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Cutting Family Ties

The cards my Christian paternal grandparents sent me as a child came with small checks—and a hidden agenda

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(Photoillustration Tablet Magazine; original photos rook76/Shutterstock)
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I learned of my grandfather’s death through an Internet search.

I had been estranged from my paternal grandparents for more than a decade, but four years ago, I decided that the time had come to reconnect; they were getting old, and I longed to share some family news with them—I was expecting another child. I didn’t have a current address or phone number for them, so I entered my grandfather’s full name into a search engine, hoping to find contact information.

Instead, I found an obituary. He had died of a stroke two months earlier.

Stunned, I continued to read the notice of his death. My father, uncle, aunt, cousins, and great-aunts and uncles appeared on the list of surviving relatives. But there was no mention of my twin sister or myself. We had been obliterated.

The next morning, I called my best friend from college and cried wretched tears as the story poured out. “They want to erase our existence,” I complained.

She was sympathetic but candid: “How can you complain when you removed them from your life,” my friend replied, “just like they removed you from theirs?”

***

My parents split up when I was 4 years old. To describe their divorce as “acrimonious” would be an understatement. Raised first in the Congregationalist Church and then in the United Church of Christ, my father underwent an Orthodox conversion to Judaism during his marriage to my mother, who is Jewish; after their divorce, however, he gave up both Judaism and Christianity. He became a follower of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and took a Hindi name.

After my mother won full custody, my sister and I visited with my father only sporadically. He occasionally sent exotic gifts from his extensive world travels but remained distant from our everyday lives. My mother continued to raise us Jewish in a traditional, though not Orthodox, home, and her Jewish parents played an integral role in our childhood.

My sister and I stayed in regular but infrequent contact with our paternal grandparents. They sent cards at birthdays and at the holiday season, typed in precise black letters on Christmas cards decorated with holly and pine trees. Usually my grandmother enclosed a small check, five-dollar bill, or gift certificate. My sister and I found the Christmas cards annoying, yet somehow amusing. Didn’t they understand that we were Jewish? Nonetheless, we sent our grandparents thank-you notes for their cards and gifts.

During our father’s last court-mandated visit, when we were 7, my sister and I spent time with his parents. Before our arrival, my grandmother had spread a familiar tablecloth on their table. It had been sent to them by my other set of grandparents three years previously; my mother’s parents had bought it in Israel while visiting us during our ill-fated attempt to make aliyah. Its presence set my sister and me at ease. (An identical one, also purchased by my mother’s parents, now graces my own home.) Seeing our grandparents was the highlight of that visit. We laughed at my grandfather’s terrible puns, admired (with a mixture of fascination and horror) the hunting trophies on the wall, and asked questions about their antique bottle collection. They fed us waffles with ice cream and took us to see the sea lions in Monterey.

But after that, for reasons that were never entirely clear, my grandparents never attempted to see us again. The only contact we had for nearly a decade were those brief letters. I was disappointed. Hadn’t they enjoyed our company? Didn’t they love us?

***

When I was 16, I set off on a bus trip with my Jewish youth group to the Bay Area—where my grandparents lived. Before I left home, I shared with my mother my intention to contact my father’s parents. She raised no objection, but my sister expressed surprise. Why put any more effort into a relationship that our grandparents had put so little effort into? She had recently decided to stop writing to them.

I decided to forge ahead. The night I arrived in San Francisco, I dialed my grandmother and grandfather with shaking hands.

“Who is it?” asked my grandmother when she answered.

I creaked out my nickname, my voice faltering. “I’m here, in San Francisco.”

“Why are you crying?” she asked.

I wanted to say, I haven’t seen you in nine years, and you’ve never tried to visit me in all that time. Do you still love me? Instead, I answered, “Because I haven’t seen you in a long time. I want to know if you could come visit me at my hotel tomorrow night.” When they arrived, my grandmother’s first words to me were: “You look just like your father.” My grandparents spent less than 25 minutes with me in the hotel lobby, and we never advanced past small talk. After they left, I spent about an hour crying on a friend’s shoulder.

Despite the disappointment of the visit, I was proud of myself. I had taken initiative. I could maintain a relationship with my paternal grandparents independent of my parents and their difficult history. And why shouldn’t I? Half of my genes and half of my heritage came from their side of the family. If we could understand each other, maybe I could understand myself better, too.

Unlike my sister, I continued to correspond with my paternal grandparents throughout the remainder of high school and beyond. In our letters, I shared tidbits about college life or my feelings of inadequacy when I began my Master’s program. I relayed my sister’s news without providing her address. They continued to send small checks for both of us. I forwarded my sister’s to her.

Around when I started graduate school, I learned from one of my grandmother’s letters that my grandfather had suffered a small stroke. She explained that he was recovering the use of his hand and the fluency of his speech, but that it was a slow struggle. With that letter, I recognized that my grandparents would not live forever. I wrote to them later that year that I wanted a closer, more open relationship. This seemed to be the right time to mend fences.

***

The last week of December, I opened my usual Christmas card from them. On the cover appeared a cardinal with holly in its beak, a typical wintertime scene. Out fluttered two checks—one for me, one to forward to my sister. Within this card, my grandmother enclosed a letter. In addition to a torrent of abuse toward my mother, my grandmother offered a confession: She had continued to keep in touch over the years for one reason—because she had always hoped that my sister and I would convert to Christianity.

My heart broke: I had thought that my father’s parents had kept in touch with me simply because they loved me. When the letter had arrived, it had filled me with hope; now it filled me with hurt.

And I was confused. Never had any member of my father’s family taken us to church, prayed with us, or invited us to celebrate Christian holidays with them, even after my grandfather had increased his commitment to Christianity by becoming an Episcopal priest in 1989. The only hint that they’d prefer it if we would embrace Christianity had been those Christmas cards.

My grandmother’s letter could not have come at a worse time. Long convinced that God had given us the Torah’s commandments, I had decided that I wanted to keep them. By then, I had curtailed most driving on Shabbat and holidays, kept a minimal standard of kashrut, prayed daily, and regularly attended an Orthodox synagogue. I frequented classes about Jewish thought and practice. This path had brought much-needed balance and focus to my life, and the pace of my growth was picking up.

I read my grandmother’s letter—filled with judgment and resentment—in horror. How could a supposedly religious woman of 70-odd years show so little tolerance or forgiveness?

For a few days, I mulled over my response. Eventually, I wrote my grandmother a letter, in which I explained that my Jewish identity had given me the moral compass and taste for charity that she and my grandfather had never demonstrated to me. I explained that my mother and her parents had taught me unconditional love and acceptance, had bent over backward raising me while my father’s side of the family did nothing but send a tiny gift and a card twice a year.

At the close of the letter, I notified my grandmother that I was—at least temporarily—suspending our correspondence. Perhaps in the future, I wrote, I would figure out how to proceed. If that happened, I’d be back in touch.

That was 15 years ago.

***

As each year passed, I adopted increasingly Orthodox beliefs and practice. Soon, I became engaged. I did not inform my paternal grandparents. From time to time, I contemplated getting in touch but let it drop. As my new household expanded to include three children, I grew too busy. And my husband was uncomfortable with the notion of including my father’s parents in our lives; would they try to indoctrinate our children? I pointed out other Jewish friends who embraced non-Jewish family members but eventually set aside the issue to take care of later.

Later came too late.

The Orthodox lifestyle I’ve embraced has filled my life with goodness and joy. I would choose it all over again, and do, daily. But it has not come without a price. My children have living biological relatives whom they do not know. We know just a smidgen about the history of that side of the family (which includes a Native American great-great grandmother and ancestors who mined the Klondike). Even filling out medical forms can get complicated. For example, I know very little of my grandparents’ medical history.

I told my grandparents to wait until I was ready to get in touch with them. “That was the mistake,” a voice in my head insists. Or perhaps I shouldn’t have expected my grandparents’ greater years to equal greater wisdom and character refinement. Or was the mistake expecting them to accept the life I was choosing? Was that unreasonable?

They might not have been able to provide the unconditional love that I craved from them. But I love my non-Jewish grandparents—because they are part of me. Their blood is in my blood; their DNA in my cells. I cannot erase them or pretend they never existed. Their history is mine. And their absence creates a void in my life.

