Mixed Blessings: A Religious Journey That Has Led Nowhere

By Jennifer Gordon


Bridge to nowhere

On August 18, 1974, a Jewish man from South Philadelphia married a Southern Baptist woman from a small town in North Carolina. From that marriage two daughters were born. They were told that they were Jewish and Christian and that neither religion was better than the other. They were raised to celebrate every holiday, but received no religious schooling at all, only the opportunity to spend the religious holidays with friends and family of different faiths.

Both the maternal and paternal grandparents supported the decision of the couple and tried to help their grandchildren identify with their religion as much as possible. Due to the fact that the couple resided in suburban Philadelphia where they had many Jewish relatives, the children were exposed more to the Jewish religion. They spent more Jewish holidays, such as seders on Passover, lighting the Hanukkah candles and receiving gifts, and breaking the fast on Yom Kippur, around their extended family as well as their grandparents. The only Christian holidays they took part in were stockings/gifts and a Christmas tree in December and Easter baskets in the spring.

Twenty-eight years later, I, the eldest daughter, have mixed feelings about religion in general. My mother has continued her religious practice by joining an Episcopalian church. My father only practices on religious holidays, but has never joined a temple. Being told we could choose our own religious path when we became “adults,” neither my sister nor I have done so. When asked what religion I am, I say Jewish and Southern Baptist. Of course, that always gets funny looks and/or a series of follow-up questions. I don’t know if I could ever identify with one religion or the other at this stage of my life, which leads me to ask the question: Did my parents make the correct decision by not choosing one religion or the other for my sister and me?

My mother once told me that if they had settled in North Carolina, she would have taken my sister and me to church on a regular basis. But, since we stayed in Pennsylvania, she felt uncomfortable doing this while being so close to my father’s family. Although I can’t say I believe Jesus Christ is the savior, would having been raised in the Christian religion have changed my attitude about that? Would I have resented my mother for making that choice for me without my input? And, although I do enjoy all of the Jewish holidays I take part in, I cannot read or speak Hebrew and don’t believe everything the Torah has to say. Had my paternal grandparents had more say, I may very well have received a Jewish education, very possibly out of their pockets. Would I have then resented them for “forcing” me to choose that path?

While in elementary school, I had one other classmate that was from an interfaith family. His parents were divorced and his mother was Jewish while his father was Christian. He told me at one point of our educational career that I wasn’t really Jewish because my mother wasn’t. It was the first and only time anyone ever told me that. At the time, I didn’t think much of it and for some reason I didn’t come home and ask my parents if that were true or not. I now realize that he was probably fed that information due to his family situation, but it still makes me wonder if there are people who believe that theory to be true. I really don’t think I believe that and it certainly didn’t change my opinion of being Jewish or not being Jewish in any way.

For many years, I said that when I became an “adult” I would most likely choose the religion of my future spouse because, although I thought it to be cool at the time to be able to take part in both religions and celebrate all of the holidays, I didn’t want my children to have to choose their religion one day. Then for a while after my teenage years, I thought I would choose being Jewish because I enjoyed the holidays and was willing to take the classes involved and then take part in a Bat Mitzvah to show my faith in Judaism. I’m really not sure why I said or thought that, possibly because I felt closer to my paternal grandparents for most of my life.

At this point, I cannot truly say that I feel any connection to Judaism or to any of the Christian denominations. I don’t feel like either parent tried to sway me one way or the other. I don’t feel more Jewish or more Christian than I did while growing up: All I feel is more confused. I often feel resentment toward my peers who were raised in one religion or the other, who got a religious education and today can relate to something spiritual while I never may be able to.

Due to all of this, religion has become a part of my life that causes more grief and confusion than peace and comfort.


About Jennifer Gordon

Jennifer Gordon was born outside Philadelphia in 1977. She was raised in an interfaith family by a Jewish father and Southern Baptist mother. Although she has a secondary education degree, she is currently working as an office manager.