My road to Judaism was a complicated one.
Raised as a secular Jew by interfaith parents (Southern Baptist mother, Jewish father), I converted as an adult after a long period of searching, studying and prayer. My four-year old son Noah converted with me. His Christian father and I decided that we wanted him to have a Jewish upbringing; one that would still honor his interfaith birthright.
It is a tricky balancing act.
My husband Brett and I come from a hodgepodge of religious backgrounds. His family tree is full of Lutherans, Christian Scientists, Methodists, Unitarians, and New Age neo-pagans. My own family is firmly agnostic, disdaining any religious affiliation while claiming a cultural one. They have all been tremendously supportive of our decision to raise Noah as a Jew.
Our holidays are eclectic. We celebrate the Jewish holidays, but we have a Christmas tree and Easter baskets, too. These holidays are so important to Brett and to our extended family that they are a part of our family’s life as well. Noah has many believers in his life, all of whom believe different things. While Brett and I have agreed that his formal religious schooling will be Jewish, we know that he will be exposed to a variety of faiths.
Perhaps the most telling symbol of our family’s decision to remain religious pluralists within our Jewish affiliation is the difficult decision we made about circumcision. Noah is not circumcised; neither will we circumcise future sons, should we be blessed to have any.
Originally, the reason for not circumcising was clear: neither Noah nor I were Jewish at the time of his birth. When I was pregnant, I researched the medical controversy around circumcision, and this is when I discovered that I was not Jewish. One inherits one’s Judaism maternally, although Reform Judaism makes exceptions for children of Jewish fathers who are raised as Jews. This loophole did not work for me: my religious education was limited to candle lighting at Hanukkah and having matzah ball soup at my bubbe’s (grandmother’s) house. As I read over the heated secular arguments pro and con, I realized that they were, finally, unimportant. My husband I agreed that since we were not Jewish circumcision would have no spiritual meaning, and so we chose not to do it.
The decision not to circumcise future sons was a terribly difficult one. As a Jew, I fully appreciate the importance of circumcision within my faith. Not only is it a symbol of God’s covenant with His chosen people, but it is a symbol of the perseverance and pride of the Jewish community. I know that within Judaism there is some discussion going on about circumcision; I do not want to be a part of the debate. I have no desire to bring other Jews around to my way of thinking since I made my decision within the singular context of my family and my beliefs.
I am a child of interfaith parents now creating my own interfaith family. I know very well that one’s journey to God is a very personal, individual one. I prayed hard about the issue of circumcision as I was studying for my conversion. I realized that as much as I wanted my children to be Jewish in a way that I could not, to be Jewish from the start, that I was confusing my own path with theirs. My son’s legacy, like my own, is one of diversity. I do not feel that I can make the decision to change his body knowing that there is a possibility that it will not have spiritual meaning for him as an adult.
I wanted to be Jewish, and that is why I converted. Judaism is my path. I feel good about that decision for myself and I feel good about orienting my son on that path. We wanted Noah to be educated as a Jew and that is why we converted him. I want him to begin his journey in a place that my husband and myself can understand and support. However, where that path will finally lead him is between him and God.
I hope that ultimately Noah chooses to remain a member of my faith and finds a wife who shares his beliefs. Maybe one day I will be the proud bubbe at my grandson’s brit milah (covenant of circumcision). However, it is possible that my grandchild will be welcomed into a religion other than my own. In any case, I know that I will be a proud grandmother. I love my son and I trust him. More importantly, I trust God. He will help my son find his own way. I can only pray that he will find his journey as fulfilling as I have found mine.