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March 27, 2014
More years ago than I care to admit, I married a Jewish man. At the time, we wrestled with how to raise our children: Should they be Christian? Should they be Jewish? Should they be both? We went to temple and I just didn’t feel welcome. It was very foreign and scary. We went to the Unitarian Church. That didn’t fit. Then we went to a different temple, a progressive temple that openly welcomed interfaith families.
In retrospect I was very naïve; I didn’t understand that he meant his community, not the community at large. But, I signed on, got married and when we eventually had children, we took the steps to raise them as Jews.
Life is uncertain, and we moved around a bit. We eventually landed in a new community that claimed to welcome interfaith families. My oldest child had his bar mitzvah a few months ago. As we were preparing for the service the morning of the event, I learned that our new temple was not going to live up to the agreement of our old temple and include me. They changed my son’s name. He was called to the bimah with only my husband’s name and in the stroke of a pen I was eliminated.
I learned that I was excluded on a day that should have been focused on celebrating what he achieved, and perhaps, on a lesser scale, what I achieved. I lived up to my end of the deal. I created a Jewish child. Now, I wasn’t expecting a ticker tape parade, but eliminating my contribution to that event was indescribable and honestly, unimaginable.
I make the latkes, the matzoh ball soup, the hamentaschen. I drive the kids to Hebrew school. I make sure that we light the candles on Friday. I take the kids to services if my husband can’t. I fight with the school when they only want to sing Christmas songs. I read the Jewish bedtime stories. I do these things. Me. I am not Jewish. When the community eliminates me it devalues all those things I do to ensure that my kids are Jewishly identified and are having Jewish experiences.
I am left to explain this to my children. Why is the temple doing this to their mommy? My middle child doesn’t want to have a bar mitzvah because he doesn’t want to hurt me. Why should I fight vehemently to ensure that my children are identified as Jews now that the contract is clearly broken? What do I do? How do we move on from here?
I have a few requests as this conversation continues: Let’s try to include people in the community who are from an interfaith background in the conversation. Please remember that the decisions that are made are going to impact real families. That this is not a theoretical conversation. Show us empathy and grace; those not Jewish in your midst are part of your family. Whether you like it or not we are part of the new face of American Judiasm. If I was your daughter and my children were your grandchildren, how would you want us to be treated?