In this article in the Daily Kos, author Sara Davies describes in poignant detail the challenge of being caught between often contradictory views that the Jewish community has of children of intermarriage. On the one hand, many Jews rejected her and her family as “not Jewish enough” and “unwelcome.” On the other hand, as a result of her Jewish heritage, there were many in the community who claimed that she was already Jewish but did not provide her with a mechanism, such as conversion, that would allow her to become unambiguously Jewish.
The challenge of growing up with two parents of different religious backgrounds stems from the complexity of managing an often intricate network of family loyalties and ethnic pride. As a child of intermarried parents myself, I often walk the delicate line between honoring both sides of my heritage (see my post last year on attending church on Christmas) and feeling a tremendous affinity for Judaism, while at the same time fending off questions from numerous segments of the Jewish community as to why I don’t plan to convert.
While this article explores the challenges and pain that often come from having a complicated Jewish identity, I would like to assert that children of interfaith families have a tremendous gift to offer the Jewish community. Because we have a multiplicity of identities to choose from, we are in a unique position to question and think critically about what it means for us to be Jews, thus forcing Jewish institutions to think seriously about the question of “why be Jewish?” and to create new and innovative answers to that question.
The challenge is that the Jewish community can only benefit from the gifts that children of intermarriage have to offer if they are willing to reach out and invite them in. As our Jewish community diversifies, we have much to learn, and we should consider the needs of all who wish to join us.