Editor’s Note: Welcome to Red Thread’s new advice columnist, Debra Darvick, a longtime Detroiter with…
I recently learned that some readers sent their troubles to Dear Debra and received no reply. The letters were never received. So please, if your heart is still heavy, lighten it by resending your questions to email@example.com and/or AuthorDebraDarvick@gmail.com. They will appear in upcoming issues.
Our daughter is dating a wonderful young man; marriage is likely. Unfortunately, he’s not Jewish. My daughter is a day school graduate who keeps kosher and says she wants a Jewish home and family. When I brought up the idea of her boyfriend converting before they marry, she said she would never ask such a thing of him since she could never give up her religion.
Her refusal makes no sense to me because: 1) the boyfriend wasn’t raised with any particular religion; 2) he attended a Jewish day school K -12 (its academic program was stronger than the public school’s program where he lived). He is well versed in Jewish life and rituals, and participates with our family easily and comfortably; 3) my daughter says she wants a Jewish home and family, so why not a Jewish spouse?
Boyfriend asked me if my sister (who is now Orthodox) would attend their wedding if he is “a goy.” His phrase, not mine; but his question tells me that he understands certain ramifications of a mixed-faith ceremony. I was non-committal, but now I wish I’d asked him straight out how he felt about converting. I want to revisit the subject with him, but I’m afraid I will lose my daughter if I do.
This is breaking my heart. Our rabbi would not be able to perform the wedding. The whole thing makes no sense to me.
— Mom in a Quandary
I understand the confusion. The messages your daughter is giving you are as mixed as a Tom Collins. (My 20-something readers, Google it.) No wonder you’re feeling shaken and stirred.
I’ve heard the I-won’t-lose-my-child-over-this comment before. Why do parents go straight to the atomic assumption that their child will disown them if they breathe the “C” word? Would (presumably) rational adult children sever this most primal relationship, discounting decades of love and guidance, because the parent wants to invite the non-Jewish girl/boyfriend to consider becoming a Jew? It’s not like you’re pushing Boyfriend into the mikvah, circumcision kit in hand. All you want to have is a respectful and exploratory conversation, right?
Ultimately, this is your daughter’s life to live; her choice to make; her remorse, if any, to own. You had your turn, and now it’s hers. Not what you want to hear, but it’s the truth.
Now here’s where Dear Debra diverges from the dominant demographic. I believe, as her parent, you have a right to express to your daughter, gently and lovingly, your confusion over the disconnect between her stated desire for a Jewish home, Jewish family et al, and her refusal to ask Boyfriend to join her as a full-fledged Jew in all the beauty she knows Jewish life offers. Especially because he has no religious tradition of his own and knows more than your average Jonah about Jewish learning and living.
But if conversion’s not going to be happening, you’ll need to do some serious thinking. What can you accept and what can’t you? A Jewish ceremony officiated by a Jewish clergy other than your rabbi? A civil ceremony with some Jewish trappings? Or none?
For all I said about this being your daughter’s life to live, I also believe parents’ values must be respected. Why should adult children demand their parents throw aside the values they have lived by because they, the adult children, are making a different choice? This is what it means to have values. This is also what it means to be a contemporary Jew in this increasingly diverse world of ours. Right answers are hard to come by; and the path to any answer is likely to be paved with challenging, and sometimes painful, discussions.
Debra Darvick shares her unique take on life, books and more at debradarvick.com.
This month, we’re inviting readers to weigh in on the Jewish News’ Facebook page. Twenty-something readers, would you sever ties with your parents for wanting to discuss conversion? If you’re like the daughter above — wanting Jewish family life yet against asking your beloved to convert — why?
Fifty-something readers, is this an all-or-nothing issue? What accommodations allowed you to be there for your child, yet maintain your own Jewish values?