From the Mixed and Matched column in the J-weekly.
My son-in-law isn’t Jewish. My daughter and he took their 2- and 4-year-old sons to a huge Easter egg hunt this year. It’s the first time they’ve done that and it really upset me. I’m sure my daughter knows this bothered me. I haven’t said anything because they say they are raising the boys Jewish and I don’t want to jeopardize that. I’m so upset. What should I do? I want to remain close to my daughter but I feel like this is just the first step in a downhill process away from Judaism. — Distraught Grandmother
Dear Distraught: I’m sorry this has hit you so hard. Let’s see if we can cut this down to a manageable size. You are close to your daughter and you believe she knows you are upset. The best thing to do is to have an honest conversation with her that’s not colored by negativity that will put her off.
Let’s begin by taking a look at your fears. You’re worried that the egg hunt is the first step in a loss of Judaism for your grandsons. I can assure you that participating in an egg hunt, no matter how magnificent, will not dampen your grandsons’ Jewish identity. No, it is not a Jewish activity. But even if this becomes an annual event, remember that it really is just one day. If your daughter and son-in-law are raising the boys with Jewish holidays and lifecycle events, they will absorb a Jewish way of life that one day of chocolate eggs can’t destroy.
But it sounds to me like you feel that taking the kids to the Easter celebration was symbolic of much more. You feel it’s a signal that the Jewishness of your family is beginning to slip away before the dominant Christian culture. First Easter eggs, then Christmas, then Jesus and pop! the kids aren’t Jewish any more. While the presence of American Christian culture can feel overwhelming, I invite you to think in terms not of eliminating the external culture but of building up the Jewish traditions and knowledge in your grandsons’ environment. Obviously you can’t do that yourself, but you can help your daughter’s family to the extent that they want your participation.
You need to find out how your daughter and son-in-law define “raising the boys Jewish.” Do they intend to observe Shabbat each week? Do they celebrate the Jewish holidays? Will they join a synagogue? Will the boys go to Hebrew school? Will they have bar mitzvahs?
If you knew what the big-picture plan was, you’d be able to weather the non-Jewish activities more easily. You could look at the long-term Jewish living plan versus the chocolate bunny of today. It sounds like your daughter and son-in-law may not yet have a plan, at least not an articulated one. You’ll be doing them a favor if you can bring this up in a way that is gentle and supportive of their parenting.
You know best whether it would be more comfortable for them if you had a mother-daughter talk or if you should sit down with both your daughter and her husband. Decide which format is best for them and make a date for a visit. You may want to let them know what you want to discuss. If that feels too intense, just bring it up in a casual and gentle way.
Here’s how you could address things: “I was surprised that you took the boys to the Easter egg hunt and it made me aware that I am not really clear on how you two are thinking about the process of raising the boys Jewish. I’d like to be helpful if I can, but I also want to respect your choices. Could you explain to me what you’re planning and could you tell me if there are ways I can help?”
Some things you could offer are:
• Having the family over for Shabbat dinners
•Taking the boys to Tot Shabbat services or other Jewish activities such as a Purim carnival
• Signing up your grandsons for the PJ Library program
• Giving them Jewish toys, books or videos
• Reading to them and telling them family stories
I know many Jewish daughters who love having their mothers’ support. Open the conversation with love and she will respond to you.