The A-B-C’s of Interfaith Parenting

By Wendy Harris

September, 2003

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

My husband is Jewish, and I am not. “No big deal!!” we thought, before we had our beautiful Jewish children. Now, we’re older, wiser, grayer, fatter, and balder. Our children are eight and six years old. Trust me, we’re still learning how to do this. Or, as I told my son’s teacher, “We’re still making this up as we go along.” Pretty much, we love it! But, we have learned a little along the way. Here’s my two shekels worth, in alphabet (not aleph-bet) order.

A Is for “AAAARGH!!!”

This is what your Lutheran mother says after hanging up the phone from talking to you, when you inform her you will be raising your children Jewish. This is also what your Jewish mother-in-law says after her son (her ONLY son) informs her he’s marrying a nice Lutheran girl.

B Is for Bar Mitzvah

Yes, my son is only eight. This means I have (as of today) four years, seven months, twelve days, and eight hours until his Bar Mitzvah. I have six years, five months, sixteen days, and nine hours until my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. I already have a file on both of them to help me plan. When my husband took me to my first Bar Mitzvah, I realized I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. I told my friend, “It’s like you’re planning your wedding–only you’ve never been to a wedding before.” No big deal, right ?!!

C Is for Christmas Tree

In our house, we put the Christmas tree in the living room, and the stockings are hung by the fireplace with care. Then, we just hope that Santa doesn’t trip over the five menorahs on the coffee table when he makes his delivery. We leave out sugar cookies for him; some are shaped like trees and elves, and some look a lot like dreidels and six-pointed stars. He eats all of them.

D Is for December

I’m not going to lie to you–it’s not easy. It’s the busiest, happiest, yummiest month of the year. And, the hardest. The house is completely covered with decorations, and we have presents hidden everywhere. My husband and I try to take extra care with each other’s feelings, and we try to celebrate both our heritages. And, we try not to make it just about gifts for the kids. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we screw up. But, no matter what, we make LOTS of latkes and sugar cookies.

E Is for the Eight Nights of Hanukkah

Often, this overlaps with the twelve days of Christmas. See “D.”

F Is for Food

So, I bought a Jewish cookbook–1000 recipes. It’s not enough! You just don’t realize how much of your religious heritage is tied up in food. Not just latkes, hamentashen, and matzah ball soup. It’s the whole style of eating or something. When we got married, I’d never eaten, much less cooked, a brisket. I had no idea if a kugel was something you ate, or a new sexual position. (I’m not even going into the explanation my husband gave me on that one). But, I’m learning, I’m learning. And some of my best Jewish education comes to me as I learn how to cook Jewish. And, he loves my Lutheran casseroles, too !

G Is for Guilt

Both Jewish AND Lutheran parents are really good at this. However, G is also for Grandchildren. All of our parents have been incredibly supportive of “this interfaith thing,” especially once we gave them beautiful grandchildren to play with. My family is learning more and more about Judaism, and attends some of our services at our temple. His family is very supportive of me and my decision not to convert. Every family is different (or, dysfunctional in their own way, as I like to think of it), but, in general, grandkids seem to help put a lot in perspective, I think.

H Is for Hebrew

When the kids started learning Hebrew in our temple Sunday school, I thought, “Great! I’ll just learn it along with them! No problem.” HAHAHAHA! Needless to say, they are picking it up easily, and that’s a good thing, because they have to translate everything for me. They love that there’s something they know that I don’t, and they love getting to help me with this, so it’s actually a good thing that I’m terrible at Hebrew (this is how I rationalize it, anyway)!

I Is for I Sometimes Get Really Burned Out

I try to cut myself a little slack–I worry about our kids and all the confusion of having two faiths at home, and yet, sometimes, I think this is the best way for them to grow up with tolerance and respect for other religions/cultures/ways of life. We’re all learning as we go along. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

J Is for “Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus”

This is what my little boy’s Christian friend said to him one day when they were six, sitting at our kitchen table, eating chocolate chip cookies. As in, “The problem with Jews is that . . . ” Now, I know that technically this is not such a terribly anti-Semitic statement, but this sweet little child said this to my son with so much NEGATIVITY and so much hurtfulness, that I wanted to cry. Or throw-up. Or both. How did a six year old learn to feel negatively about an entire religion? As the mother of two Jewish children, and the wife of a Jewish man, I have a lot to learn about dealing with anti-Semitism. I don’t want to. But, obviously, I have to.

K Is for Kugel

See “F is for Food.”

L Is for Love. And Latkes. And Lutherans. And My Great-Aunt Luella

She is ninety-four years old, and her father (my great-great-grandfather) was a Lutheran minister. She has been so supportive of us trying to raise the children Jewish. Does love conquer all? I don’t know, but it sure helps.

M Is for Mensch

I married one. How did I survive before I met him? I didn’t even know what a mensch was!

N Is for “No, We Cannot Celebrate Kwanzaa and Ramadan, too.”

Last year, my daughter suggested that we also celebrate Kwanzaa and Ramadan, since we were already “doing” Hanukkah and Christmas. I told her there was no room left in the house for any more decorations, and we had to draw the line somewhere. (Could she have been scamming for even more presents? Surely not!)

O Is for Ornaments

I give a new Christmas ornament to each of my children every December, just as my mom gave one to my sister and me every year. Who knows if they will have Christmas trees when they grow up. To me, this is a precious gift I give them, of love, from me and my past to my Jewish children. We make our own traditions.

P Is for Passover

What a party! I love our seders. We invite different people every year. My matzah ball soup keeps getting better. My Methodist step-dad brings his famous matzah-chocolate-almond torte every year. We add in lots of extra stuff to our Haggadah. We need more wine every year. I love it!

Q Is for Quilt

My mother-in-law made me a beautiful quilt, which hangs on our living room wall, just as she made one for each of her daughters. She made me feel so welcome in their family, even though I am not Jewish. Stuart’s family has taught me a lot about acceptance of others.

R Is for Rosh Hashanah

After ten years of marriage, now I automatically take this day off work, as well as Yom Kippur. Now, this feels like the start of a new year to me. I’m starting to feel the year’s Jewish cycle as second nature, when before it felt so “different.” The more I learn, the more it becomes part of me.

S Is for Shabbat

Challah is proof that God is Jewish.

T Is for Traditions

Some change, some stay the same. People are more important than traditions.

U Is for Understanding

And tolerance. And acceptance. Enough said.

V – W – X – Y – Z is for Very WASP-Y X-40-Year-Old Zips Her Mouth

Enough already–you get the general drift here. I love my family and we do the best we can!!

Mazel tov and best wishes to all of you and your families!!





mm

About Wendy Harris

Wendy Harris is a part-time pediatrician, and a full-time mom. She is originally from Iowa, and her husband, Stuart Oxer, is from North Carolina. They met in Arizona, and now live in Iowa, where he is learning to survive the winters. Their son Grant is eight, and their daughter Elizabeth is six.