a church steeple

I don’t want my Jewish son to become a Christian

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Dear Dawn: I grew up in an interfaith home (my dad isn’t Jewish) and I married a man who also isn’t Jewish. I was raised completely nonreligious and we celebrated just the Hallmark holidays, no Jewish ones. As a young adult, I became interested in Judaism and wanted to raise my children Jewish. My husband and I have a 15-year-old son, and my husband agreed to raising him Jewish, but with Christmas and Easter, again, as Hallmark holidays. As the Jewish mom, I took our son to High Holiday services, lit Hanukkah candles and tried to occasionally have Shabbat. But it was all on me to learn what to do and how to do it. I wasn’t very good at it. When my son started middle school, I found a liberal synagogue and enrolled him in Hebrew school. My husband never got involved at all, and that hurt me. Hebrew school didn’t last long; my son soon said he didn’t want to go. That was a couple years ago and now my son wants to be Christian and go to church. My husband still has zero interest in any religion, and I can’t bring myself to go in a church. My son is getting more and more serious. He wants to be baptized and be a member of the church he likes. I am heartbroken and my husband can’t support me because he feels nothing. He says this is a phase, just get over it. I feel so alone. What should I do? — Grieving Mom

Dear Grieving: I am sorry for your pain. You have layers and layers of struggles and deserve support.

Let’s begin with you. You grew up without a Jewish identity, or any religious identity for that matter. I wish your parents could have provided a basic knowledge of Judaism for you, but you must now provide it for yourself.

You want to live a Jewish life but are trying to do it on your own without significant education or practice. You need a community. Find a synagogue near you — perhaps the one you took your son to for a short time. Sign up for their mailing list; follow their services and events online. Look for any adult education classes they offer. Call the rabbi and share your concerns. Ask for help to connect with other members.

Mom, you are a Jew and the Jewish community is responsible for you. You deserve this.

Second, consider couples therapy with your husband.

The fact that he doesn’t feel the same as you do is not an excuse for dismissing your pain. He needs to stretch himself and come to understand how this hurts you. As your life partner, he should care when you hurt. That’s what love is.

Perhaps there are things he could do that would help alleviate your pain. He could learn a bit about Judaism with you. If you were interested in opera, would it kill him to learn a bit, maybe even listen to some with you? He could learn to express compassion for your grief. His neutral stance could even be a help to you if you perceived him as caring about your feelings.

Three, Mom, there is a reasonable chance that this is a phase.

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Your son is only 15, and a great deal will change in his life between now and adulthood. You have to stop arguing with him and repeatedly pointing out what upsets you about his Christianity. Focus on learning about your own tradition, Judaism. Notice what you are learning — holidays, customs, history. Is your son learning these aspects of Christianity? Find a common ground.

How are you learning? Do you have a class, discussions with your rabbi, books or websites you enjoy? Are there commonalities you can find with your son?

I want you to work on understanding that your son is very much like you. He, too, is on a spiritual journey.

But he is luckier than you because he has found a community to guide and support him. If you have the same, you will feel much better.

Your son is striving to be his true self. If you are your true self, I suspect you will gain feelings of flexibility.

Don’t forget that both you and he are halachically Jewish — that is, Jewish according to Jewish law. That means that any time he wants to explore Judaism, he will be welcomed with open arms.

By pursuing your own journey to Judaism you will be role-modeling — spiritual exploration, building your Jewish muscles, evolving as a Jew, going from ignorance to knowledgeable practice.

Mom, if your son does become a lifelong Christian and you, a Jew, and your husband an atheist, the three of you can still build a family based on your mutual love. There is always support for all of you. We’ll stay in touch.

Dawn Kepler
Dawn Kepler

Dawn Kepler leads Building Jewish Bridges, a program that embraces Bay Area interfaith families. “Mixed & Matched” offers advice for Jews in interfaith relationships and families. Send letters to [email protected].