Definitely Not The World of Our Fathers or Grandfathers

By Arlene Lippman


Like almost 50 percent of Jewish families in the United States, we have sisters-in-law, the aunts by marriage to our children, who are not of the Jewish faith.

My husband’s family consists of four sons who were raised by Modern Orthodox parents and influenced by Orthodox grandparents. Two of his brothers are married to non-Jewish women.

I have an older sister who is married to a Jewish man and a younger brother whose wife is of a different religion.

Our three sons have been raised in a Conservative Jewish home. Every major holiday is observed and celebrated. Often a non-Jewish family member is at our home celebrating with us. This is a comfortable and natural occurrence for us.

We are a close-knit family and are accepting of these differences. Still, we very much wished for our children to chose partners who shared our same traditions and beliefs. Our sons observe firsthand that interfaith relationships “can work.” However, their cousins from these unions do not necessarily live “Jewishly”–with what we consider that special commitment to this unique “world.”

We are the parents of three adult sons, born of a Jewish mother and Jewish father. We are the in-laws of three lovely young women, one who is Jewish and two who are not. We are the grandparents of four adorable children, none born to a Jewish mother. This is definitely not the world of our fathers or grandfathers.

What’s a Jewish mother-in-law and father-in-law to do? As we are adjusting to our unique family–or not so unique in 2003–we are feeling our way and learning as we go along.

Fortunately, both of our non-Jewish daughters-in-law have “agreed” to raise their children in the Jewish faith. What does this mean? How will that happen? We do not live in the same town as either of our sons’ families, so we cannot be as influential or as much a part of their daily lives as we would like to be. When we are together, especially at holiday time, we celebrate our traditions as we always have and try to be inclusive without being overbearing.

We also realize that our grandchildren are with their other grandparents, cousins, etc., during their holidays of Easter and Christmas. When the little ones talk to us about the Easter egg hunt and Christmas tree at Grandma’s house, we listen and try to be open-minded and not turn them off. We also always call the “machetunim” (our children’s in-laws) to wish them happy holidays. We cannot pretend that their celebrations do not exist or are not important to them. In return, we often receive Passover and Hanukkah greeting cards from them. Respecting and recognizing each other’s differences is very important in ongoing relationships.

Is all of this easy? Absolutely not. But the paths our sons have taken have created a situation that calls for us to be sensitive, open-minded and grateful that our children are happy with the choices they have made.

The world of our fathers? No way! But an interesting and enlightening one to be sure.


About Arlene Lippman

Arlene Lippman taught first grade in the New York City school system for a few years before becoming a full-time, stay-at-home mom to her three sons, now all adults. She has been an active member and past president of the Greater Hartford Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, as well as a West Hartford parent volunteer in the schools and a docent at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. She and her husband Lenny are the proud grandparents of five grandchildren.