***

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Natan79 says:

You made a mistake. She was 70, and you waited for 15 years? You could have gently declined and recognized they were old. On the other hand, their aloofness previous to your grandmother’s disclosure strikes me as far worse than the wishful thinking about your converting to Christianity.

Thank you for such a deeply thoughtful and heartfelt article! Non-Jewish relatives can present all kinds of challenges (and opportunities). When I married my wife, she was not Jewish, but we have since become an Orthodox Jewish family. I have been very fortunate that our Christian relatives have been extremely accepting and even encouraging of our religious choices, which has enabled my children to have a good relationship with them, with everyone knowing where the lines need to be drawn (they don’t send Christmas cards). But I have heard so many horror stories, and my heart goes out to you that you were placed in such a difficult situation. Unlike Natan79, I don’t think you made a mistake – there was little to do once they made clear that their relationship with you was based on their desire for you to become Christian. These journeys we take, where more than one faith is involved, are never straightforward. My wife and I recently wrote about our own journey from intermarried to Jewish, and all the issues along the way, in our book, “Doublelife: One Family, Two Faiths and a Journey of Hope.” I wish you hatzlacha raba – again, thank you so much for sharing.

Considering how your grandparents treated you, the void is in your head, not in real life, isn’t it? Since they only cared about your religion, not about you as a person, how would the outcome have ended up any different, no matter whether or how you welcomed them into your life? You’re being really hard on yourself for their sake. I think at this point the person who deserves the love you have to offer is yourself.

Larry Kerman says:

Very touching story; I don’t believe comments should judge you just because you opened your self up. I agree with Mr. Berman’s comments.

curlytop says:

With benefit of hindsight, you could have kept in touch with your Christian side of the family by telling them that you would remain Jewish and that you wanted to maintain a relationship. You should have taken the high road, though you would have had to bite your tongue and perhaps have a superficial relationship for a period. It isn’t too late to be in touch with some of those folks. Though you are an observant Jew, you may find that you share values in common, kindness, curiosity about your shared past, charity etc. etc. Being in touch with these people in no way should challenge your own, or your children’s, Jewish commitment.

bloomiegirl says:

And what, I wonder, of your father?

Rebecca Klempner says:

Thanks for all the comments on my article, both the “you made no mistake” and the “you made a mistake” variety. I think the range of opinions you all have shared represents the inherently messy nature of my situation.

Rebecca Klempner says:

That’s another story, perhaps for another time. :)

Papa493 says:

I think family business belongs within the family. I don’t find your publicly maligning your grandparents very appealing.

Rebecca Klempner says:

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here, Curlytop. Looking back, that’s precisely what I should have done. The problem is that by the time I figured this all out, my grandfather was dead (along with my lingering question about whether he supported my grandmother’s comments because she was his wife or because he agreed with them).
Trying to build a relationship with the remaining family members is a tricky one, but it is something that I’ve discussed with my husband. There are a few complications, the major one being that I cannot approach my grandmother directly, as I haven’t been able to locate her.

curlytop says:

Two ideas: 1: The cemetery where your grandfather is buried will have information on next of kin. 2. Put your family tree on ancestry.com and use that to try to locate the relatives. Compared to Jewish family, finding Christian family is a cinch. There just aren’t as many name variations! Don’t expect much at first, just keep in touch. Over time, things might become more satisfying. Good luck!

Rebecca Klempner says:

I agree with you 100%, Papa493.
However, if you notice, I haven’t provided any significant identifying information about these family members. Even if you bothered to try to find out the family’s last name, it is a very generic one. Unless you are one of my closest friends or a member of the family (or have WAAAAAAAY too much time on your hands to spend on internet searches and the like), you cannot know who the people I’m referring to are. They could be your neighbor, and you wouldn’t know. If I had wanted people to hate them (which I don’t) I could have provided more precise identifying information.
I’m sorry if I offended your sensibilities. I felt the story might make readers who find themselves in a similar situation feel less alone, as this topic is rarely addressed.

Rebecca Klempner says:

I haven’t tried the cemetery, but I did try the nursing home listed in the obit–they wouldn’t share any private info even when I provided names. I’m not sure the cemetary wouldn’t share the same privacy rules, but it’s worth checking out.
My father’s family happens to have a very, very generic last name, and everyone has really generic first name, too. The problem isn’t looking for the right spelling, the problem is SO many people come up with the same name that I have to wade through them all. Also, my grandmother’s name never comes up, even when paired with other identifying information. I suspect she’s in assisted living or living with a relative. I have located some cousins, cousins I never met. I’m contemplating connecting though them, but then I’d be dragging them into the mess, as well.
Thanks again for your comments.

BJ Rosenfeld says:

You are a courageous woman for doing what made the most sense to you. Too bad your grandparents missed out on knowing you. As the bubbe of 12, I know how special grandchildren can be.

brynababy says:

Rebecca, relax. These people are not worth your heartache and longing. They made it clear they were not interested in you and your sister. Their attacks against your mother were attacks against you. Your father obviously did nothing to bring you close to any of his relatives. How can you say you love them when they have not given you anything to base it on. Yur grandmother could have responded to your last letter with a response that said she was sorry she had hurt you and wanted very much to remain in your life. She was not interested. Get over it. Love is earned. None of the cousins ever tried to contact you or initate any relationship. You are foolish to continue to harbor this ache. Put your energies into the r elationships you have with friends and family that have shown you they care about you. That’s worth something!

Balabuste says:

I admire your accepting comment here, Mr Berman’s and curlytop’s suggestions. It takes courage to work on these kinds of issues. Two aspects which add resonance and scope for you and your readers: 1) While such family splits are painful and difficult when focused on religion, they occur even when all parties are of a same religion or community. 2) You are an adult now and can see more than when you were a child. Use your adult eyes, adult heart, adult knowledge and you deal with this…with your husband, your children, your father’s relatives. B’hatzaha.

Papa493 says:

I know exactly who these people are. They’re Rebecca Klempner’s grandparents. And the way she talks about them! Tsk, tsk.

Rebecca Klempner says:

You are so blessed to have strong relations with your wife’s family. Congratulations on your book.

Rebecca Klempner says:

It’s a good thing they’ve already disowned me. ;)

nycolonopyl says:

my buddy’s step-aunt makes $73/hour on the internet. She has been out of a job for seven months but last month her check was $12386 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on  Zap22.c­om

cygoverns says:

I applaud your bravery in sharing this story. Especially because it meant opening yourself to people who think it’s their place to tell you what you “should” or even “could” have done–perhaps they missed the point that this has been a painful and complex situation?

Nicely written, poignant article. Its so sad that your grandparents behaved that way. It shouldn’t matter what religion you choose to follow, it’s your call not theirs. They should engage on a common human level whether you’re Orthodox / Converted / Agnostic whatever and it is their misfortune that they haven’t seen this. I’m sorry for the heartache you have endured over the years because of all this.

There is a lot more to this story than the writer is letting on to. Burying in the story in a glancing reference to the grandmother saying nasty things about the writers mother, for example. Readers aren’t getting the whole story.
As an adult the writer you would think would take a different look at the grandparents motivations: it takes two to have a relationship and clearly the writers sister, and to a lesser degree the writer did little meaningful as a child and even less as an adult to build that relationship.
One visit 20 years ago? Congratulations.
Did the writer ever think that her grandmother’s attempt to share their religion, particulalry since the writers grandfather became a priest, was an attempt at love, of sharing- not an evil attempt at conversion. Clearly, the writers fathers family are fath seekers: the writer in Orthodox Judaism, her father in Hinduism and his father in the Episcopal Church.
As much as the writer should be ashamed for assigning all blame on her grandparents, equally if not more to blame is her father- do other readers find it odd that even in an estranged relationship that a father would not tell her daughter that her grandfather had died- for two years? He certainly should have attempted to play a greater role in building a relationship with his side of the family, and the writers mother should have done less (that is making an assumption on my part) to dissuade that relationship from forming.
The writers grandmother is still alive. I hope this article won’t be used an an excuse by the writer to continue to cut her out of her life. Your an adult, you have strong religious beliefs…they are old, seeking a way to find meaning in their lives. My guess is that they have love for the writer, for their granddaughter. Go to her (perhaps with your father) with a full heart, happiness and forgiveness… it isn’t too late unless you want it to be

As a Messianic Jew, I can tell you that Rebecca understandably cut her grandparents out of her life. The way that her grandmother went about pursuing a relationship with her granddaughter and why she did so is entirely unacceptable. As Rebecca herself stated, her grandparents refused to even remotely expose her to Christian rituals and theology while they expected her to convert to Christianity. If they truly loved her, they would have let her explore the facets of their faith and let her make her decision, whether or not they agreed with her decision.

