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Divorce and Kids: When You Do What You Do–and Not What You Say

“You’re hypocrites,” Rachel, my then 19-year-old daughter in her first year of college, felt no resistance to saying this to me and her father. After 23 years of Jewish marriage, her father and I had separated and were on our way to a relatively amicable divorce. We each had started dating. And the new people who fell into our lives happened not to be Jewish.

“You’re hypocrites,” chimed in Barbara, Rachel’s 15-year-old sister. “You always told us how important it was to date Jewish people, and now you both are going out with people who aren’t Jewish.”

What they were saying was true. For years as a Jewish married couple, we celebrated Shabbat every week in a quick symbolic way. Every week we lit and blessed the candles. We had a chicken dinner. I gave the kids little Shabbat gifts, my own invention to make Shabbat more appealing. And I would always bless my daughters, first, to follow in the tradition of the strong Jewish women of Israel, and second—and I always stressed this point—that they should grow up, get good careers, and marry Jewish men. Sometimes they would challenge us on that: “Well, what would you do if we married men who weren’t Jewish?” That would stump us.

We were never big temple-goers, but we did go on the High Holy Days and celebrated all the major holidays at home. Passover was a favorite. I liked it because of its involvement with ancient Egypt, a hobby of mine; the kids liked it because their father was a great cook.

But now I am in a long-distance relationship with a Christian man I met through an Internet group intrigued with ancient Egypt. He has visited me here a few times, for a couple of weeks at a time. My former husband is seeing a local Christian woman a couple of times a week.

I suppose there is a reason for us both dating someone who is not Jewish right after our marriage ended. But I’m not sure of what it is. Could I or both of us be experimenting—or rebelling—after our long marriage?

Our kids call us hypocrites, and maybe they’re right, but we try to defend ourselves. “I’m in a different stage of life than you are,” I’ve said to my daughters. “First of all, this dating situation is not serious at this moment. And if it was, I’m not going to have any more children. I still think it’s important for parents to raise children with one religious identity. I still think you should marry someone Jewish and have Jewish children.”

They scoff at me. My former husband tells me he has been through the same inquisition and defense. And they scoffed at him, too.

It’s hard to tell how much of their reaction is anger due to the divorce—and how much is due to the fact that we do seem hypocritical. It’s probably both.

But I have to say this: I don’t feel hypocritical for some reason I can’t explain. I do feel that I am in a different stage of life now, having been married for so long and now living on my own for the first time. I am dating someone Christian, but I still feel Jewish. Yes, I could have looked for a Jewish dating partner. But my Christian friend came into my life as a friend first. And then, as these things go, “things just happened.” At some point, I may look for a Jewish dating partner.

Recently, my younger daughter said she doesn’t feel Jewish anymore. And that stung. The reason? Because we don’t do the Shabbat dinners anymore like we used to—and her parents are doing just what they always preached their kids shouldn’t: date people who are not Jewish. But my daughters still do some Jewish things: They went to temple with their father over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. My younger daughter is attending her final year of Hebrew school. And my older daughter is dating someone who has one Jewish parent. Somehow we’ll manage to celebrate Passover.

I used to think—before everything went wrong with my marriage and when my kids were younger—that I could never accept it if they married someone not Jewish. Well, now I could accept it. But guess what? I still wish they would marry someone Jewish.

So regarding my own interfaith dating situation, I guess the best I can hope for is the same reaction from them. Someday some kind of acceptance from them, even if they don’t really like it. But right now, it’s a daily struggle between explaining and being honest—and not revealing too much personal information they don’t need to hear. That goes for the divorce itself and the interfaith dating situation.

But this is what endings and new beginnings are all about. And it’s hard.

Ilene Springer

Ilene Springer is a freelance writer based in Dover, New Hampshire.