You might want to sit down for this. My wife’s a rabbi, my mother’s a minister and I’m ok.
Let me explain how no one was harmed in the making of this particular human being. My father is a lay Jew and my mother is a Christian minister. My parents didn’t take the advice of most of the early 1980s interfaith family literature–to choose one religion for the kids, who otherwise would be confused. Quite the opposite: I grew up with both religions in the house–I had a bris and a baptism as well as a confirmation and a bar mitzvah. At the height of my religious duality, my father took me to synagogue on Friday nights and we went to see my mother preach on Sundays.
Was I confused growing up? Sure, but not much more than the average kid, I bet. As a teenager, I, naturally, rebelled. Hadn’t they thought about how hard it was just to have a minister as a mother? Any rabbi or preacher’s kid can attest to that. Like most teenagers, I wanted to fit in. I was weird enough as a minister’s kid, but adding the fact that I was also Jewish to that mix was just too much. I felt like my parents were imposing their radical, post-modern values on my siblings and me. So, I yelled, kvetched, and generally blamed them for everything that went wrong in my life. A typical teenager.
As an adult, I can see how my religious journey, through a dual religious education, and now to Judaism has been a beautifully rewarding experience.
I can say now that my parents did a better job than many single-faith families do at instilling a sense of faith and purpose. My parents believed that as long as their children had faith in God and a belief in the Golden Rule and social justice, they had succeeded. They left our adult religious practice up to us to figure out.
Interestingly, it was my mother who was responsible for my Christian and Jewish educations. As my brother, sister and I were approaching bar/bat mitzvah age, my mother told my dad that she wanted us to have a Jewish education. My father obliged, and we each had a bar and bat mitzvah at our local Reconstructionist synagogue. This process reignited my father’s Jewish practice. He had been wandering in the proverbial desert since leaving his parents’ home.
As for the Christian part of me, I also went to Christian Sunday school and had confirmation training–basically the Christian version of a bar mitzvah with less Hebrew and more Jesus–at a local church, a half a mile down the road from the shul where I had become a bar mitzvah.
I became a practicing Jew in college. I went to Hillel to meet Jewish women, and I met my future wife, who was then a Hillel co-president. I got hooked on her and Hillel, and I become a fixture at Kabbalat Shabbat services. A year later, Sara told me she wanted to be a rabbi. I thought, great, a little Freudian, but I’m in love with her and could see myself marrying her. And hey, if we ended up getting married, I’ve got my Dad to ask about how to stay sane and helpful as a clergy member’s partner.
What did my mother think of my transition to a Jewish practice? As long as my religious practice helps me to reach God and practice social justice and, of course, be happy, then she’s happy. It may seem hard to believe, but she is totally non-possessive of her children’s religious practice as long as it passes the God, social justice and happiness tests.
Five-and-a-half years after we met at college, Sara and I were married under the arch in Washington Square Park in New York City. Our Hillel director from college officiated at the Jewish ceremony and the reception was, unsurprisingly, held in the meeting hall of my mother’s church–Judson Memorial–on the square.
As for raising our kids, we plan on raising our children Jewish, and bringing them over to my parents’ house for Easter and Christmas. We’ll occasionally recite the blessing that I did at home before meals: “God be above us, below us, all around us, and with our friends and family that aren’t here.” As parents, we will show our kids a religious life that includes both of our heritages.
Though it wasn’t always easy, I’m happy that my parents complicated my religious upbringing. I have faith in God, a wonderful wife, and a purpose in life to pursue social justice, not to mention a default subject for cocktail conversation. My parents empowered me to find my own relationship with God and religious practice. What better gift could you give a child?