A Birth of a New Kind

By Heather Subba


Publisher’s Note: InterfaithFamily encourages interfaith families to make Jewish choices and to raise their children as Jews, while honoring the non-Jewish parent’s religious tradition. To further understanding, we publish stories showing different approaches that interfaith families take in raising children.

I have never doubted that I am Jewish. Both of my parents are Jewish and I began attending religious school at an early age. Since I chose to marry outside of the Jewish faith, I am not sure if my child will grow up having the same ease of identification. Passing culture, tradition and religion onto him or her may not be a straight and direct path. It may be more like a meandering course with twists, turns and plenty of surprises along the way.

Before I became pregnant, my husband and I worked hard to bridge our cultural and religious divides. My husband is from Nepal and he was raised as a Hindu. We learned the art of compromise, the cost of sacrifice, and then the joy of unity. We learned to appreciate our similarities and to respect our differences.

Now that I am pregnant, it’s not just about my husband and me anymore. There is a whole separate life to consider. While interfaith and interracial marriage has become more common, I still worry about how my child will see him or herself. Will he or she identify him or herself as Jewish or as Hindu or as both? Will my child feel more American or more Nepalese?

Raising our child without a Jewish education would definitely hurt my family. I know that my parents would feel deeply disappointed if our child did not become a bar or bat mitzvah. It’s how I feel that is less absolute. In my eyes, the Jewish tradition is to enroll your children in religious school, guide them to become a bar or bat mitzvah and then to empower them to be confirmed. Following that, when the decision to marry comes, following tradition means marrying a Jewish person. Since I broke with that tradition, how can I ethically put my child on a path that I myself did not follow? Will this not confuse the child?

My husband’s family will also want our child to identify with the Hindu religion and Nepalese culture. While my husband and his family are incredibly open-minded people, it is important that the next generation is learned about the Hindu religion and understands their Nepalese ethnic background. I completely agree on this point. I think the child should learn about Hinduism and Nepal. Yet, I cannot let go of my background and heritage either. Both of our families believe that their religion and culture are important to who they are. This may be true for them but our child does not belong to only one of these religions or cultures.

So, that brings us to the difficult question: How can you raise your child with two religions and two cultures? How can you send your child to Hebrew school during the week and then to the Hindu temple on Sundays? I think the answer is the same as the lesson my husband and I learned early on in our relationship. We have to compromise, sacrifice some individual beliefs, and unify. Most importantly, we have to keep an open mind about what religious values truly signify.

If values are the fingerprint of an upbringing, then both the Jewish and Hindu religions have wonderful lessons to offer a child. Spending time in Hebrew school and Sunday school until I was 18 years old, gave me an appreciation for world culture. I learned to read and write in a new language (Hebrew) and I met the first people I knew from another country (Israel). Learning about Israel through songs, books, videos and food made me appreciate the world beyond the immediate borders I knew as a child. This exposure to world culture solidified deep inside of me and encouraged me to explore the world and open my mind and my heart to different people, countries, and situations.

When I reflect on the values I learned from my religious education, they were really less about religion and more about universal values. These universal values include: being a mensch, or a good human being, doing mitzvahs or good deeds, and honoring your family and your neighbors. In essence, be a good human being and an active participant in the world.

Ironically, it is my own Jewish background and values that enable me to appreciate, respect and connect with the Hindu faith. When my in-laws put a tika on my forehead to bless me or when they recite a prayer, I identify with them. When they ask a religious advisor for guidance or for auspicious dates, I understand. When they happily celebrate a religious festival, I feel their joy. My religious education has taught me that the validity of a belief is not in the name you call it but in the way you express your beliefs and in the way you show yourself to the world. In this way, I don’t think Judaism and Hinduism conflict. A Hindu or a Jew doesn’t have to believe in every teaching. He or she can draw inspiration, gain knowledge, and interpret values from religious teaching and spiritual leaders. Then, he or she can take these lessons and shape them into what’s meaningful for a deeper belief in him or herself.

My feeling is that our child will not be purely Jewish or purely Hindu. He or she will not be purely American or purely Nepalese. He or she will simply be who he or she is, shaped by the values that we give to him or her. If he or she is called a Hindu or a Jew, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he or she feels love, acceptance, and belonging in our family, in our community, and in the world. Then, in return, our child will hopefully radiate that love and positivity to all whom he or she comes into contact with.

I can’t argue that dual membership in two worlds is the easiest path to follow. Yet, I can say that in my own experience I’ve learned a lot more about myself from the bumpy rides than the smooth ones. Our child, Jewish or Hindu or both, will follow his or her own path and ultimately, his or her own heart. That’s the beauty of any religious awakening.


About Heather Subba

Heather Subba lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two children. She works in the field of educational publishing.