You Shall Pursue

January 1, 2012

Thoughts on Patrilineal Descent: Children of Intermarriage

Filed under: Patrilineal Descent — Tags: , , , — marleyweiner @ 3:02 am

This post is adapted from an older post on the Jewish Outreach Institute blog

In this article in the Daily Kos, author Sara Davies describes in poignant detail the challenge of being caught between often contradictory views that the Jewish community has of children of intermarriage. On the one hand, many Jews rejected her and her family as “not Jewish enough” and “unwelcome.” On the other hand, as a result of her Jewish heritage, there were many in the community who claimed that she was already Jewish but did not provide her with a mechanism, such as conversion, that would allow her to become unambiguously Jewish.

The challenge of growing up with two parents of different religious backgrounds stems from the complexity of managing an often intricate network of family loyalties and ethnic pride. As a child of intermarried parents myself, I often walk the delicate line between honoring both sides of my heritage (see my post last year on attending church on Christmas) and feeling a tremendous affinity for Judaism, while at the same time fending off questions from numerous segments of the Jewish community as to why I don’t plan to convert.

While this article explores the challenges and pain that often come from having a complicated Jewish identity, I would like to assert that children of interfaith families have a tremendous gift to offer the Jewish community. Because we have a multiplicity of identities to choose from, we are in a unique position to question and think critically about what it means for us to be Jews, thus forcing Jewish institutions to think seriously about the question of “why be Jewish?” and to create new and innovative answers to that question.

The challenge is that the Jewish community can only benefit from the gifts that children of intermarriage have to offer if they are willing to reach out and invite them in. As our Jewish community diversifies, we have much to learn, and we should consider the needs of all who wish to join us.

December 24, 2011

Thoughts on Patrilineal Descent: December Dilemma

Filed under: Patrilineal Descent — Tags: , , — marleyweiner @ 3:04 am

This post was adapted from an older post in the Jewish Outreach Institute blog.

During the December months, many interfaith families discover that they must devise creative solutions of how to meaningfully honor Christmas and Hanukkah at the same time. As this New York Times article shows, many Jewish families make out-of-the-box decisions in order to create family traditions that resonate with them. While these decisions may seem unorthodox to some, it is important to remember that one way of being a “Jewish family” does not work for everyone. The complicated decisions that families make about incorporating many different traditions into one cohesive whole do not necessarily lessen their commitment to Judaism.

Although Hayley Krischer is a Jew, married to a Jew, and raising two Jewish children, Kirsher’s ex-husband and the father of her son is not Jewish.

Although she is raising both of her children as Jews, she understands how much her son values his father’s traditions. Because of her love for her son, she makes the decision to include the Christmas holiday as part of her family’s tradition. But Hayley Krischer is still raising two Jewish children. Her son is Jewish even though he loves Christmas.

Articles like this one resonate with me at this time of year. I am a Jewish professional, and a practicing Reform Jew. And yet, I will be spending the evening of December 24 in a Presbyterian church in suburban Pennsylvania. My mother is not Jewish, and her parents are deeply religious Christians. There is nothing more important to them than having their children, in-laws, and grandchildren gathered around them on Christmas Eve. And so every year, my father, my sister, and I join the rest of the family for Christmas Eve dinner, presents, carols, and yes, church.

Many people would consider attending church with family to be a far greater capitulation than putting up a Christmas tree. However, to me, attending church is a symbol of how much I love and respect my grandparents, even though we are of different faiths. My grandparents have been incredibly supportive of my religious choices, and so I respect their desire to have the whole family together. Just as Hayley Krischer’s Jewish husband endures some discomfort to make his stepson happy, I endure some discomfort about being in a church to make my grandparents happy on Christmas.

Families like Hayley Krischer’s and mine are not unusual, and are rapidly becoming the norm. We are Jews who love people who are not Jewish, and we live our lives in constant negotiation between honoring our own faith and the traditions of people whom we love. These negotiations do not compromise our commitment to Judaism. We still seek a place in the Jewish community, and there is room in Judaism’s Big Tent for all of us.

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