Interfaith Families A Daughter and Mother's Journey
By Ariel and Cynthia Salk
Temple Chai, Phoenix, Arizona
My mom is Christian, my dad is Jewish. In my house, we celebrate Chanukah, Christmas, Easter, and Passover. My dad loves Christmas not because of the religious part but because he likes all of the family activities. My mom loves getting together with our friends and making a Seder at Passover. But, we never really attended temple or church. When I was in preschool we attended a Unitarian Congregation for a few years,then we slowly stopped going.
In the 5th grade, I decided I wanted to expand my understanding from just celebrating holidays to learning about my Jewish heritage. We talked to Rabbi Tzur to see what we were getting into. She explained that if I started going to temple, I could no longer call myself Christian. She also explained that some temples wouldnt consider me as Jewish because my mom wasnt Jewish. Rabbi Tzur made me feel very welcomed at Temple Chai so I began studying for my bat mitzvah. At first, it was confusing I didnt even know what a Torah was. I couldnt start with my grade level and it was embarrassing. Then I caught up with my class and made new friends. In my classes I learned how to read Hebrew, about the Holocaust, and what it means to be Jewish.
My Hebrew tutor helped me keep on track. She didnt just help me learn the prayers, but to understand what they meant. Now that my bat mitzvah is over, I still enjoy the 8th grade religion class and being with my temple friends.
My parents have been very supportive of my choice. Instead of trying to talk me out of my decision, my mom supported me. Instead of having a small part in my bat mitzvah, she listened to my classes, she made me study, signed me up for activities, arranged for a tutor, and planned an awesome party. I think its cool my mom didnt change her religion just for her marriage. Im proud that she sticks with what she believes in and doesnt change who she is to make it easier for her family. If my mom had been Jewish, I would have started Hebrew school sooner. Its kind of good that she wasnt because, this way, I chose my religion, which to me is a lot stronger than if it had been chosen for me. Its not what you are born into its what you believe in thats your religion.
When I got married, the fact that my husband and I were raised in different faiths didnt seem much of an issue. Though I consider myself a spiritual person, attending church or temple was not a priority for either of us. When my girls were young, we began attending a Unitarian service, and thought it might be a fit for our family. My husband wasnt comfortable, and we drifted away and dealt with our conflict by not addressing it. We continued to honor and celebrate each others holidays and tried to raise our girls in a loving and spiritual way. When my daughter, Ariel, decided she wanted to become Jewish, I was stunned. I wanted to be respectful of her choice and of my husbands (and her) heritage, but I felt left out. I felt my husband and children were entering a land where I didnt belong. Nevertheless I was determined to support my daughter and decided our younger daughter should join her sister in Hebrew school.
As Ariels bat mitzvah approached, I became anxious. Years ago, when I worked for a caterer, I had witnessed bnai mitzvah parties. I could not understand how people could lavish such amounts on parties for children.
It seemed indulgent and very, very far from religion or God. I wanted no part of this for my child. I was also anxious because for the first time, I lacked the knowledge to prepare my daughter for what lay ahead. I knew I needed help. I asked around and found a tutor who not only guided my daughter but guided me in finding God in the bat mitzvah. When I sat with the two of them and listened to my daughter sing her prayers, the beauty of it melted my heart. I was able to celebrate my daughter and her choice in a very meaningful way. Yes the party cost more money than I planned, but when I stood on the bimah and looked out at the sea of love and support for my daughter by Jews and Christians alike, it was thrilling. My Christian family and friends remarked again and again how Rabbi Tzur had respected and welcomed them. They were also deeply touched by the experience. At the party, I realized that celebrating this rite of passage was not about indulgence but an attempt to carry on a centuries-old tradition in todays manner.
There are many paths to God. I am not alone. I simply have found a larger community who will also embrace and guide my children into the future.