Rebecca Klempner says:

Thanks for your lengthy comment on my article. You are entirely correct in your guess that this isn’t the entire story of my childhood or my family. However, I felt it was important to share this facet of the story on its own because my intent when I tried to expand my relationship with my grandparents was to create a relationship independent of my parents divorce, etc. The basis of the conditions they placed on their love were also independent of my parents, neither of whom raised my sister and me as Christians.

And while they might have felt their desire for our conversion was “love,” it felt at the time–frankly–like hate. Hate for who I was. I was born a Jew, and in fact my father had agreed before my parents’ marriage that all their children would be raised as Jews. I felt like my grandparents hated who I was once they recognized who I would never be. Moreover, the exclusion from the obituary of my sister and myself makes it doubtful that my grandmother loves me even now. But I still would like to know and (as I mentioned in other comments) may pursue some leads to locate her.

The intent of my essay isn’t to blame my grandparents alone–not at all. I assume responsibility for my own role in indefinitely withdrawing in adulthood and not earlier reconciling. I thought I made that clear at the conclusion of the piece (as well as including my best friend’s comment near the beginning of it).

In America, although common, “mixed families” can be difficult whether it’s religion, ethnicity, race, etc. and sometimes it can be best to cut the ties, if any? I related very much to the author’s story and her plight.

When the non-Jewish world makes the claim that one who was Jewish but
converts to Christianity can retain the ‘Jewish Culture and Ethnicity,’ one must
ask, ‘Which Jewish Culture? Which Jewish Ethnicity?’ The culture and ethnicity
of a Jew from Morocco has little in common with the culture and ethnicity of a
Jew from Eastern Europe. Yet both are Jews because their faith, their Jewish
theology, their Jewish belief system, their Judaism, is Jewish. Just as many
people convert to Judaism, and thus become Jews, those Jews who convert to
another faith are no longer Jews. Remember, the Jews determine who is a Jew —
not ex-Jews who have become Christians, and not Christians themselves. The Jews
determine for themselves who is a Jew.

The biblical basis for this is I Kings 18:21. Elijah the prophet asked Jews
who were beginning to slip into the worship of the idol, Baal,How long will
you go limping with two different opinions? If the Gd of the Jews is Gd, follow
Him! but if Baal is god, then follow him! [I Kings 18:21] Elijah told the
Jews, one or the other, not both! You cannot believe in two opposite, mutually
exclusive ideas simultaneously. Judaism and Christianity believe in opposite,
mutually exclusive ideas, and you cannot be a Jew and a believer that Jesus was
the Christ at the same time.

A rabbi in the later Middle Ages named the Hai Gaon, as quoted by Aderet in
Responsa, VII #292, stated that a Jew who converted out of the faith was no
longer a Jew. This view was shared by numerous rabbis, which can be seen in the
Responsa literature of Simon ben Zemah of Duran, Samuel de Medina, Judah Berab,
Jacob Berab, Moses ben Elias Kapsali and others in the Middle Ages.

It can also be seen more recently in the Responsa of the Satmar Rov in his
Divrei Torah, Yoreh Deah #59, paragraph 5, as well as in the Responsa of Rabbi
Moshe Feinstein, Even Haezer Volume 4 Number 53.

Rabbi Moses Isserles demanded a formal conversion back to Judaism for those
who had converted out, but then wanted to return. He demanded ritual immersion
(mikveh) and repentance before a court of three (Beit Din). You will see this
also in other Responsa literature: Radbaz, Responsa III, 415; Moses Isserles to
Yoreh Deah 268.12; and Hoffman, Melamed Leho-il II, 84.

The very famous rabbi, Moses ben Maimon, called Maimonides (the Rambam), also
wrote that if a Jew converted to Christianity, he or she was no longer a Jew.
See Maimonides, Hilchot Mamrim Perek 3, Halacha 1-3, as well as in Maimonides’
Mishneh Torah, Avodat Kochavim 2:5.

Rebecca Klempner says:

I’m so glad you could relate. That’s just why I wanted to write the article. Be well!

One thing I have come to realize in my life is that you owe nothing to someone simply because of a mistake of genes. While some of who we are due to our ancestors, who we chose to be in our own lives is solely dependent on us. You do not have to respect nor care for those who have no care or respect for you. It is a two-way street and simply because someone is elderly does not mean they ipso facto deserve your respect. Also simply because you share a genetic bond does not make someone family either. Family is about unconditional love, care and support. Genetic has very little to do with it.

To me it would have angered me more that the paternal grandmother decided to rail against the author’s mother rather than how she expressed her hope that the author would become a christian. The author’s paternal family were no where to be found in their upbringing or caring for them. What right did they have to denigrate those that gave love and support to the author? It is this disrespect and the grandmother’s own malfeasance towards the author that should be at issue, not religion.

Truthfully what I have found is that many families use “religion” as a basis to reject the in-law child and to reject their offspring as well. The author’s paternal grand-family seemed to be using religion as a crux to dislike and marginalize her and her sister. They most likely blamed her mother for the choices their father made in life instead of looking within themselves, how they raised him, or quite frankly that he was entitled to make his own decisions in life as well. In the end it came out that whatever issues there were with their son, the paternal grandparents blamed these issues on the fact that her mother (and by extension the author) is Jewish.

The author can do better than this woman and her offspring. (However, the issue is whether her paternal relatives would actually be accepting of her and her sister or if the author actually cares at this point.) She can figure out her native American heritage and other aspects of her heritage without them. Something tells me she will be better off in the longrun.

Maybe we read different essays, but I didn’t see any maligning. In fact, in Ms. Klempner’s iteration of the events, I saw her sadness and confusion. This is not a story specifically about her grandparents, but rather her reaction to them, their behavior and her upbringing by an equally not-maligned father who either created or exacerbated this mess.

stevenla says:

“I love my non-Jewish grandparents—because they are part of me. Their blood is in my blood;”
Your thinking is as ugly and primitive as “Blood Purity Law”.

Rebecca Klempner says:

Wow, I’m a little surprised by your response, considering my genetic connection to my father’s family, their contribution to my appearance, my health history, and–yes–my blood type.
Sorry if I offended you, for some reason. It was entirely unintended.

Null says:

It’s kind of ironic, but a lot of people’s association with fractions of ancestry and such may be the Nuremberg Laws, which understandably leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. A lot of non-Jews, I’ve found, find a Jewish interest in determining whether someone belongs to a group or not based on ancestry puzzling given that the last time someone was trying to figure out whether someone was Jewish based on blood, it was to kill them.

Null says:

It’s a real dilemma. Talk to them and you have to endure conversion attempts, which ignore who you’ve become, don’t talk to them and you’re ignoring a part of who you are. There’s no easy answer.

not jewish or christian. i was raised a lutheran and quickly abandoned it for atheism when i grew older. i’m currently married to a woman who is ethnically jewish but not a religiously practicing jew. i grew up with two sets of parents after my folks divorced and remarried. half of my family is insane religious and half of my wife’s family is insane religious. but i don’t let that bother me enough to get angry about it. if people are selfish and terrible, they will be that way and religion is a good vehicle for doing it and feeling justified. it seems like your family has a lot of problems and blaming it all on religion feels like you’re oversimplifying the situation. i still keep in touch with my step mother’s mom who has us sing “happy birthday” to Jesus on december 25 while we blow out the candles to a cake. i think she’s crazy, but i still talk to her. she’s family.

posted under my beautiful other’s moniker. – josh

I wasn’t here to argue with you or be proselytized to. Besides, Torah–not you–determines who’s Jewish.

MikeS says:

Oy Vey! Mike Doyle is right. Haven’t gentiles caused us enough heartache without you punishing yourself over this. Talk about Jewish guilt? You sound like a wonderful person – tell yourself that, and get over this.

