Interfaith Challenges



My column in this week’s CJN deals with Interfaith problems around the holidays.

Dear Ella,

My daughter married a man who isn’t Jewish, and this is the first year that I’m invited to their house for a holiday/Christmas dinner.

When Rose first brought Richard home, we really liked him. He’s a gentleman, educated, has a good career, and he treats our Rose with respect and love. His parents are soft-spoken, fine people and we all get along very well. However, religion has always been the elephant in the room.

Rose warned me in advance that they have a Christmas tree in their home, and that she doesn’t want to hear a word about it. I raised both my children in a Jewish home and they both went to Hebrew school. We celebrated every holiday with family, from Passover seders to attending High Holiday services – even the lighting of the Chanukah candles was always done as a family.

I never for one second thought there would be a possibility that our grandchildren would not be raised Jewish, but it looks as if organized religion is not important to either my daughter or her husband.

When I try to bring up the subject to Rose she puts her hand out and stops me immediately. She doesn’t want to hear my opinion, and she tells me very firmly that she and Richard will bring up their children the way they see fit, and it’s a private and personal choice that will be decided between them alone.

I know this is premature, as Rose has only been married since June and there are no children yet. But I think this is a very important decision they should have made before they got married. I don’t want to lose my daughter. I love her dearly, and if it means that I have to sit back and let it happen, then I’ll have no choice.

But I am heartbroken and my husband has taken this very personally. I hope it doesn’t break up our family. What would you do?

Religious Woes

Dear Religious Woes,

You and your husband have done your best for your two children. You have raised them in a loving home, put a roof over their heads, made sure they had a Jewish education, celebrated all the holidays as a family and attended synagogue on High Holidays. You’ve done the best job as a parent that you could. Rose is right in saying this is a private and personal choice.  Trust that the values you’ve instilled in Rose are pure and wise.

Rose has made her choice with Richard, and by your own admission, he is a decent, fine young man who comes from a good family.

According to Jewish law, if a child is born to a Jewish mother, that child is Jewish. However, if the child is not raised with Jewish values, that point may be moot.

It’s not your place to dictate to Rose how to raise her children – in fact, if you do, it may backfire. Instead, you need to support Rose and Richard. That doesn’t mean you can’t make your wishes clear: you are entitled to your opinion, but why not wait and see? Don’t make a problem where there isn’t one yet.

If and when the time comes that Rose and Richard have children, you can continue to invite them over to your home for Passover seders, lighting of the menorah and latkes, have them eat in a sukkah, teach them the traditions in which their mother was raised. Invite Richard’s parents too, let them learn about Judaism along with their grandchildren. Make sure those times are about family, love and learning. Tell them why you are eating matzah, or why there are eight candles on a menorah. Don’t preach, make it a relaxed and positive experience.

This way you can contribute to making sure your grandchildren have a taste of what their Jewish heritage is about. Richard’s family may do the same with their faith, but in the end, it will be Rose and Richard who will decide what kind of a home they will raise their children in. Raising a child in an interfaith marriage can be confusing, especially if the child is raised to follow both religions. Rose and Richard will do what they feel is best for their family.

Take control where you can. Do your part as grandparents, teach and show the beauty and history of the Jewish faith, while, at the same time, teaching tolerance and acceptance of other faiths as well. Armed with knowledge, cloaked in love of family, these children will eventually end up making their own choices.

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