Jim Keen is the author of the book Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner's Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family (URJ Press). He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife and two daughters.
What Goes Around Will Probably Come Around
Reprinted with author's permission from Detroit Jewish News.
Throughout my book tour I have gotten the chance to talk to many great people about interfaith family life. About halfway through the tour, I suddenly noticed that each city had a common element. No, I'm not talking about Applebee's. The common thread existed in the form of a question. In every book fair and author event where I spoke, someone asked me this question: "How would you react if your children intermarried?"
The first time I heard that question, I laughed to myself, thinking, "My daughters aren't going to intermarry--they'll find nice Jewish boys." Then, all in a fraction of a second, a whole range of emotions and doubt went through my mind as quickly as Larry Brown goes through NBA coaching jobs. After my initial subconscious chuckle, I remembered that I'm a Protestant dad raising Jewish daughters. What do I care if they date or marry someone who is Christian?
While wrestling with that thought, I had this nagging feeling--no, more like a desire--that they don't marry outside of Judaism. My wife (who is Jewish) and I have put a lot of time, effort and heart into our kids' Jewish education and upbringing. While we've only been parents for about 11 years, we've created so many wonderful Jewish family memories. I'd like to see our daughters continue in this vein without anyone distracting them from living Jewishly.
Well I'll be a monkey's uncle. Do you think maybe this is how my parents and in-laws felt when Bonnie and I were engaged?
A few times during the book tour, someone asked a follow-up question: "How would you feel if one of your daughters converted?" Oy, more angst. Why don't you just stab me with a knife? Intermarriage was just supposed to happen to us adults---not our children.
So, how did I answer these questions? Fortunately, I was able to respond pretty quickly. I only stammered for about five minutes before speaking.
I admitted that it would be a little tough at first. But, my wife and I are not hypocrites. We intermarried, and it worked. We would help our kids through it. We would always let them know that we supported them and would be there for them.
As far as conversion goes, I answered truthfully that I'd be surprised if either of my children left Judaism. As I mentioned before, we've created many beautiful Jewish memories. Our daughters are enjoying a positive experience as they go through religious and Hebrew school, too.
Another key is that we are not raising our girls as both Christian and Jewish. They are just Jewish, and they know it. Bonnie and I reinforce this every day. While I am their Christian dad, I am also a big part of their Jewish lives. I help them celebrate their holidays, including Shabbat every week. In addition, I actively join them at temple functions and back up their Jewish education in the home.
Although I doubt that our daughters would ever abandon Judaism, they might end up interdating or intermarrying. In this day and age, it's all too easy. My wife and I would do everything that we could to help them make Jewish choices. In the end, though, it will be their decision. They would know that they could always come to us for advice. For starters, I could give them a good discount on my book.
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.