Converting Our Adopted Daughter to My Husband’s Religion

By Karen Loftus Zaretsky

January 2003


My daughter has been through a lot in her very young life. She’s asleep right now, unaware of the new journey she’s about to begin. Tomorrow morning my husband and I will take her to the ocean (serving as a mikvah or ritual bath) where she’ll be converted before a Beit Din (court of rabbis). My husband will dip her into the ocean, and her life as a Jew will begin.

Last June we were united with our daughter, who was born in China. She’s changed our lives in so many ways, and even after having her in our home for only a few months, we can’t imagine how we lived without her (we also would like to know what we used to do with all of our spare time!).

She’ll probably have quite a few questions as she grows older about what it means to be Chinese and what it means to be a Jew. I feel helpless since I can’t help her with either of those questions.

My husband and I met in 1993 and fell quickly in love. We knew we wanted to get married, but we knew that our backgrounds would make it difficult. We took a full year discussing our future lives together before we got engaged. You see, my husband was raised as a Conservative Jew and I was raised as a Catholic. We are both strong in our faiths and we needed to figure out so many variables, such as what type of wedding ceremony to have, how we would raise our children, where we would be buried.

Having children for us was always a “when,” never an “if.” However, as they say, man plans and God laughs. After five years of an infertility roller coaster, we decided to pursue adoption.

Before we married, we agreed to raise our children as Jews, but now I’m finding that I feel not only sad but also nervous. How can I, a woman raised in a different faith, raise a Jewish daughter? It helps that my husband is very supportive of my faith; he attends midnight Mass with me on Christmas and encourages me to have a Christmas tree. He has never asked me to convert, and he tries to learn what he can about the Catholic faith. We have a kosher home and have always celebrated the Jewish holidays either at home or with his family. We also celebrate Christmas and Easter with my family.

I’m what they call a “salad bar Catholic”: I take what I want from the faith that I was raised in, and I leave the rest, such as the concepts of salvation and original sin. But I do get angry when I hear people say, “Oh, you’re raising your daughter as a Jew because your husband has a stronger faith. Nope, that’s not true. It isn’t a religious “strong man” competition.

My reasons for deciding to have my daughter become Jewish, however, are still strong. I believe we’re all climbing the same mountain, just taking different paths. And I don’t believe that anyone has the market cornered on “truth” when it comes to spirituality. We wanted to worship as a family and to give our daughter a strong foundation in one faith. We chose Judaism not because it’s better or more “true,” but because it’s the common denominator of our two faiths. I can worship with my family in a synagogue and agree with just about everything–almost feel completely a part of it. If our daughter were raised Catholic, however, my husband would have difficulty worshipping in a Catholic church and accepting its doctrine. Also, I wouldn’t want to raise her in a third, compromise faith. Judaism and Catholicism are what we know, who we are. A middle ground may work for other families, but it didn’t seem to be a solution for us.

My siblings (four brothers and two sisters) are respectful of my decision, but I know they don’t feel completely comfortable with it. I told my family that I would be raising my daughter the way Mary raised Jesus. Unfortunately, that didn’t go over very well. My sister asked me if it was fair to make my daughter even more different: she’ll be a Chinese Jew with interfaith Caucasian parents. Some of my family feel that my husband is forcing me into this decision, that I’m giving in too much and losing myself in the bargain. But anyone who truly knows me should know that I don’t “give in” very easily.

The most surprising reaction I got from my family happened back when I told them I was getting married. My dad, a former prisoner of war in Japan and a survivor of the Bataan death march, said something that helped me keep everything in perspective. First he asked the basics: “Do you love him?” “Does he have a job?” “Is he an actor?” After passing all of those questions with the correct answers, “yes,” “yes,” and “no,” respectively, he said something else: “You have to keep in mind your husband’s background and that of his family; remember no one was trying to exterminate Catholics fifty years ago.” I was shocked at the worldliness of my father and heartened by it at the same time.

Nevertheless, the tension in my family–particularly with my mother–was tough to take this past Christmas, our first one with our daughter. Although she treated her granddaughter wonderfully and genuinely loves my husband, I could see the disappointment in her eyes, and it’s this disappointment that haunts me. I hope someday she can come to understand my decisions. But only time will tell.

And I guess I can understand her sadness. I long for certain things that I’ll never experience with my daughter. For example, I’ve always loved the blessing of the mother and child that is performed at a Christening (baptism). I’ll miss seeing my daughter walk to the altar for her first communion in her little white dress. I’m sad my daughter will never believe in Santa Claus or the Easter bunny, even though my husband and daughter will help me celebrate Christmas and Easter.

We’ll join a synagogue nearby–Conservative, Reform or Reconstructionist. It’s been tough to find someplace where we’re both comfortable, but it’s important we belong somewhere. I’ll learn to look forward to new things like Purim carnivals, family seders, and Hanukkah parties.

My daughter has quite a journey ahead of her and it looks as if I’ll be making it with her. I know it won’t be easy, but if I can teach my daughter anything, it will be that you shouldn’t do things just because they’re easy.


About Karen Loftus Zaretsky

Karen Loftus Zaretsky is a multimedia designer who lives with her husband, daughter, and dog outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She hopes to add to her family as soon as possible.