son. Just as my parents taught me about the rituals and traditions in Jewish life, I will teach my son. He, too, may choose a different path from the one we are laying out for him, but that's part of the two-fold nature of decisions. We may make a lot of choices that don't always follow what our parents want for us, but choices are as much about acceptance as action. While certain choices may lead us down different paths, the traditions and culture of our families will always bring us home.

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hebrew for "skullcap," also known in Yiddish as a "yarmulke," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. 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. The elevated area or platform in a synagogue, from which Torah is read. Worship service leaders, such as clergy, may lead services from the bimah as well. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them.
Heather Subba

Heather Subba lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two children. She works in the field of educational publishing.

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