When my husband and I met, he was Jewish. I was an absentee Catholic. Very early on, we agreed that we both wanted kids, and that they would be raised Jewish. At the time, I didn’t fully grasp what that meant.
Over the course of the next few years, I learned about Jewish traditions and culture. We had as Jewish of a wedding as a Jew and a non-Jew can have. When our son came along, my husband searched the Bay Area for a mohel who would ritually circumcise Sam. Since I was not Jewish and so neither was Sam, this was not an easy task. Finally, we found one and our son had his bris at home on his eighth day of life.
Sometime in the following few years, I decided to convert. My year of studying with the rabbi was one of the most important of my life. The rabbi said, “You’ll know you’re ready when you stop thinking of Jews as ‘them’ and think of it as ‘us’.” My studies, attending shul, searching my soul, and my time speaking with the rabbis gradually, over time, transformed me into a Jew. When the scheduler called with my date for the mikveh, I was as excited as I was about scheduling my wedding day.
My beautiful son attends a Jewish preschool. If you ask him, he is Jewish. His favorite game right now is to pretend to be Judah Maccabee and to vanquish the Greeks. We have a Reform Jewish household. No one has said to Sam, “Your mother wasn’t Jewish when you were born, so you’re not really Jewish.”
That day is coming. I see it all the time, in comments on Kveller to non-Jewish women who are working on raising Jewish children. “Well, you’re not Jewish, so your children aren’t, so why do you care?” It is seemingly part of the Jewish tradition to debate and judge who is “in” and who is “out.”
Only the Reform tradition accepts patrilineal children. Whether this should change or not is irrelevant to me. I joined a faith and a culture in which the majority view is that the line is followed through the mother. I am not raising my son with two religions, nor am I raising him with none. I am raising a Jewish boy who will become, I hope, an observant Jewish man who will value the traditions that his father passed down to him by blood and that I passed down to him by choice.
Next month, we will be taking our son to the mikveh to complete his “infant conversion.” We won’t tell our 4-year-old that this experience will “make him Jewish.” We’ll tell him that this is a blessing for him because he is a big boy. Before his bar mitzvah, we will tell him about our choice and let him decide to accept or reject Judaism.
I’ve had people say to me, “Who cares what others say?” But this isn’t about what others say. It is about completing the circle for my son. Another common comment is, “The Orthodox won’t recognize either of your conversions, so why do it?” I’m not a perfectly observant Jew, but this choice matters to me. I cannot change that I was not Jewish at birth, or that he wasn’t.
What I can do is choose actions for him that are in line with what we are teaching him. It is the fulfillment of a promise I made a long time ago.