The winter 2007 issue of Reform Judaism Magazine focuses on the next generation of Jewish outreach. A pair of articles by Beverly Asaro, a mother from another religious background, and her Jewish daughter, Joelle Asaro Berman (who we blogged about here) detail their individual experiences in their Sicilian, Jewish family.
Beverly, in “Celebrating Our Differences,” explains her choice to raise Jewish children and describes the melding of her Sicilian background with her husband’s Judaism. The support of both her and her husband’s family helped Beverly to create a Jewish home in which her Jewish children and husband embraced her cultural background. She writes:
There are so many warm and wonderful stories, such as our first Chanukah together, when I, a Sicilian American, made the challah and my Jewish mother-in-law the lasagna—and all the guests at the dinner table assumed it was just the opposite.
Beverly also writes of the few times she has been uncomfortable in the Jewish community:
During the preparations for my daughter’s bat mitzvah my role was defined repeatedly as that of the non-Jew. I actually came to feel that I should have “non-Jew” branded on my forehead. My husband spoke to the persons involved, and they were quite repentant; they had never before considered the negative impact of their words.
Beverly makes the important point that partners from other religious backgrounds should be welcomed into Jewish institutions and not be made to feel like outsiders or others.
Joelle shares her “side” of the story, which is quite reminiscent of her mother’s, in “I’m a Jew Just Like You”. Throughout her upbringing, Joelle always felt completely Jewish, and it wasn’t until she joined the Jewish professional world that she was made to feel otherwise. She writes:
Imagine my surprise, then, when I started working in the larger Jewish communal world and was almost instantly labeled and made to feel inferior for having a non-Jewish mother. According to some of these Jews, my father was among those “finishing Hitler’s work” by marrying outside the faith and pushing the Jewish people closer to extinction.
Undeterred by the reactions of her peers in the Jewish communal world, Joelle realizes her parents’ greatest success: “I know exactly who I am: An American Jew of Sicilian heritage.” Joelle’s powerful story ends with a call to action for the North American Jewish community:
One: Accept the reality of interfaith families. Whether you like it or not, the next generation of Jews will count many non-Jews as their parents and many not-typically-Jewish ethnicities as part of their identity. Two: Welcome interfaith families. For every interfaith family that’s weathered the storm of feeling unwelcome and disadvantaged, there are plenty who get lost in the flood. There’s no chance for Jewish continuity unless we open the tent to them all….
And last: Count in adult children of intermarriage. Give us a stake in the incredibly rich and resilient tradition that is also our Jewish future.