There’s a memory that stands out. I’m standing in the kitchen of my childhood home, talking to my parents passionately about my then boyfriend, now husband. “I love him,” I shouted. And my dad put his hand to his heart and staggered back a bit, leaning up against the dishwasher.
I wasn’t a teenager talking about my juvy boyfriend, about to run off together. I was an adult, talking about my boyfriend who wasn’t Jewish and how we were likely to raise our (future) children.
Luckily for me, my dad’s reaction was not one of despair. It was one of love, emotion and maybe a little shock. I had never told my parents that I was in love with a boyfriend. That was unchartered territory on its own, not to mention the religious implications.
The conversation quieted down a bit at that point. After all, my parents loved—and still love—him, and trusted me. But they had concerns about our plans.
Our plans were this: We would raise our children both Jewish and Christian. I felt that I couldn’t ask someone to give up their religion if I wasn’t willing to do the same. And, I’m not. I won’t give up my Judaism and wouldn’t expect a person I loved to make that request.
We would celebrate Jewish holidays as I had done all my life and we would celebrate Christian holidays as my husband had, which was more secular and familial in nature than religious. Our future children would say they were Jewish and Christian, not one or the other, unless at some point they made their own choices. But, we were going to raise them with both and educate them accordingly and make it work.
When I told my parents this was our plan, they disagreed. They thought it would be confusing for a child and that they wouldn’t understand or know where they fit. I countered that today’s world has changed and we’ll continue to see more diverse children and families and that in itself would give a child an identity.
Ultimately and quickly, to their credit, my parents accepted our decision. We were adults, in love and had discussed this before we were even engaged. We were thoughtful in our decision-making process, open with each of our families and communicative. All important pieces to making a marriage and family work.
Thirteen years later, we have a 10-year-old child and we’ve stood firm in our decision. We raise her with both of our religions and she’s proud of it—though celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas certainly doesn’t hurt.
She’s the only child in my immediate family that is being raised with both religions and the only child in her father’s extended family being raised with Judaism. And it’s been fine.
Not too long ago, I heard her tell a friend that she hoped to marry someone who was a different religion because then she could celebrate even more holidays. I like to think it’s not just about the presents, but also celebrating the diversity and learning that would come from bringing someone else’s upbringing into her family life.
I was proud. Because the world is changing. There are kids of a variety of religions and ethnicities in her world, and many of those are mixed together. Things are not just black and white, literally or figuratively, and that’s an important thing to learn. And because children are more resilient and understanding than most adults. Maybe, if we bring more cultures together and mix things up a bit more, we’ll create a sense of humanity, love and understanding that this world needs.