Keeping the Interfaith, for My Dad

By Wilson E. Baer


While I begin to prepare for my Bar Mitzvah, I worry whether my dad will be there. I am not only worried because he lives all the way on Nantucket and I never get to see him, but also because ever since he and my mom got divorced, he has hardly associated with or talked about Judaism. I consider myself Jewish and devote a lot of my time to Jewish activities, for example, going to a Jewish camp. However I also celebrate Christian holidays with my father. I respect my father’s traditions and it makes me feel happy to share them with him.

My dad’s family considers themselves Presbyterian, although he never went to church or observed the religious aspects of holidays, and he grew up never getting any religious education. Still, the gift giving and Santa traditions of Christmas mean a lot to him. On the other hand, my mom’s side of the family would always celebrate the religious ideas of Jewish holidays, and the gift giving on Hanukkah. My mom grew up going to religious school, learning the Reform Jewish traditions and sharing Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner and Jewish rituals with her family.

Before my parents were divorced, they made a point of celebrating both the major Jewish holidays and some Christian holidays. Christian holidays that I would celebrate were Christmas and, when my dad’s mom was alive, Easter, because the egg hunt and baskets meant a lot to her. My mom would participate in and respect my dad’s ways to celebrate these holidays. She has always taught me and my brother that we are connected to both the religions of our parents, and that it’s a mitzvah to show respect for someone else’s faith. As for my dad, he would take part in all the religious activities that my mother’s side of the family did as though he had converted, and even though he never converted, he had talked about the idea. But when my parents were divorced, they stopped celebrating each other’s traditions. And since then Christmas and Easter have become a part of my dad’s household, while Jewish observances happen at my mom’s.

Now that I am older I’ve gotten more and more chances to learn about Judaism. I can read Hebrew very well and many people think that I have some of the qualities needed to be a good rabbi. People around me (and also I) enjoy when I put an occasional Yiddish word or rabbi story into a conversation. Still I keep my connection to Christmas and Easter as a part of my relationship with my dad. Since my dad is not strict about the teachings of Christianity it is easier for me to celebrate holidays with him and not feel uncomfortable as a Jew. When I was younger I would always brag that I received presents on both Christmas and Hanukkah. Now that I am older I realize that I have a responsibility to stay connected to my dad’s religious views because he is part of me, and presents are less important. It’s about honoring relationships, which feels like a Jewish idea to me, by respecting my father’s views on religion. This makes me feel special instead of making me feel divided.

I really want my dad to come to my Bar Mitzvah because becoming a Bar Mitzvah means that I have completed an important part of Jewish learning, and to me it would feel like something was missing if my dad weren’t there. Even though my dad doesn’t associate with Judaism anymore, I hope he realizes that my Bar Mitzvah is not only about Judaism, but is a real part of me. My dad will probably be there because he is proud of me. And if he doesn’t come, I will be very disappointed, but I know he will still be there within my soul.

Wondering what happened at his Bar Mitzvah? Hear an interview four years later with his mother, Elizabeth Baer, in