One of the most frequently asked questions I hear since my now-husband and I got engaged earlier this year isn’t “When are you guys going to have kids?” or “Are you keeping your name?” Rather, it’s this: “So, are you going to convert?” I was raised Lutheran, you see, my husband is Jewish, and the answer is “no.” The longer answer is: “No, but we’re going to raise our children Jewish.” And the funny — and truthful — answer is: “No, I’m not going to convert, but my sister is!”A few weeks after I got married — in a Jewish ceremony — my younger sister announced that she was starting conversion classes and hoped to be a full-fledged Jew in about a year. In addition to her conversion classes, Allison now takes Hebrew classes, has Shabbat dinner with her Jewish friends, and goes to temple twice a week (something I have yet to do even once!). When my mother called me a couple weeks ago and asked whether Drew, my husband, had any dietary restrictions she should know about before I bring him home for the first time at Christmas, I laughed and said, “I think the only Jewish diet you might need to worry about is your daughter’s.”
Like me, Allison was raised Lutheran by parents who not only both graduated from a prominent Lutheran university, but dragged us to church every Sunday, and encouraged our active participation in services. Our mom taught Sunday school; our dad often distributed the communion wafers and wine; and when we were both old enough, my sister and I became acolytes, lighting the altar candles each week in our ceremonial white robes. I pretty much thought it all kinda sucked, but I bided my time until I was free and could spend my Sundays nursing hangovers and inhaling Egg McMuffins the way God intended Sundays to be spent. By the time I left home and started college, I’d given up religion altogether; Allison, on the other hand, was only beginning her foray into religious studies when she left home seven years later.
It wasn’t long before Allison developed an interest in Judaism, sparked in part, I think, by her attraction to “SNL”‘s Andy Samberg and the warm reception she received on sites like JDate. “Jewish guys are just really nice! And smart! And funny! And they like me!” she’d exclaim. It was a sentiment I couldn’t really argue with. A few years later, when my relationship with Drew started getting more serious, Allison’s “interest” in Judaism blew up into a full-on obsession with all things Jewish. Now that I was warming up our die-hard Lutheran parents to the idea of a Jewish son-in-law and Jewish grandkids, Allison, always the parent-pleaser, felt like she had a pass to explore the religion and culture a bit without upsetting the natural order of things too much. The more she explored it, it seemed, the more she liked it. “Judaism fills me with joy,” she explains.
And so, three months into my interfaith marriage, I’m still navigating the role religion and the various traditions Drew and I bring to our union will play in our future and the way we raise our kids. I figured there would come a time I’d have to explain to our kids why we have a Christmas tree and a menorah during the holidays, or why Dad avoids bread during Passover but Mom descends on every last crumb like a starving pigeon. What I didn’t count on explaining was why Mom never became Jewish but Auntie Allie did. Maybe I’ll just let her do the explaining … it Hebrew, of course.