"I Don't Know What We're Going To Do About Them. "My Friend Motions At Her Children
By Kari Hofmaister
I don't know what we're going to do about them." My friend motions at her children who have been padding in and out of the kitchen as she makes dinner. I take a sip of my wine and nod. She's brought up the subject in passing before, but I'm hoping that she'll want to talk about it this time.
Today she continues the story: "This December at school they sent home a questionnaire with the kids asking what holidays they observe." She opens the fridge to get juice for her daughter and then turns back to me. "It turns out that they have two Jews and a Buddhist in her class. She's the only one that celebrates Christmas and Chanukah." She joins me at the table now, bringing her wine glass with her."I just don't know what to do about them. They're starting to ask questions. We're going to have to make a decision soon."
I can think of a hundred things to say to my friend, but none of them sound right. I want to tell her that her children need to be rooted in one identity. I want to tell her that if she raises her children Jewish, they will still assimilate much of her Christian culture. I want to tell her that she doesn't have to convert to raise Jewish children. I want to tell her that I would be glad to help.
At the same time, I don' t want to intervene, or to pressure her. The decision, at the heart of it, is for her and her husband alone. Religion is deeply personal, because it touches on so many aspects of your life: your social identity, your family celebrations, your parental relationships. And I remember how if anyone -- including my husband -- had insisted that I convert when I was first considering the issue, I would have dug my heels in and refused. The decision to convert had to be my idea, my choice, my decision.
So I am not entirely sure what to say to her. After all, she comes from a large and loving extended family with strong religious roots. His Judaism is like a song he learned as a child but has since forgotten the words. How can she make her children different than their cousins? How can he renounce his Jewish roots? Listening to her talk, I am reminded of something that another friend, also intermarried, once told me: "What surprises me most about being a parent is how much my children are a part of me. I never knew I could love them this much. I never expected this decision to be so hard.