This year on Mother’s Day, I’m grateful for my non-Jewish mother.
I’m a Jewish convert, raising a Jewish family. It’s not an easy decision to raise your family within a tradition that is very different from your own. It’s hard not to take the choice personally, as a parent. To not feel as though you are being rejected, that the choices you made for your own family were somehow lacking or not good enough to be continued into the next generation.
My journey through conversion wasn’t easy or without drama (but I think that’s probably true for everyone). I talk to my mother every day, usually more than once. I grew up being told how much I resembled her: we look the same, our voices sound the same on the phone, and we react similarly in most situations. Making the choice to convert to Judaism–to fundamentally change the way my children would be raised, to throw myself into a community that is so very different from the one that I had when I was a child–all of this hurt my mother.
I knew it would hurt her. I knew that she would take it personally. I knew that she would question why. I also knew that she raised me to think for myself, to make decisions that made sense for me, and that she trusted me to do what was right for my family. In the end, I knew she loved me enough to let me make my own decision.
My mother loves my husband, and she adores our children. She does her best to understand Judaism, to understand what attracted me to it, and why I made the decision to formally convert and raise our children as Conservative Jews. She makes a point of calling to wish us happy holidays, and always asks for details on how we’re celebrating. She’s even adjusted to not having us around on Saturdays, or making sure that family functions that do happen on Saturday start late enough in the day so that we can go to services first.
In the Jewish community, there are a lot of endless discussions about Jewish continuity. How can we make sure that our children will stay Jewish, will marry Jewish, and will give us Jewish grandchildren? I sympathize with the sentiment, even if I don’t necessarily share it. You see, I don’t have any preconceived notions about what my children will choose as adults. But one thing I know for sure is that it doesn’t have anything to do with me. Because my choice to convert wasn’t a slap at my mother, it wasn’t because she did something wrong as a parent, or because I didn’t value my heritage or upbringing.
I hope that my children will always feel at home at a synagogue. I hope that their calendar will revolve around the Jewish holidays, and that Shabbat dinner at my house will always include a crowded table, filled with children and grandchildren, a lot of laughter and chaos and fun. But I also know that what I want most for my children is what my mother wanted for me–for them to live their lives according to what they want, and make smart choices based on what’s best for them and their future families. If that means Judaism, wonderful. If not, that’s OK, too. Because my kids are Jewish, but they’re still a part of my mother’s family. Her influence on them is everywhere, from the birdhouses she and my stepdad made with the kids, to the songs I sing at night to help them fall asleep. I hope that the same will be true for my own grandchildren, whether they are being raised Jewish or not.
Judaism is a part of who my children are, and a heritage that I’m proud to raise them in, but it’s the way my mother raised me, with love and acceptance and approval for my choices–even when they didn’t match up with what she chose–that’s what I want to pass on to my children.
Happy Mother’s Day, indeed.