A lot has changed since I had my first child: I got divorced, converted to Judaism, and most recently, got re-married. My wife is also Jewish. We have a daughter together who is Jewish, and she is being raised Jewish. So far, so good, right?
But this is my second marriage and I have a fabulous daughter from my first marriage. While I do share custody with my ex-husband, my first daughter lives with me the majority of the time. And she is not Jewish.
When converting, I did a lot of reading about the commitment as a Jewish parent of raising your children to be observant Jews. You teach them or you have them taught at religious school about the history, the culture, and the religion of Judaism.
As you probably have already guessed, my ex-husband is not Jewish. When he and I were married and when we had our daughter, we agreed that since (at that time) neither of us practiced a religion, we would let her choose–or not choose, as the case may be–what she wanted to be affiliated with when she was old enough to make that decision. I still stand by that choice, as I think that faith is a very personal decision and commitment. One’s faith cannot be enforced just because one’s parents tell them what they should or should not believe.
The daughter I share with my current spouse has a connection and lineage to Judaism that my first-born daughter does not, and so while I would also say that she should ultimately be able to choose her faith, we have decided to show her what it is to be Jewish. This way, she has the opportunity to decide if she will become a Bat Mitzvah and later be confirmed, or if her exposure leaves her wanting less of Judaism.
But with my first daughter, this is not an option. While she has expressed her desire, likely because her little sister and my wife and I are Jewish, that she wants to be Jewish and go to synagogue and say the prayers, we cannot allow it. She is only 7 years old and her father does not want her to be affiliated with any religion.
So, her experience with Judaism is limited. She has been to a Hanukkah party and a Purim Carnival. She has played the dreidel game (and left with all the gelt, I might add) and she has eaten her share of hamantaschen and latkes. She was beginning to memorize the Shabbat prayers for lighting candles, eating bread, and drinking wine, so we had to start saying them to ourselves on Shabbats when she is at home with us. Saying prayers for any purpose is out with her father. I am respectful of his choice for our daughter, as I am respectful of any individual or family’s choice for themselves or their children.
But, it does make things difficult. We want my oldest daughter to feel connected to our family, and she has already said that she feels like she is not a part of our family because she is not Jewish. We tell her that her religion will be her choice when she is old enough to understand and make a decision about it. But how does one make a decision about religion if they are never really exposed to it?
Unfortunately, this isn’t an answer I have and it isn’t likely an avenue I will be able to explore. But my amazing first-born daughter is doing what she can to explore Judaism on her own terms. While she cannot choose Judaism as her religion, she can choose who to do her 2nd grade biography presentation on. While some kids were choosing Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, my daughter chose to present in the first person as Anne Frank. We went as a group to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles where she opted to buy the children’s version of Anne Frank’s life as her souvenir. Six months later when she was asked by her 2nd grade teacher to choose a famous figure to give a presentation on, she said in no uncertain terms that she wanted to be Anne Frank.
We may struggle as an interfamily to navigate the waters of one Jewish child and one gentile, but culture and history is one way we are bridging the gap in a respectful way. Judaism is a religion, and perhaps someday my non-Jewish child will choose to become a Jew as I did, or maybe it will be just fine that she knows compassion, acceptance, and even reverence for the Jewish people and leaves the religious practices to others.