The Mother of a Jewish Child

By Kathy Miller

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It’s been two months since my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, and I still find myself thinking about it on a daily basis. Of course, I’m not worrying about the details of the party or what I’ll wear to each event or how the invited guests will get along together. Now, whenever I catch myself thinking of that day, the word that comes into my mind is gratitude and the feeling is peace.  

I am grateful for the temple of which I have been a member for these past ten years, even though I was raised Protestant and have not converted to Judaism. I have never felt more a part of a religious community than when I was sitting with the congregation listening to my daughter Sophie lead the service. Around me were other congregants whose faces were very familiar, even though many I do not know well. During the service and the lunch afterwards I was enveloped in a warm blanket of their caring for us and their welcoming Sophie as an adult into the temple family.

I am grateful for our rabbi who has never pressured me to convert but has always invited my participation in the rituals and practice of Judaism. He knew our despair over the death of my husband’s father less than a year earlier and our disappointment that none of my husband’s family would be making the journey from California to New York to join our celebration. In his generosity he allowed me and my parents to stand with Sophie for the handing down of the Torah and my whole family to join her on the bimah (podium) for the Kiddush (blessing over wine) after the service. Most meaningful of all to me, he recognized in his remarks the efforts that my husband and I have made over the years to raise our only child Jewishly and to instill in her altruism, compassion, and honesty, attributes valued by both our cultures.

I am grateful to my lifelong friends who traveled in some cases thousands of miles to join us for this most important event. From the moment we announced the date of Sophie’s Bat Mitzvah, they showed their support and intention to be part of the celebration. These friends and I were raised in a tight-knit Pennsylvania Dutch community where life revolved around the paper mill in which most of our fathers worked, the churches where we were confirmed, and the high school we all attended. We’ve helped each other through illnesses, marriages, raising children, raising horses, the breakup of long-term relationships, and living for long periods at opposite ends of the country. None of us grew up expecting that one of us would someday have a Jewish child; there was one Jewish family in our entire high school. But in the months leading up to the Bat Mitzvah, no one showed more enthusiasm for it than my oldest, dearest friends. They wanted to be part of everything, to know the significance of every ritual and every Hebrew word. And I felt indescribably honored to be the one to interpret the meaning of this service and these events in the context of our joint background.

I am grateful to my parents and sister for their unwavering support of me. My parents still live in the county in which they both were born, surrounded by a large extended family. My sister and I both chose to leave our hometown after college and have lived all our adult lives far from my parents and from each other. We both married men who grew up in families unlike our own, and our adult lives have played out in academic and professional settings vastly different from our working-class roots. Even though my parents had never been to a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, there was never an issue about their presence at ours. Yes, they had many questions (and I imagine some fears), and my sister and I did our best to prepare them and set their minds at ease. As ever, they were a solid presence for Sophie as they have always been for me, even suffering good-naturedly through the DJ and loud music at her party.

One day my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah will be a more distant memory, similar to my wedding day or the day she was born, filled with the sweetness and tears that only life in its living can bring. For today I feel the peace that comes when one chapter ends and another begins. I have the great satisfaction of witnessing the fulfillment of a promise we made when we married–to raise our children to be Jewish, a pledge made of love and with a large leap of faith on my part. My final gratitude is to my daughter. Without her commitment to being a link in the long chain of her Jewish heritage, I would never have known the joy and pride of being the mother of a Jewish child.





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About Kathy Miller

Kathy Miller lives with her husband and daughter in Fayetteville, N.Y., a suburb of Syracuse. She works part-time for a school-based alcohol and drug abuse prevention program and devotes her remaining time to volunteer work in the community, gardening, and reading. Kathy and her family attend Temple Society of Concord, the only Reform Jewish congregation in the Syracuse area. Raised as a Protestant, Kathy has not converted to Judaism, but she has been actively involved in her daughter's Jewish education.