Jenny Iglesias says:

How utterly sad! And I see both sides at fault for this failed relationship. No one seemed to make an effort to really talk and communicate and express their beliefs and ask the other one to understand and respect. Where is the religion here? In the first place, neither side of the family seems to me to have the true sense of what their own religion should be. Where is the love and understanding that religion should bring to a person? It seems such a waste. Too much selfishness involved. And it is too late. Perhaps the children can be taught how incredibly wrong this was and it is time to stop blaming one or the other. Just talk, communicate, forgive and believe me, you will all feel better. Anger and bitterness never helps.

Generations appear to hold a myopic opinion of those members of the past; their own, however, will many times not be spared similar judgments in the future. Our lives are colored by the prism of the light that guides us; most times not a light of our own choosing. Yet the one consistent denominator for reconciliation of all generations is “forgiveness” for failing to realize that each one has acted under different and diverse sources of illumination. Don’t be too harsh to judge what was your grandparents’ limited way of demonstrating love to you. Learn and grow from your experiences to brighten and expand your own illumination because no one can offer what they do not first possess.

I don’t think this is about religion. Rather religion is being used to work out some very unhealthy dynamics.Their relationship with their son seems to give a clue.Sad for the family. What a burden was placed on the grandchildren!

I wonder if anything here is really about religion. It seems more about control. UCC and Episcopal churches are usually pretty liberal. father changed religions. He apparently gave up contact with the kids. Grandparents had very little contact. If their purpose was really conversion it would have made more sense to have a great deal of contact. Grandmother’s comment re conversion sounds like it was made to hurt rather than to explain. Big ? Is why didn’t dad call when his mother died. People criticizing the writer need to remember she was just a kid when this started. Little kids should not be blamed for family dysfunction

The letter the grandmother wrote seems very strange. I wonder if she had also suffered a small stroke or had a medical condition that caused the strange and bitter expression in the letter. This does seem to me to be about religion. Religion is being used to work out some very unhealthy family dynamics. I hope the writer of this article is able to make peace with herself about this terrible burden that was put on the grandchildren in this family. She sounds like a wonderful loving granddaughter. There are times all one can do is let go of a relationship.

lawja says:

This is one sick individual!!!!!

I do agree with you , Rebecca but my problem is not religion but the knowledge of science… I am a total non-believer but respect all religions… You see….. Having 2 daughters from my first beautiful pure Sephardic wife they grew up without imposed religion which did not affect one but the other… who married into a family with absolute no foggy concept of what religion is all about…. but claimed “religious” like all Americans…. My eldest married twice and divorced the equal number seeing no material nor mental gain in both her relation…. She now has for years a “friend” and the 2 fit perfectly but why should they marry..?? He is pure Jewish but does not practice, is a solid real estate man.. comes from more or less well todo stock and plays the piano.. classicals… (the way I grew up… with graphic arts and music)…. My second daughter drifted into a semi religious family sump but managed to become corporatre in one of America´s biggest retail super stores and super mercados… She worked her ass off and climed up the ladder while her hubby loafed thru the days… and lazy as he was not even tended to his boy and girl except for “going hunting and practice shooting” in the dessert… Oh.. he dug the pool in the back yard…. on directions of his wife, my second daughter… dumb as a boondog as he was.. But America being what it is and super shy of science I became the akward know-it-all queer with 2 masters in Naval Engineering…. and that goes for all my grandkids….I know too much… I am the pariah.. because of being away from home for reasons of Naval and Industrial contracts.. so that´s what I have in my leftover future.. retired and alone with 2 deceased wives, w/o any near family of my own and far away from home with an adopted family of 200 in the Canary Islands… I am taken care of by a housekeep.. Donah..// Have a cigar….. ////

Me thinks faith spoils a lot of fun in life but… to each his/her own…. I really do believe a world w/o religion is better off… one way or the other…. Donah..//

Rebeccah,I know this is many days past your writing but I am hoping to add a small bit of information not privy to all people.I was raised in a strict evangelical christian home and I can tell you from experience,you’re grandparents wanted you to convert because they loved you.It sounds insane but hear me out.These people SERIOUSLY believe that the ONLY way to eternal life is by their brand of Christianity therefore,it pained them greatly every day to think they had 2 grandkids who would never join them in G-d’s presence after death.If you recognize how strongly held this belief is and then look at their actions it may become clearer to you. They truly believe that you and yours will spend eternity in flames and agony.This I have seen cause terrible trauma to people when they realize they cannot convert their family members therefore,said family is “doomed” to torment.It plays on the mind and the heart in a myriad of ways.They spend hours,days even years crying and praying that their loved ones will “miraculously see the light”.I bet every card they sent was meticulously looked at for a message that may covertly change your religious view,prayed over and sent with the best of intentions. I realize this is total disrespect of your own beliefs,practices even identity but all they can see is two people they love who are going to suffer greatly.One of those “crazy but true”moments it was not about caring only for your religion,but love for you as people that motivated them and that final letter where she “poured her heart” out to you.She knew that letter may cause even more estrangement but her motives behind it were of sincere yet misguided love.I hope this helps you see another side of the story.

very cute your science fiction story is just a story for children. You have strong convictions, and distorts the Christian concept of the religious sect. It is an abyss distort their grandparents. Creadme live and apprehend Catholics of all cultures and are enriched in the way of good living. ABOUT THE Catholic, always turn the other cheek.

This is a painful story about having to make decisions and “draw the line in the sand.” Sadly, families can be highly dysfunctional and your account provides an insight into such dysfunctionality. What stands out is the difficulty it caused for you. Some of the judgemental comments posted below seem unfair – you haven’t maligned your family, you did what you thought was right at the time and above, it needs to be remembered that in all of this, your grandparents were the adults when you were growing up, even if they frequently didn’t act responsibly. Thank you for sharing a painful part of your family history. It resonates with those of us who have similar, difficult family relationships.

There is nothing about “blood purity” in stating that you share the same genetic material as your grandparents, unless adopted. Your comment is taken out of context, and frankly twisted.

I’m sorry, what? This makes absolutely no sense.

Rebecca Klempner says:

Thanks for sharing your insight and experience. It occurred to me initially (at the time I received my grandmother’s letter) that this was likely the case.
However, when I re-read the letter’s very angry and narrow-minded tirade against my mother, it seemed very much otherwise. As I mentioned in my reply to another comment, my grandmother’s remarks felt very much like hatred and rejection.
Honestly, I wish I had kept the letter. Reading it now as a more mature adult (no longer a 22 year-old student) would be very, very different. But I’m not sure that I’d identify more with my grandmother. I think it’s likely I’d identify less.
Thank G-d, I’m a mother now. As no child is “perfect” and no parent is “perfect,” some days as a mother are easier, and some days are much, much harder. But even on the hard days, it is my job to notice the good, the light, the potential in my children and love them just the same. In fact, a child who disappoints us probably needs our love expressed more.
Thus, when my grandmother wrote a uniformly negative letter that not only outright rejected my choices in life, but provided no positive words to balance them out, it was difficult to see any love there. Had she cushioned he words with affection, apology, or remorse (for not previously being a bigger part of my life), the message would have been received differently, I think.
After the years ticked by, I feel my own desire to love unconditionally. But when I received that letter, I was still very much a child in many ways. I look at the person I was then and feel compassion for my younger self much the same way I feel compassion for my own children or for my former students.

Rebecca Klempner says:

I’m so glad the story resonated with you. It makes sharing something so personal worthwhile.
And thanks for the defense due to my age at the time of my parents’ divorce and the letter from my grandmother. I hope that people in similar conflicts consider how their children will be affected in the future. When I see ugly custody battles (regardless of the religions of the people involved), it makes me want to freak out entirely and yell, “You have no idea what you are doing to the kids!”

Rebecca Klempner says:

I’ve actually wondered about the possibility of a mini-stroke or the like, too, in recent years. You make a good point about the affect of aging on how our elders communicate.

Bless you Rebeccah for being the kind and thoughtful woman you are.I am sorry things are so difficult sometimes but somehow I believe it all makes us grow into an independent person.You are obviously the better person in every way for seeing 360 degrees when some restrict their sight to such a small area. If I was your grandmother I would be very proud of you.

Rebecca Klempner says:

Aaaaw, thanks!

Natan79 says:

Maybe you like sweeping things under the rug. Not everyone does.

