Posted by: hatzihatzi | May 7, 2010

In the beginning

Recently I attended a meeting of a group called the Mothers Circle.  The Mothers Circle is a nationwide group of young non-Jewish mothers who choose to raise their children Jewish, presumably because they are married to Jewish men.  I wanted to attend this meeting not because I fit in this category, though I am a young mother and am married to a Jewish man, but because I myself am half-Jewish.  I wanted to meet women who would be raising kids like me.  I wanted to tell them how great I thought it was to be half-Jewish.  But I misunderstood the mission of the group.  These women didn’t unite under the common cause of raising half-Jewish children.  They came to raise Jewish children.

Nonetheless, I tried telling the other women how much I enjoyed being half-Jewish.  I enjoyed being part of two distinct cultures but realizing how similar they are.  But one of the other participants looked at me confused and asked how Judaism and Christianity were compatible.  “Jesus is either the savior or he isn’t.  There is no middle ground.”

“Well, obviously except for that.”

She scoffed.  “Don’t you think that’s an important part of Christianity?”

What was the best way to answer this question?  To argue that she’s presenting a straw man?  Of course Jesus is important, but he was a rabbi and half her Bible is the Jewish Bible.  To play devil’s advocate?  If Jesus’ divinity was a crucial part of Christianity, why weren’t his miracles mentioned by Paul, someone largely responsible for spreading Christianity?  If following Jesus made one Christian, why did his contemporary followers consider themselves Jewish?  To be offended?  Her platitude seemed to reduce my life to a lie.  To feel sorry for her?  It must be difficult to be so close minded and to see things as black and white.

I encountered similar troubles at Hillel.  My husband insisted on taking me to his university’s Hillel, telling me that I should make friends there since we all had something in common—we were all Jewish.  I suffered through a Shabbot dinner or two, until he realized that no, as a half-Jewish law school graduate, I had little in common with Jewish college students.  I did, however, want to go to the meeting the rabbi held for children of interfaith marriages.  There, I met a college student with a background similar to my own and an Israeli woman engaged to a Christian man who struggled with the thought of her children having a different upbringing than her own.  On one hand, I could be sympathetic to her.  The differences in the cultures of the countries was challenging enough at times.  I should know.  My husband is Israeli.  But on the other, I thought she was being unrealistic.  If she wanted her kids to have the same upbringing as she did, she should let her parents raise them.  Of that couple, I felt bad for the man.  His fiancée wanted him to convert.  Of course, we all know that Jewish men are circumcised.  In America, most baby boys are circumcised anyway, so this shouldn’t have been a problem.  Shouldn’t have been.

“Your conversion would require a circumcision, or a letting of blood if you are already circumcised, to symbolize the covenant,” the rabbi told him.

“Letting of blood?” the young man asked.

“From your penis.”

Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a man.[1]

At my turn to speak, I told my story of my upbringing and my forays into Judaism.  The rabbi, perhaps knowing my husband and recognizing me from the scant Shabbot dinners, asked “so why don’t you just consider yourself Jewish?”  I was surprised he thought that was a legitimate question to ask at interfaith night.

These encounters are only two of many that have inspired me to create this blog and share my stories of growing up half-Jewish and raising a half-Israeli child.


[1] Every morning, Orthodox men pray “Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a woman.”

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