Kveller, an online magazine published the first person story of a woman whose eldest daughter from her first marriage is not Jewish and her second daughter from a Jewish marriage, is Jewish.
How this woman got to this place in life is interesting and is the result of being alive in a time when many things are possible. You might read her story and think that she should have done things differently. Or you may believe you know how she should handle things with her ex. In my work I see the bottom line being the daughter who wants to be included. Mom has her hands tied in a number of ways but there are things she can do to create work-arounds that will help her older child to feel part of the family.
Here’s my advice to her.
Rita, I’m betting that there is a lot more to this than can be put in a single article. If it is possible, I would suggest broaching the subject with your ex. Can you figure out some cultural things that our new family does that could include your daughter without upsetting him? When non-Jewish kids in my family visit us, we include them in holiday activities – decorating the sukkah, making charoses pyramids, picking flowers for the Shabbat table. Have a list of potential activities and see if he can OK them. I am guessing that she will decorate a Christmas tree, dye eggs, dress up for Halloween while with her dad. These are all Christian cultural activities. It is reasonable that raising her as a culturally aware individual that she learn about other cultures. You could include some of the Jewish traditions from Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews so that both girls have a richer understanding of the practices of others around the globe. (My sister-in-law is from Tunisia. Their dress, food, dance, music and language are all different from my Ashkenazi family.)
Also, sit down and explain to your daughter that her dad loves her and that the two of you have agreed on some special things in her life. Point out the things that she will be doing at each home and explain that this is what you both have decided to give her.
One very important thing that parents in your situation frequently fail to do is decide WHAT AGE is it that you will let your child make her choice. Will it be a particular year – age 12? 16? 18? Or will it be after a particular accomplishment? Since this is now an important time in her life, the two of you need to be clear about when it is. Then going forward you can say, “Honey, you’re learning about the different cultures that your dad and I practice so that you’ll be ready to decide when you are…”
See if there are some things around the house right now that she can do to feel included. Can she help set the table? Help make her sister’s Purim costume? Hold the poles up as you put up the sukkah? Find ways that she is essential to your family activities so you can honestly say, “You are important. You do …”
Surely your ex wants his child to feel good about herself. Approach this topic not as a conflict but as a solution that the two of you will solve together. Good luck!