Scotty Newman says:

I am so sorry that this has happened to you. I really wish I had the wisdom of Solomon that had the words to say that would heal. Being a christian, I find it very hard to understand this attitude in people who claim to know the Yeshua of scripture who was Jewish. I have had non Christian family members, and I love them… period. Do I hope someday that they will know this Yeshua? Of course I do, but in the end, G-d does His own work. We are taught in scripture that love is the thing G-d uses to reach us. It says in Deuteronomy 6:5 that I am to love G-d with all that I have & all that I am, and in Leviticus 19:18 I am to love my neighbor as myself. These are very high benchmarks, and I hope that in time G-d will bring me closer to hearing and understanding and doing these, and in that spirit I want to say that for whatever it is worth my heart goes out to you. Again, I wish that I had words that could heal, and at the end of the day I hope that these words do not ring hollow. Peace to you, and Baruch HaSHEM

Paul Eldred says:

Rebecca, what you are missing and maybe will never understand is that your grandparents wished for your conversion simply because they loved you very very much. Christian parents of non-Christian children agonize over these children and the same goes for grandparents and their grandchildren. Whether Christians obey Matthew 28:19 or not, they will always pray for non-believers in their family and look for opportunities to share the Good News. I don’t want to sound judgmental or to generalize but the Christian churches you mentioned aren’t looked upon as evangelical and I dare say your grandparents did not feel particularly equipped to share their faith (even though your grandpa was an Episcopal priest). If you choose to be offended, that is your choice, but I look on your strained relationship with your grandparents as a result of their spiritual ineptitude as well as the probability that they blame your mother for their son turning to a false religion. That is not logical, but logic doesn’t always enter into the equation. Remember that God told Abraham in Genesis that the whole world would be blessed through him and his seed. Look at what God did to prove his love for Abraham’s seed and the whole world. If anyone turns away from God’s love, that is their business. If you turn away from you grandmother that is your business as well.

Clark Kent says:

Its too bad that this is looked as a Jewish issue. Your grandparents from your description, which is very limited, were myopic and very self centered. It also seems like your sister took after them. You realized how important grandparents were, but their actions and your father’s , to stay out of your life, were inexcusable. Your father sounds very mixed-up, but with the parents he had, its understandable. Your better off without them. It would always be a one way street, with you chasing their acceptance. Some may say that your father’s open mindedness towards religion, going through 3 major beliefs, was a positive, but to me its is just a pathetic self preoccupation. Its too bad that issues of religion divided your family. Its too bad that religion continues to divide society. It would be best if religion, and fog it brings, would disappear.

Love everyone but don’t take them seriously as we are all human and have some daft ideas, I am an old man who has been hurt a lot, but I forgive all as I hope G-d will one day forgive me. We are all fools or fooled. Keep to your study your religion that is the only truth, use your reasoning to determine what you should do or not do, G-d loves you.

Religions….what waste of time.

katie says:

Rebecca

As an american christian currently living in israel and have been a resident here for the last 4 years there is so much i would like to say so many questions I would like to ask you, but I am not sure you would hear me to be honest. I respect your religion and your beliefs and your choices because they are yours to have and to make. You became angry for their beliefs yet you wanted yours respected? I am just slightly confused about somethings is all. I understand all to well how hard it is at times when two religions join together in one family buttttttttttt that being said its only has hard as you yourself make it. I would love the chance to talk with you if there is a chance of that please let me know.

You would not exist without your grandparents, but you have chosen a set of divisive believes over your own flash and blood. You made this choice – being Jewish vs being Human – not your grandparents, as misguided as they were in their quest to make you switch to another set of divisive believes. Now they are gone and there is no way to fix it. I hope your children will not repeat your mistakes.

Person Anongratta says:

Mother’s day just passed and reading now for the first time this article, Im just filled with so much sadness with how I so readily identify with the rollercoaster of emotions and experiences that were spoken of. I understand the reasons and actions that you chose with regards to your situation, as I’ve been experiencing the same. The progression of differences expressed in the article mimic my own, except in my case it is because I am atheist and my parents are southern baptists. For me, I endured so many years of their prostelyzations, not coming to my wedding but sending a family bible instead(I married and currently live overseas… and do in no small part to that whole situation), and much more. The straw that broke the camels back for me was in one of their weekly emails of not just religion or political ranting, that they made bigotted insults in the general sense concerning those who were not only not of their faith but “foreign”. Being that my wife fit both in that, and remembering how they had at our last visit spoken so well of her and their like of her, it was so painful to read how they were so hatefully ignorant and contradictory in what they were saying. I’d finally had enough and wrote them back that I wanted them to cease sending me emails if they could not refrain from the prostelyzation, and prejudicial rantings. At first they did then they started up again at which point I warned I would block their mails if it continued. From that point they stopped. Now, the only acknowledgements between us occur at holidays with e-cards or gifts and even then they still drop the religious sentiment here or there. It hurts and were it not for my wife as an anchor and perspective from both a life and culture that is predominantly devoid of this, I would have become extremely miserable. It is so hard to emotionally reconcile with the fact that I can not nor ever will have a close family relationship with them or my other relatives(they’re all virtually the same in these regards) because I know their definition of family is conditional. Reconciling with such a lonely feeling in their regard is something I will have to do for the rest of my life. But this experience is not limited to just parents but friends, aquaintances, and more; but the hardest was the cancerously slow erroding that has occurred with my parents. Im rambling I think at this point due to just the the thoughts and feelings that are welling up. At any rate, thank you for writing this article.

Dick Locus says:

Proud kids always become grumpy when they age!

Just one more reason for me to hate religion & hope that one day we can all shake off the shackles of ancient ideologies & move forward together as Human beings free from any kind of magical thinking. Your story is sad but without religions involvement most probably would never had occurred.☮ [Religion poisons everything;-Christopher Hitchens]

Crash says:

Isn’t this just the consequences and fallout of Divorce? Your mother had full custody and therefore, you were raised Jewish with her culture and your maternal grandparents having a big influence in your life. This is normal. From your article, I get that the divorce was a bitter one and your father pretty much was absent from your life. I’m sure your father told his parent’s his side of the divorce and they would believe him because he is their son. I don’t think this matter is so much about religion, but more what happens when cross cultural or interracial marriages fail. In most cases, the mother gets custody and she returns to her own culture and the children are raised in that culture with a sense of confusion or disconnect to the other part of their heritage. Your grandparents made some effort to maintain their relationship with you and your sister. In little ways, they shared who they were…Christians. You saw it as their denial to accept your Jewishness. I don’t. I think they wanted you to recognize your other half…the Christian half without understanding the full breadth of your being Jewish. You need to remember you Grandmother’s age and the generation she is from. I am sure she probably never had a Jewish friend, and therefore, could not relate to you on that level. In her own way she was trying to establish a bond. She may or may not like your mother. That has nothing to do with your relationship with her. You do not know the 100% truth of what happened in your parent’s marriage and neither does she, but both of you have chosen sides – maybe in ignorance. She is your family. This Jewish non-Jewish family member thing really is silly to me. It is only another way to keep people separated. Keep your faith. It’s your life. However, my question to you is, what would God want you to do regarding your grandmother? Does He even play a part in this? Where is the respect for your elders? She will not live forever,and she may never fully understand you. But regardless if you ever speak to her again, you are of her blood, and there is a heritage and history attached to that blood.

tryingtoberealistic says:

I’m sorry. I must disagree with your decision. Part of your teaching as children of God is that of forgiveness. And you alienated your paternal grandparents because of their desire for you to become Christian. I think you would have been better off/at least felt lest guilt if you had tried to continue your relationship with them and tried to explain your choice/decision to practice Judaism. If they then continued to persist, you could have severed the ties knowing it was their decision NOT yours and the guilt would not be there. You might want to consider where the tolerance factor for you comes in (the same intolerance you accused your grandparents of having you seem to have practiced as well.) There is nothing you can do about it now, but I would suggest that maybe, if you were really desiring to know about your paternal family that you try to reach out to them.

Dervid says:

Sounds like both sides were turning into religious nutters … sad. Genes > Silly religious dogma any day of the week.

Dervid says:

That’s pretty sick you’ve indoctrinated your children into an imaginary cult of choseness and “God” worship. Hopefully, as they get older, science and reason will break your chains.

GAWZ says:

“If this is the worst thing that ever happens to you, consider yourself lucky” is a quote that an old college professor (and mentor) used to say on occasion. My guess is he borrowed it from someone else when was a young man. Professor Regan passed away almost two years ago and I also stumbled upon his obituary via the internet while trying to reconnect.

