Up Close: Ali & Patrick McDonald – Kveller
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Up Close: Ali & Patrick McDonald

1. How did you and your spouse meet?

Patrick and I met in a wine bar, in Kansas City. I was visiting family from out of town and went out for a drink with my mom. The bar was crowded, and Patrick gave up his seat so that I could sit down. We spent the evening talking (yes, the three of us!) and at the end of the night he asked me out. I almost didn’t go, because I lived in Vail, Colorado and thought I would never see him again. My mom encouraged me to go and enjoy a free dinner. I’ve been riding that free dinner for years now!

In the beginning, Patrick used to take 10-hour road trips to visit me, but within six months he had followed me to Vail and the rest is history. We moved to the DC metro for a couple of years after Vail and are now living in the Kansas City metro, near my family.

2. Are you raising your kid(s) with one religion, both religions, or somewhere in between? 

We’re raising our three children as Jewish. We’re synagogue members, our oldest in enrolled in Sunday school, and our son attends a Jewish preschool. My kids sing Maccabeats songs in the car!

In reality, it’s not as simple as just deciding to raise our children as Jewish. There are Passover seders and Easter brunches, Hanukkah candles and Christmas trees. It’s complicated. My husband was raised Catholic and, while he’s not currently practicing, his family is, and he was brought up celebrating all the Christian holidays. I only have one Jewish parent myself, which means that I knew that no matter who I married, my children would be exposed to the other traditions. In many ways I think that exposure can be a positive experience, and give my children a better understanding of the world at large.

As a child, I remember feeling confused about which parent was right, and I knew either religious choice would be disappointing one of my parents. I wanted to avoid that for my children. I really wanted my children to have a solid base and a faith community. So while we have a “Hanumas bush” in our home during the winter holidays, we’ve committed to raising our children in one religion. At the same time, they are learning to honor their entire family’s values and traditions. And we are very lucky that our choices for our children have been honored by our extended family in return.

3. Can you think of a particular day when it felt especially difficult to be an interfaith family?

April 13th, 2014.

It was the Sunday before Passover, and we stayed a few minutes after Sunday school to buy some things for seder. A few minutes after we left, I got a text message. It said “If you’re still at the temple, don’t go outside.”

I was absolutely sick to my stomach when I found out that there had been shootings, a hate crime, right next door. We went home, and I sent my children to their rooms and I just started sobbing. I wondered if I had made a mistake, if I was endangering my children by raising them Jewish. I had never considered that they might not be safe.

I was terrified, but I pushed back. I went to the community ceremony honoring the lives lost, where a gathering of thousands of people swayed together and sang “Oseh Shalom.” It was one of the most beautiful and moving experiences of my life. I joined the Jewish Community Center, the site of one of the shootings. My 8-year-old and I signed up to deliver Shabbat boxes to the retirement village, site of the other shooting. The tragedy struck way too close to home, but I refuse to live in fear. I can’t let one jerk with a gun ruin my life, or change the values I’m imparting to my children. In the midst of the tragedy, I realized how lucky I am to live in a place where despite our differences, I am surrounded by a caring, supportive community full of love.

4. How do you feel about your family being labeled “interfaith”?

I kind of like it. It’s just who we are. As a child, I called myself a “Jewlic” which gave the same impression. A little bit of one, a little bit of the other. Even though we’ve made the decision to raise Jewish children, we’re still a family with multiple religions in our house, and in our extended family. Plus, with a last name like McDonald, no one even knows my kids are Jewish until they get to know us! The interfaith label opens the door for people to understand where we’re coming from.

5. What did you think would be an issue about being an interfaith family that really hasn’t been?

Since my father is my Jewish parent, I have always worried about my children being treated differently since they aren’t halachically Jewish. I spent a lot of time fussing over whether I should convert to a religion I already practice, or have an Orthodox rabbi convert the children. You know, in case they move to Israel and later discover they can’t get married! But I’m a Reform Jew, and it seems a little silly to worry when they (and I) are fully recognized as Jews within our own movement. If something changes, we’ll reevaluate then.

6. How did you choose your kids’ names?

All of our children are at least loosely named after someone. Our oldest, Arabella Leona, is named after my grandfather, Louis. Her name uses his initials reversed. Our son, Judah, is named after his two grandfathers, who both have J names. The baby, Juniper, has my grandma’s middle name, Irene. We named our children according to what felt right at the time rather than any particular tradition. Ironically, my Jewish grandmother hates the name Judah–she thinks it sounds way too Jewish!

Up Close” is a photo and interview series on Kveller aiming to put a face on the interfaith conversation. We’ll be highlighting interfaith families and hearing their stories all month.

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