I just finished reading this great article that was published in the New York Times, called “Being ‘Partly Jewish’” and I’m full of thoughts about it. The author, Susan Katz Miller, does a great job of commenting on a topic I’m very well versed in.
I AM the person the author was talking about! The article discusses at length the debate over having multiple faiths under one roof, and some of the opinions around this idea. My Dad sent me the link to the article and here I am, talking about it.
Comically, I would ask.. Would the children be confused? Will they become atheists? Will this produce faithless people who just celebrate holidays? NO! NO! NO! Of course not, and I can prove it.
As I said, I AM that person, I’m a child who grew up with two loving parents, each of them having a different religion. My father is a devout Episcopalian who has always been active in every church he’s belonged to. So much so that he’s sang on every choir, and typically held a position in the church’s vestry or board. My mother was Jewish and raised us in a warm, loving, Jewish household with all of the customs and traditions you would expect from a Jewish Home. We didn’t keep Kosher (no), but we followed the same customs and attended holidays with our families and preserved our faith.
What did I get out of all this?
Well, before I can answer that – I feel it’s important to give you some additional and much-needed perspective. My older brother and sister originally had been baptized and much later confirmed in my Dad’s church, my mother insisted “this one’s mine” and I wasn’t baptized. I didn’t take well to Sunday school either, as my clearest memories of that was having my older brother drag me downstairs while I was kicking and screaming, because I didn’t want to go.
We all attended church with my Dad on Sundays, all of us. We didn’t start going to Synagogue regularly until I was in my teens, so I didn’t really have the benefit of a formal Jewish education. Looking back, I would have wanted that but I didn’t lose any sleep or Jewish motivation. When I did get to Shul, it all made more sense to me, I felt more at home right away. Not saying that my Dad’s church was a cold place filled with cold people, but I just felt as if I didn’t mesh.
We did have amazing family experiences with my Dad’s church though, don’t get me wrong! I recall lots of fun helping with the Church’s mega yard sales, and in fact the clergyman here was a really nice man – Rev. Jack Chamblain I believe his name was. One of the best life experiences I ever had was going to a church retreat with my family. I still think back to all of the times we traveled with my Dad’s church to this place in VA called Shrinemont. I am hoping to take my family there one day, I think about this alot. We used to go there every year, and it was always lots of good laughter and even better people. Those were the days, I wish I could go back.
I digress, back to multi-faith families! #BeingPartlyJewish
So while my Dad’s faith wasn’t for me, we all went to church on Sunday. My mom and I sat in the back and kept each other company. I mostly slept on her shoulder, but the sermons I took in were all good, and full of G_d.
As I mentioned when I did finally get into Shul, it was like a light went on. I could feel a better connection to my Jewish roots and the culture of it, we explored this now with a new view. Both my Mom and Dad became active in Synagogue, and yet my Dad continued his practice of being a devoted Episcopalian. He learned a bit of Hebrew, so much so that I think he can sing the prayers and pronounce each line. I can’t do that!
So let’s fast-forward to today, the now. I’m a 40-something man with a family of my own. I married a Christian woman and we’ve agreed to raise our children in a Jewish home and in the Jewish faith. My boys have both been circumcised by a Rabbi, and each of them has been in a Synagogue’s academic environment since they were 1 year old. My eldest son Miles transitioned to public school this year for first grade, so we’re glad he made a good transfer in that respect. He goes to Sunday school at our Synagogue and he loves it. On Saturdays (for example) he’s been sad to wake up and find out it’s not Sunday, because he wants to goto Sunday school. My son?! Yes, my son Miles.
My youngest son, Sasha, goes to the pre-school at our synagogue and he loves it there. We love it there too because they really love our children, you can feel the love and warmth of that place.
We attend services there (as much as we can) and we live our lives – both culturally and religiously – as much as anyone would have in their chosen faith. While I’m not there every day, my wife is and she’s actually very involved in the activities there. We have participated in volunteer activities with KI, including a big food distribution volunteer day where families gathered to box and then distribute food and supplies to elderly immigrant families in Philadelphia. You’ve never experienced life until you’ve given a day to your community. Nothing more rewarding and fulfilling than giving your time and energy to help others.
Our home life is filled with everything a Jewish home should have, two loving parents, children, our Katuba is framed and hangs on the wall near our dinner table. We follow Jewish traditions and celebrate the Jewish holidays. We don’t keep Kosher either…but I’m ok with that too.
We celebrate Christmas. To all of my Jewish friends and other Christians who object, whatever. I’ve celebrated Christmas since day one, and I’m still doing it. My wife has too, so of course we want to make her faith is represented. My kids love Christmas because they’re kids and they want presents like all other kids, so who am I to deny them that? Aside from the religious significance of the holiday (and that’s losing PR these days), we do keep the lesson in this holiday alive by actively discussing what it means with our children, we want them to know. When I mean PR, I’m really making a statement that’s like JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON.
I say that and MAKE IT ALL CAPS to make a statement, as if to say that Christmas is anything but a religious experience for most these days. It’s all commercial, an over-hyped reason to shop and buy gifts. Founders of Christianity have long since turned over in their graves over this. It’s all about AA batteries on Christmas day, and less about the birth of Jesus. I don’t agree with all that, I wish more people actually gave Christmas some religious stature in their lives, but I’m one of the few people that actually care about that (well, as far as I know). I think a realist would have to equate Christmas with Shopping Mall, as that’s the closest fit.
I am Jewish. I have always represented that when people have asked about my faith and my cultural identity. Yes, we Jews do often cross over multiple lines of faith, religion, culture, and race in the same mixing machine, because that’s the way it is for us. I’ve always told people that “I’m a half-breed” and told them about my Episcopalian Father and my Jewish Mother. I tell people that my parents were interfaith pioneers. After they’re done scratching their heads I tell them…”before there was any uproar about interracial marriage, there was an uproar about interfaith marriage, and my parents loved each other enough to make their faith’s a non-issue and marry.” Before my Mom passed this year, they were married for 50 years. Considering that EVERY one of my friend’s from childhood has experienced divorce, I think that’s a strong love. I consider myself lucky to have them as an example of what a good marriage should be. That marriage produced children who all had a choice in their faith.
My sister later converted back to Judaism when she got married. I am Jewish by birth (born of a Jewish mother), and I have attended services of many denominations and I still cling to my Jewish identity as much today as I ever have.
I have attended a more modern revival church in my adult life, called Christ Fellowship. I went there for a short time when I was living in Miami, and I went there after a family friend invited me to come and hear the message. At the time, I was struggling with some of life’s common problems, and I needed some faith and enlightenment. I really liked this alot. It was very refreshing and I loved how they re-told biblical stories and gave easy-to-understand references to the original Hebrew verse or meanings of words, how and why passages of the bible were important. Most of all, the pastors there gave really passionate sermons that were positive and uplighting, nothing like your average doom-and-gloom “you’re guilty” catholic church service.
I’ve since returned to going only to Shul, but I won’t hesitate to seek faith in other places. I feel I have all the choice I want, and I still choose my Jewish Faith.
All this, and I think I turned out all right.
By Louis Wing