Antonia Vaquez says:

What happened to ‘hate the sin but not the sinner?’

Anna1968 says:

See, that’s why I’m an atheist. What kind of god allows families to be split over something stupid like religion?

Rebecca, as a Christian myself, I’m appalled that your grandparents did this. I have several relatives (nieces and nephews, mostly) who have embraced different faiths; while (given my beliefs) that saddens me, it saddens me because I love them – but my desire to see them embrace what I believe to be true is not my motivation for loving them, but an outgrowth of that love. I am so sorry that this seems not to be the case with your grandparents, and I hope that this wound will heal in time. Please don’t think that all of us Christians are like that, and keep praying for us.

you might have tried embracing and learning about what was important to your grandparents… their blood flows in your veins but you are dead set on identifying yourself as a ‘Jew’. so very sad. you mention not once any interest in that… Part of their belief system IS absolute… so what… you are acting like a child… very sorry to be direct with you… try opening your own mind… its as closed as theirs were.

hollow-welt says:

what a deep and insightful reply.

very few people get right to the root of it.

EVERYTHING IS GOD’S FAULT

well done.

drdem says:

so says a follower of satan

hollow-welt says:

i think you missed my point.

Cristina Holm says:

In a way, you have also cared more for your religion than for those people – and at a certain age it’s the younger person who has to understand; they are too old to change.

Boerseun says:

Heartbreaking story. My wish for you Rebecca is that you would come to know the greatest Jew of all times, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He is perfect even while many of His followers (or supposed followers) are shockingly imperfect! With evangelical love… from Africa

Bubba Loop says:

To me, that was a solid example of how religion separates people (both on your and your grandmother´s side), supporting my atheist ideals.

Ninaaaaaaaaaa says:

Pardon the dark humor but I am glad to find that people of other faiths face the same .. how should I put it- ‘attempt to convert’.

On a more serious note – don’t blame yourself. It takes two to tango, and although you feel hurt by their actions, it’s sad but maybe there was a good reason why your mother fought with your grand parents in the first place.

Sean says:

I was raised in a very religious household, but I no longer see any useful purpose whatsoever in “revealed religion.” I have had a bad experience with it. I feel it retarded my ability to live a truly healthy and joyful life. I believe for most grounded, sincere, and inquisitive people, it is an utter imposition. It is necessary for personal happiness to be mentally faithful to yourself. We should simply recognize the horror of the idea that God would commission men to commit abhorent deeds against innocent people, such as infanticide for example (See the Book of Numbers). Or the gloomy doctrines of original sin and redemption. Or force on themselves a belief in things against which reason revolts, and which abound in what some call the ‘Word of God’ (more like the word of a monster!). I am hopeful that humankind will free itself from the absurd yoke of revealed religion. I think it will. Liberalism and reason will always triumph in the end – light will always trump darkness.

TLLRS says:

Atheist here. What was your problem with your grand parents again? That you believe in a different fairytale about an invisible man in the sky? What a waste.

I am an aetheist with a (happily very liberal) muslim wife. We celebrate christmas on a completely non-religeous level with our kids and we celebrate the Islamic holidays in a pretty similar way. There is so much popular culture entwinned with these that choosing to not celebrate them just makes you look a miserable so-and-so. I am quite surprised that you see shutting off your relatives that send “unnecessary” xmas cards and choosing to follow one side of your heritage as normal, but then see their wanting you to embrace the other side as shocking. In America, where religeon is taken rather more seriously than many Europeans can stomach, I would have thought that you would have been able to see this dichotomy and appreciate its difficulties rather better.

Nevertheless I wish you well and feel sorry for your loss.

Semiotic says:

Your propensity to mire in the toxic disaster that is ‘religion’, as shared by your father and his lineage, has created still another shipwreck.
When will people be free of religion?? When will they turn away from these divisive and toxic philosophies? why do they ‘chose’ to ‘beleive”> To get discounted moral compases? made in the dessert? To avoid making real decisions? to get ‘certainty’ in an uncertain world? or to lord some inside knowledge over someone else. Its all designed to bring people apart. sad.

T-Roy says:

This is a good example as to why religion should not be taught to children prior to the age of reason. If it weren’t, the world would be a better place today.

Your grandparents were raised Christian, they identified themselves tribally as being Christian, just like their parents. They raised their son to be Christian and whether they actual embraced the dogma of Christianity or whether it was just tribal, they were probably very upset when you were raised Jewish by your mother. You were half their blood and in their eyes, half of their tribe. I am sure there was a lot of fighting, hating, discussing about this when you were young and this was probably never exposed to you until you read your grandmothers letter. Your grandparents made the effort to send cards and stay in your lives. Of course they wanted you to re-join the tribe of their side of the family. They loved you and wanted you back. Your mother, I am sure would have nothing to do with it and has probably done a good job of keeping you far away from your fathers side of the family (whether you admit this or not, I guarantee it is true).

It is a shame about religion. It seems to poison everything. You are only on this earth for 75 years of less if you get sick and then after that there is nothing. There is no heaven, nothing. Wouldn’t you rather trade your superstitious nonsense for one week with your family without the constraints of religion and your Jewish mother to confuse and add to guilt?

Dogma written in the bronze age for illiterate farmers in Palestine on how to sacrifice their livestock for good weather and how to stone their wives and daughters for going outside during the period, is not way to live your life…

Quezz says:

What a stupid assumption on your part for someone who claims to have embraced reason! You know nothing about this man, his beliefs about science or the natural world, and assume WITHOUT EVIDENCE that he must be superstitious. Who’s the close-minded moron in this case? Could you please become a reasonable atheist? That would make the cause look better.

Guest says:

I think you probably realize this, but it would have been better to stay in touch with your grandparents and simply respect their beliefs without embracing them. I’m sure (or pretty sure) that their hope that you would become a Christian wasn’t the only reason they stayed in touch with you. Sometimes the written word does not convey the writer’s true meaning. You might have asked them if that was what they meant before breaking it off. It doesn’t sound like they were “in your face” about their religion so I’m sure you could have continued the relationship despite your different beliefs.

AvalonS says:

Rebecca, thanks so much for your article. What strikes me in it is that you had so little guidance from your parents on this matter. Your experience will be something to pass on when your own children are old enough. Best wishes.

ferd says:

I don’t think you did anything wrong. They clearly had no interest in you or your family – why torture yourself? I have a sister with whom I have not spoken more than a few words for over a decade. She instigated the break over a triviality, but she is a very judgmental and hypocritical person. I feel no lack of anything by not having her in my life, nor should you feel any remorse over your grandparents. There are plenty of people in your life who deserve your time – devote yourself to them and forget about a hateful old couple who made no effort towards you. You may not get to choose your family, but can certainly choose whether or not to associate with them.

lemmata says:

“The Orthodox lifestyle I’ve embraced has filled my life with goodness” Filled it with delusion and obnoxious presumption perhaps a better characterisation.

f4xtrafn says:

You’re too Jewish and they were too Christian. The more devout one becomes the more exclusionary and bigoted one becomes. It’s the “week-end” Christians and Jews and Muslims etc. that get along.

It didn’t “happen” to her — she created it by choice.

LDS150 says:

No, they were just jerks.

maiaexpat says:

I’m sort of horrified by this article, which is badly written (and so self-indulgent!) anyway. There is so much judgmental finger-pointing, so much holier-than-thou self-rightesouness, it’s nauseating.

This sentence stands out the most: “My sister and I found the Christmas cards annoying…” — why on earth…? If people are Christian and love Christmas and want to share their Christmas love with others, why shouldn’t they send Christmas cards – to anyone, regardless of religion? You don’t have to join in in the ‘Christmas’ part of it, but you CAN understand how important it is for THEM and, if you love and respect them, then accept their desire to spread their good wishes.

I’m not Christian. I’m a quarter Jewish, actually, since my dad’s mother was Jewish but she died young and his Catholic father then married a non-Jewish woman, the stepmother who brought him up and became my grandmother. Yet my dad always remained in contact with his ‘real’ mother’s Jewish family, whom he loved and who loved him. He’s an atheist, though, and we grew up without religion. I never feel the slightest offense or annoyance when any of my religious relatives (some are Jewish, some are Catholic, some are Protestant) attempt to share any of their religious rituals with me. On the contrary, I see it as an expression of their affection for me and I take it as such.

