Dear Dawn: You know me, but please make this letter anonymous. I was born a Christian and will die one; that’s just who I am. But I was happy to raise my kids as Jews when I married a Jewish man. I never do anything Christian, but I insisted that we have Christmas. For many years it was just fine. But as my girls grew up and had their bat mitzvahs, they began to drift away from Christmas. They no longer want to decorate the tree with me. Granted, they’ve moved out and are on their own, but I want them to come home for Christmas. I always have a Christmas party for all my friends, Jewish, Christian and no religion, but they no longer come. One of my girls talked to you and told me, “Dawn understands. Talk to her because I can’t get through to you.” So I’m asking you, how do I get them to just decorate the tree with me? I’ll even let them pass on the party. — Your Anonymous Friend
Dear Friend: You threw yourself into being a “Jewish mother” for your kids and you did a great job. Do you remember being on a panel and being asked, “Do you want your girls to identify as Jews as adults?” As I recall, you replied, “I went to a lot of work to raise them as Jews. All that would be for naught if they didn’t stay Jewish. Yes, I would be very upset if they dropped their Jewish identities.”
You got your wish. They identify as Jews. Give yourself a big pat on the back for your excellent work. Your husband and girls should thank you, too. On behalf of the Jewish people, I thank you for adding two lovely humans to the Jewish community.
Now, what else is going on?
Your girls are “patrilineal Jews” and it really bothers your youngest. She makes jokes and quips about being “half” and tosses out the Groucho Marx joke about his daughter being refused admission to a pool for being half-Jewish. “Can she wade in up to her knees?”
This humor is covering for pain. She is sharply aware of her halachic status, and although she was raised in a welcoming Reform synagogue, she can’t avoid what the rest of the Jewish world believes about her. Ironically, she has a Jewish name and really does look stereotypically Ashkenazi. But the moment her mother’s religious status comes up she flinches.
Rejecting Christmas and the iconic tree is her way of drawing a line. That is what non-Jews do — so she doesn’t. She is worried about hurting your feelings and at the same time she is in pain.
Put her feelings first, at least for a few years. Drop the subject of Christmas with the girls. Make the holiday your own. Have a tree, a party, decorate to the max and while you’re doing that ask yourself, “What do I love about this?” Then make sure you are breathing in all the parts you love.
Without resentment, tell the girls, “I’m having so-and-so over to decorate the tree this year. I’m thinking of making a popcorn string” or some other decoration. Make it light and breezy. They may be suspicious, waiting for the guilt-tripping to begin. But it won’t. This will alter the environment. Give it time.
You made your adult choices. One of them was to hold onto Christmas.
Now your girls are making theirs.
I recall that your own parents were not exactly thrilled when you agreed to raise the kids as Jews, but you stood firm. Now your girls are standing firm on their own choices. Be proud that you raised them to have minds of their own, just like you! Your parents came around, and now it is your turn to be flexible and accept your children for how they choose to live.
Also, the “talk to her” (me) reference is likely this element: Your daughter would probably be happiest if she could officially convert and not have her status reliant on yours. But she is worried it will feel like a rejection to you, so she doesn’t dare do it.
The most loving and generous thing you could do for her is to broach the subject and let her know that you would support her if she decided to go to the mikvah.
It is quite possible that with Jewish legality in her pocket, she would be comfortable trimming the tree.
Don’t rush out and call her. Think this over. We can talk. You can talk to your rabbi. Create a bridge between the two of you. Remember, she loves you.