My husband and I are part of an increasingly popular “majority minority.” Both of us have siblings that are in happy, committed interfaith marriages. This seems to be the direction of American Jewry.
To say that I adore my sister-in-law and my husband’s brother-in-law, and admire their healthy and loving marriages, would be an understatement. There are not enough words to describe the love I feel for them and their families. When I see photos of my niece, my heart bursts with joy.
However, it leaves us, as parents, in a bit of an odd predicament when it comes to our own child(ren). My brother and sister-in law will be raising their children as Hindu, and my husband’s sister and brother-in-law do not plan to have children at all, which means at this rate, our son will have no Jewish first cousins. He, and any of our subsequent children, will not have any cousins to call up to the bimah on his bar mitzvah day to share in an aliyah or read a Torah portion. He will not be packing his suitcases to attend any out of town family bar or bat Mitzvahs. No brit milahs, no baby naming ceremonies, no break-the-fast dinners, and no family Hanukkah parties filled with latkes and dreidel competitions.
This is an increasing occurrence in American Jewry, which leads to inevitable tough questions we know will come our way as Jewish parents in this evolving new normal.
There is no denying that Judaism is an inherent part of our being. We are not religious Jews. We do not have three sets of dishes in our home. We often break the rules of kashrut by allowing treyf into our refrigerator and freezer. We rarely observe Shabbat. However, we are staunch Zionists who took our “babymoon” in Israel. We dedicate time and money to Jewish organizations locally and internationally, and we find a majority of our circle of close friends Jewish.
We plan our calendar year around the high holidays, Hanukkah, and Passover, and our son will be more likely to know Yiddish terms such as schlep, tuchas, punim, and mensch than their English translations! Mezuzot hang on every door in our home, and our ketubah is framed and displayed prominently in our living room.
But still, how do we continue to instill a strong Jewish identity in our son when a majority of his close extended family does not share in that same identity? It’s a tough combination, particularly when we don’t want to offend or upset any of our immediate family. It’s going to be a delicate dance, and we will have to tread lightly.
There is no easy answer, but we chisel away at the concept everyday. We discuss our desire to travel to Israel as a family every three to five years so that our son will understand the importance of Israel to our people. My husband plans to recite the Shabbat blessing over the children every Friday evening while taking the time in our own way to slow down, acknowledge, and observe Shabbat. We plan to maintain family traditions and create new traditions surrounding our important holidays, while delicately explaining to our son why we value these holidays and celebrate them as opposed to other holidays that his cousins may be celebrating. We will try to explain to our nieces and nephews why we prefer to spin dreidels and eat latkes as opposed to celebrating their special holidays, and will kindly request that our son’s aunts and uncles understand and respect our wishes to forego receiving gifts or other tokens during holidays that are not of religious importance to us.
We will invite them to join and celebrate with us, and we will happily travel and celebrate their holidays and religious rituals with them. After all, it is important that our son understand and appreciate their culture and religions as well. Simply because we do not share a religion does not mean we do not share a close bond. We are not “better” or “worse” than them, and our values and beliefs do not trump theirs. We must work hard to instill understanding and appreciation of their blended families because, after all, we are now one big, happy, blended family.
In the future, we know our son will begin to ask tough questions, and it is comforting to know that we will have some time to prepare ourselves for how to best answer those questions. For the time being, we continue to challenge ourselves as we learn to navigate this new reality while ensuring our son understands the importance of his own identity as we continue to embrace our own Judaism in today’s modern world.