You’d have been advised to do the same.

maiaexpat says:

hear hear!! :)

Why let religion get in the way of life? I mean, they did that, but you shouldn’t too. Just take it easy.

Atheists are not putting the blame on God — they are putting the blame on diverse religions, all claiming to speak in the name of God. There is a big difference.

hollow-welt says:

Please re-read the post i was replying to.

Maura O'Rourke says:

What you seem to forget is your grandmothers age, that she is of a different era. two generations removed from you, has a different way of thinking She most likely married as a teen and did not have the opportunity of further education,therefore she did not have the opportunity of mixing with people of different cultures and religions . You did and therefore you have the advantage.over her, It is as much up to you as it is up to her to make the move. Don’t leave it too late or remorse will eat away at you. How do you know it was she who left you and your sister out of your grandfather’s death notice. It was most likely done by the undertaker who knew the family. I am seperated and it was I who kept my son in contact with his fathers relatives, not his father as I felt it was his entitlement to know them. They are very close now that he is an adult and a father himself.. i wish you peace of mind and Rebecca “To err is but human,forgiveness divine”

Alitza613 says:

Actually, it’s just the opposite. I have a lot of respect for my observant friends of different faiths. That they hold something dear, without feeling the need to convert me to their way of thinking, shows a person on a much more enlightened path than many traverse. I have devoutly Catholic friends, devout Mormon neighbors and even a few Muslims in my circle I call friends. We talk about religion sometimes, not to convince each other that ours is the right way, but just to share and compare. It’s the less observant that tend to be bigoted and obnoxious about other people’s religion. And I am an Orthodox Jew by Choice. My family includes several ministers in it’s ranks. Some still talk about “praying for me” to see the light, and some just accept me as I am and keep kosher dishes and foodstuffs on hand for when I’m around. It’s all good. That’s what *I* have learned in my old age!

Alitza613 says:

You clearly have no true understanding of what an Orthodox lifestyle is like or you could not make such an outlandish remark that has no intent except to cause hard feelings.

Alitza613 says:

What a heart wrenching episode from your life, thank you for sharing. I have read all of the posts and am amazed at how many people responding here only looked at the religious aspect rather than the whole picture! And I’m a little surprised at the sheer volume of the anti-religious posts in general!

First, what is past is past and as much as it may be wished, cannot be undone. To continue to blame yourself will only bring distress for you and your family. You made decisions based on your youthful experiences, and chose what was best for you at that time. Nothing at all wrong with that. You had grandparents to whom you reached out and maintained communication. In return you got slapped in the face with anger and hatred. It does seem to me that your Jewishness actually had very little to do with it, that most of it was directed at your mother. Who wouldn’t step back from that??

As an Orthodox Jew by Choice, I also have family members who weren’t so thrilled by my choices. And I still get christmas cards, and hear that some continue to pray for my soul. At my advanced age, I’m okay with their inability to cope. And I shield my children from it. I also have family who have closets or containers in the attic filled with kashered pots and pans, just waiting for my next visit! Many of them came to my wedding, and are returning for my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah this summer (including one who prays for my soul!)

Now is the time evaluate how you feel and decide what you would like the future to hold for you. I have made connections with family members that I haven’t seen in 20 years or more! Facebook helped a lot with that. Some of my father’s family are still strangers to me, and I’ve made peace with that, too. You can do this, as well. (Both the reaching out and the making peace.) It is never too late.

As for your paternal grandparents, well, you were young, they were older and presumably wiser. Blame falls equally on both sides for not reaching out sooner. But we have a saying, no? Gam zu la tova. This, too, is for the good. Perhaps your years would have been filled with distress and hatred. Perhaps it’s good as a wake up call: now is the time to act if you wish to connect with your paternal kin. Perhaps you should give yourself forgiveness for what has passed.

Wishing you peace.

Mary Gordon says:

You are still viewing your grandparents with the lens of a child – and not with the forgiving and gracious heart of an adult. Who knows what really went on with them or within their relationships with your mother – or your father for that matter. As a child, none of that would have been shared with you. You clearly had expectations they couldn’t live up to, and you couldn’t or wouldn’t accept that they were deeply flawed human beings – and you can’t forgive them for not living up to what you wanted them to be. You were part of the wall, and who knows how rejected they felt – not just by you, but by both of your parents’ life choices. Take the high road, behave in a loving way, “out nice” the stinkers, and you let the rest roll off you. My expectations of most of my relatives are extremely low – and then I get to be surprisingly touched and pleased when they do ANYTHING kind. Put the suitcase full of rocks down. Lugging it all these years has only hurt you and lost you some opportunities to connect, even in small ways.

Chuck says:

I suppose you and your sister didn’t hesitate to deposit all the checks?

QnsGambit says:

Maybe, just maybe, you are seeing the both sides of the same exceptionalist coin of both traditions. Maybe, just maybe, your introspections could have led you to believe that your tradition at its theological core is actually uncompromising. And how is it that the idea that your husband adopted essentially the same position as your grandparents only elicited a sentence of comment from you and no critique or further reflection?

This isn’t introspection, it’s self pity.

Natan79 says:

Hey troll, if you want to say something nasty, at least use correct English syntax.

Natan79 says:

That’s really offensive. And I say that as a non-Orthodox.

Natan79 says:

Oh yeah, but Jesus is better, eh? Or Marx?

Natan79 says:

I wish they were first free of Marx. That’s a lot worse than religion. I lived in a Communist country and I know how it is.

Natan79 says:

They were also cold people. You missed that.

Natan79 says:

Blood is in culture. What you say is barbaric.

Natan79 says:

They wanted her to convert. That’s a bit much.

Natan79 says:

Your objection is nonsense. She didn’t ask her grandparents to convert to Judaism.

T-Roy says:

Neither. Should not teach any belief system to children prior to the age of reason.

Semiotic says:

marxism is in fact an attempt to re create the hegemony that religion has on the naifs – by secularizing all the attributes of post roman empire propaganda techniques. Everyone wants “in” the pope gig.

hierchial leadership
endless committees
no accountability
refutation of logic
caring over effectiveness
BS about redistributing wealth
endless ‘sacrifices’ demanded from the suckers
taxes or tithes extracted from the reluctant
villifying the non beleivers
distracting techniques to cast attention away from corruption with identity- politics war mongering
lots of badges of inclusiveness
lots of scarring the “non included”
Monuments to the “heros”
piles and piles of dead heros

you know- mussollini, stalin, castro, Khommenni, Adolf, Mao the dung,

fascist, religious, ayatollah, pope. mulah, rabbi, priest, marxist, socialist, Neo-con, Conservative, liberal
all the same

manna for the gullible
vote for me and get something for free ( which i took from your mom’s purse.)

beleivers are the curse of this planet.

talk about intolerance… “my husband was uncomfortable with the notion of including my father’s parents in our lives; would they try to indoctrinate our children?” Time to look in the mirror, lady.

ViolettaD says:

Maybe they just didn’t know any other way of showing affection. Maybe any other attempts they made to be with you were limited by one or both parents. And maybe wanting you to be Christian WAS a sign of love, even if you don’t agree with it: it meant they wanted you to be in heaven with them.

thelostboyscout says:

maybe it was your grandparents’ love for you which made them want you to convert to christianity? i think you have to understand that people are so imperfect that even our grandparents and parents have issues that prevents them from being the people we imagine they should be. life happens, not just to you and me, but to the people we think “have their $h!t together.” my parents keep very little contact with my children, and it bothers me, but it’s not due to any subversive religious agenga, but because life gets in the way, and we are separated by miles, continents, oceans. best thing i could say to you is that hey, maybe you won’t make the same mistake again.. that is to say, that if there are people important to you, you should do whatever it is to make sure they know how you feel. if they choose not to reciprocate, it’s on them. if they weren’t important enough for you to get past their attempts to christianize you, then it’s no big deal. but then why write the article, right?

KevinLawson says:

You are “supposed” to make nice with your relatives. We also understand that there are bad people in the world who don’t deserve the effort it would take to connect with them. For some people, those bad people are their relatives so they are faced with contradictory directives. This is even more confusing because of course nobody is entirely “bad.”

