The Identity Struggle In An Interfaith Household

My family and I belong to the Reform congregation, Bet Shalom, and we have since my parents got married. My parents are pretty normal, having had three baby boys, the third maybe a little more attractive than the first two, but what can I say. To me, my parents always seemed very normal, as I’d grown up with them my whole life.  However, as I’ve grown up I’ve realized other people, especially other Jews, see my family as very odd. This is because my dad was born and raised Jewish, and my mom was born and raised Catholic.

In my congregation, no one ever had a problem with my family, in fact, many other families had a similar background. At religious school, my friends and I would talk about decorating our Christmas trees while we were learning the story of Hanukkah, or coloring Easter eggs as we were learning what’s on the Passover Seder plate. Other people in my religious school also had a Bubbe and a Grandma. I’d like to add that my mother did not belong to nor go to any church for Catholic holidays. Everything we celebrated accentuated the non-religious aspects of the days, so I was only in it for the presents. I never found it odd I had parents who came from different faiths, neither did my Jewish friends, and neither did my Rabbis. I grew up learning Jewish values in my home and in synagogue, while also having a Catholic parent who supported my Jewish upbringing and my future in the Jewish community.

Recently I’ve begun to get involved with Adath Jeshurun’s USY youth group. I originally joined because I went to Herzl Camp and many of my friends from camp were in USY. When I first became a member, I did not participate much. But last May, I ran for – and won – the position of Membership/Kadima Vice President. Since then I’ve become much more involved in USY and Adath’s community, leading me to be confirmed with their Rabbis this year. It’s become increasingly apparent to me that I, a person with a Jewish dad and Catholic mom, am not considered Jewish by many Jews. In Conservative Judaism people with a non-Jewish mother are not considered Jewish in the eyes of Jewish law. Therefore, to many people in the Conservative movement, I am not a Jew.

This was a truly mind-blowing thought to me. I’d learned that Judaism was always “passed through the mother,” but because of the community I’d grown up in, I didn’t know anyone really believed that until many of my Jewish peers from Adath told me I wasn’t Jewish because of my parent’s faiths. Again I was baffled. My own friends who’d gone to Jewish camp with me for eight summers, been to my Bar Mitzvah, prayed in services with me, and are being confirmed with me, also did not believe that I was Jewish.

Currently, the Conservative movement does not allow its Rabbis to perform interfaith marriages. As Jews in the Twin Cities, as well as representing Jews of the Diaspora, we need to be more accepting and welcoming in our community, no matter what their religious backgrounds are, let alone their parents’.

My oldest brother actually completed conversion to Conservative Judaism, giving in to some of the peer pressures I have experienced. He has come to find out that it made no difference in how he is viewed in terms of “Jewishness.”

But all in all it seems that no matter who you are, reform, conservative, orthodox, reconstructionist, come from two Jewish parents, come from one Jewish parent, or converted to Judaism, there will always be someone more observant than you and you have to find the level of observance that is comfortable for you and enjoy your life as a Jew.