I’m in the planning stage of a program on adoption in interfaith/intercultural and Jewish families. As I spoke to various local people who are adoptive parents I got this email from Michael Tejeda, a gentleman who has been generous in sharing his insights.
As you might expect, I have some opinions about this.
I didn’t convert until my daughter was 7 years old, so we were an interfaith family for that amount of time. I remember struggling with this at the time since I was always philo-Semitic, my wife is Jewish and my daughter had an infant conversion but I just wasn’t religious.
I believed that my daughter wouldn’t benefit from a split religious upbringing. We attended Christmas celebrations with friends and relatives and we also had Passover and Hannukah. We told our daughter that lots of people were Christians, among other things, but that she and mom were Jewish. When my daughter was 7, I took the plunge. I remember when she realized what had happened she said to me, “Daddy, now we are a real Jewish family”. So even at a young age, we had already taught her to value her Jewish identity.
I know lots of interfaith families and unless the religion of one or the other parent predominates, the result is more often than not a child who grows up irreligious. This isn’t good for the Jews. You can respect and love Christians but if your kid ends up believing in Jesus, they won’t be Jewish. That’s really the bottom line.
Christianity is all around us. It’s very easy for someone to have an indeterminate faith and wind up as an adult falling into one of the many varieties of Christian practice. Without giving a child a fairly definite idea of what Jewish faith and practice is, they are unlikely to find it in the larger world.
Don’t get me wrong, I actually think that intermarriage is fine. Look at me. My intermarriage brought two new Jews into the fold, my adopted daughter and me. I just think that you have to think about it in advance and decide what the child’s religious identity is going to be – hopefully Jewish.
I believe that some of our problem is a failure of Jewish institutions to adapt to the situation that American Jews find themselves in. Despite the increasing rate of interfaith marriages, there is no official mechanism to “Jewishly” sanctify intermarriages.
When I was a kid, the American Catholic Church, while not encouraging intermarriage, had long since stopped forbidding it. There was an official marriage ceremony, performed by a priest. It was called getting married “outside the altar rail”. After my father died, my mother got married again in such a ceremony, since my mother was a Catholic and my new step father was a Protestant of indeterminate variety.
In order to have this Catholic wedding ceremony, my step father had to agree to support my mother in raising the children as Catholics. He agreed and they had a Catholic wedding. All of us kids (5) were provided with a Catholic upbringing. In retrospect it was an ingenious system.
I’ll bet if there was such a system for Jews, more than half of the intermarrying couples would take advantage of it and It would solve a lot of the interfaith marriage problems.
As you can see my system prefers to operate with a Jewish bias and I think that you are looking for something even handed.
What I’m looking for is honest opinions and experiences. Michael has shared his real life experiences and I thank him for that.
The program I am planning will occur on Thursday, April 20 in Walnut Creek. Email me for details, Dawn, firstname.lastname@example.org