So what do you do then when your relatives are consistently bad insofar as how they treat you? I think the answer is to do what you can, when you can. If you don’t want to expose yourself to pain, there is a period of estrangement and if that lasts longer than the relative’s life, that is just the way it goes. The choice not to subject yourself to relatives who don’t accept you as you are is not your mistake. They made the mistake by getting stuck on their foolish agenda.

KevinLawson says:

Yeah….no, Dervid. The Atheist Bible doesn’t support that kind of personal attack and as the Pope of Atheism, I’m going to have to excommunicate you.

KevinLawson says:

Yes Mike, there is no real void because four good grandparents is not in some contract.There are many things we expect in life, but we only get some of them. You can’t lose what you never had. Choose to see the half full cup…..etc., etc….but there has to be space for grief too.

KevinLawson says:

Your cousins may just find the story interesting. Don’t assume they would feel they are being dragged into a “mess.” They can simply decline if they so choose.

KevinLawson says:

So if members of your own family behave badly, it must be kept a secret? Papa493, your attitude is what keeps all kinds of abuse going. At its worst, the “family business” taboo is against speaking about domestic violence or sexual abuse. This writer has chosen to speak up about estrangement in a way that will be thought-provoking and useful for many readers.

KevinLawson says:

I agree that religion is poisonous, but poison exists in atheist families also.

KevinLawson says:

Usually, atheists are the calm, rational people. Why has this article attracted so many spiteful atheists?

KevinLawson says:

Why do you invite someone with such a different life story to experience events as you do? Jews are tired of having Xmas rammed down their throats. Spend some time considering why this would be true.

bismarket 1 says:

Agreed but why have another reason to fight?

KevinLawson says:

Right, but let’s not get too smug about being atheist…tempting as it is.

fukamela says:

Agree that you should start off with feeling your love for yourself- just as others should for theirselves. Somehow the Christian “Do unto others..” and the Jewish “Love thy neighbour….” which require that first step of loving yourself unscrewed itself from the grandparents’ lives…. and consequently, they lost contact with their twin grandaughters. This should not be a blame, rather a shame (as in sad) game. While your paternal grandfather hopefully lies in peace, try again and again to help your paternal grandmother pick up the pieces and live in peace.

Volvican says:

Invariably, these stories always have that part where the ‘pious’ and ‘right’ one judges the other side but clouds that fact in some kind of moral superiority cloud. She judged them even more harshly – she actually rejected them from her life. And for what? I frankly don’t see anything wrong with them sending Christmas cards. Such cards are to share what you yourself care about and believe in. Instead she saw it as some sly attempt at conversion or a jab at her beliefs. And even if it was her Grandparents attempt to ‘remind’ her that the other side of her family were Christians, so what? I’m agnostic, leaning towards atheist and there are times when I’m talking to my mother that she brings up the possibility of the Rapture and that I might be left behind. It’s not something she always talks about and I know she’s disappointed in my lack of faith, but would I ostracise her from my life for it? No. You would think that someone that purports to have found such joy and goodness in their faith would also have been a bit more secure in it that a Christmas card doesn’t send them into a tizzy. Or perhaps really – this is just a molehill being made into a mountain – fodder for the pages?

Da'ud Maud'dib says:

I understand your pain, but don’t think it was love and fear of your eternal damnation as a “good” Christian” that caused your grandparents to behave in the way they did. As a fellow Jew who is from a mixed family and works for a Christian institution I have seen how followers of Jesus try to convince others of the light of their ways, it is through their actions and two cards a year with a check doesn’t show “Christian” values in any way. If she wanted your conversion out of love then she should have demonstrated the superiority of her values. Constant showering of love and attention with invitation to prayer and service is the way to show family they are loved and that you honor the values that Jesus as Christ stood for. I’m sorry for the pain but hope you contact other members of your family on that side to expand your knowledge of your family and the circle of family and love that your children and grandchildren can share in. Good luck and peace and happiness to you and your family.

Luca says:

There is ONE humanity, religions first started as a way to decipher the pre-scientific world and natural events, later becoming a more codified system via middle-eastern variations of monotheism. Today religioni just divide humans in stupid wars. Paradise is on earth, not somewhere else.

Dervid says:

What are you yapping about, the article tells me all I need to know. If you want to raise your child “Jewish” — look to Einstein or Hertzl for guidance — not dogmatic rabbis and their perverted rituals and bronze age thinking.

Dervid says:

What chuztpah to think the guy is pro-Jesus after that thumping — lol! Just say no to Jesus, Abraham, and Muhammad; yes to Einstein, Darwin, and Miescher.

Dervid says:

What chuztpah to think the guy is pro-Jesus after that thumping — lol! Just say no to Jesus, Abraham, and Muhammad; yes to Einstein, Darwin, and Miescher.

lumiss says:

Thank you Rebecca!

Carlos Decourcy Lascoutx says:

…religion does terrible, horrible things to people. try to do without it, or at least
don’t wear it on your sleeve. piety means not to pick, it’s for you alone, don’t share
it. why wield a hammer in the kitchen of creation?

Was i being smug? I didn’t mean to be, i just said what i thought & i’m sorry if it came across that way but i do genuinely feel what i said to be true.

KevinLawson says:

Well, many people might say that the dysfunctionality in my family of origin was due to atheism. Some Christians (for instance) get smug about being Christian. My purpose is just to advocate a higher standard for atheists. Those of us “without religious involvement” cannot say that sad stories “most probably would never had occurred.”

Also, I don’t think we can help people suffering from religion to get over their disability by in some way positioning ourselves as “better than.” I thought I saw a hint of that kind of smugness, but I get it that this was not your intention. Maybe I am just projecting.

Oh i’ve gotten “Smug” in the past, it’s when i started seeing it in others that i realised how it looked & felt it probably did more harm than good. I also agree that because (in part) of how we’re perceived by some that there are obligations upon us to be the best we can be (Not a Freudian slip, lol), it’s all too easy to slide when you come across some of the hate & downright stupidity on-line & in real life sometimes, i suppose i can only do my best but i’m sadly far from perfect. I was a late baby so i think the heavy religious influences in my own family had pretty much died by the time i showed up except for my Mother & we sort of have an unspoken rule that we don’t talk Religion. It was nice chatting with you BTW. ps I have a close Jewish friend in Israel who’s secular maybe i should ask her opinion or point her to this article?

KevinLawson says:

I was an early baby, but the last religious thing my parents did was baptize me. I grew up religion free, which leaves me free to question both sides.

Sunny60 says:

Shame on you, I am sure your mother gave you reasons not to trust in them or love them the way grandparents want to be loved….As a grandparent we try, but young people tend to let us know in their actions that they don’t want you around unless they want you around……Grandparents love and don’t want to force themselves on grandchildren…..It was up to you to let them know you love them and they were important to you……You broke their hearts wheather you want to admit it or not…..Your Mother convinced your Dad to be come Jewish……why was that not wrong???/as you say these terrible Christian Parents might try to influence you….seems to me you could have used it……even Jesus, a Jew loved Christians when his own turned him away and hung him on a cross….shame on you……Think about how you hurt them when you turned them away!

Laura says:

Here it is almost a year after you wrote this and I must say, it really touched me. I ran a search for “Christian grandparents jewish grandchildren”. My oldest son (I have 5 boys and 1 girls) dated a very beautified Jewish girl for 6 year before he proposed. She did not respond right off with a YES! She in asked him if he was ready to convert to Judaism. You see, I raised my children in a Christian home. I raised them to the best of my ability. The 5 that are now grown are amazing! If I am a true Christian, I trust G-d completely with these children HE gave me. As matter of fact, I have to trust that I did the right thing to prepare them for their future spouses. If my son, a grown man loves this woman enough to move across the country and convert for her, I’m not going to question it. And if this woman has that much faith in her beliefs, I’m not going to do anything to interfere! So, a year and 1/2 ago, under a beautiful chupah, covered by both of the brides grandfathers tallit’s my son took his bride!
Now I have the joy of being YaYa to two month old grand daughters! That is why your story moved me so. I pray that I do nothing to offend anyone’s beliefs. We are blessed with a very open relationship with her parents. His in laws even came to my other sons Christian wedding last year. I just don’t ever want to step on toes or overstep my boundaries where the girls are concerned. I would love to take part in any Jewish holidays etc etc.
Thank you for your boldness in sharing this story. I love and admire the woman that you are!

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Cutting Family Ties

The cards my Christian paternal grandparents sent me as a child came with small checks—and a hidden agenda

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