Unorthodox, Tablet’s weekly podcast, takes questions from its listeners about all aspects of Jewish life, from the religiously profound to the utterly inconsequential. Every week, “Ask Unorthodox” explores one of these questions in print. If you have a question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How is a nice Christian boy to raise his daughter Jewish?
Last week, we got a voicemail from a listener whose paternal grandfather was an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, whose mother was an Episcopalian, and who himself was raised with a little of this, a little of that. His family “had a seder with Easter eggs, and lit a menorah next to the Christmas tree, but … never talk[ed] about God.” Then, in college, he “fell in with a really wonderful Christian community” and was “captivated by the person of Jesus of Nazareth.” He got baptized, and looked forward to a life as a half-Jewish follower of Christ. But there’s a problem—he listens to Unorthodox. “And when I hear the banter, the interruptions, the awful Nazi jokes on the podcast, I recognize this kind of atmospheric New York Jewishness that I’ve left by becoming a Christian and moving south, and I miss it.” He misses it so much that he wants it back—and he wants it for his offspring. “How do I raise my daughter with a sense of Jewishness? How do I do this? Am I even allowed to do this? When I was baptized, did I give up any inherent claim to my tribal identity?”
We discussed the question on this week’s episode. To our questing correspondent: No, you did not give up any claim to your Jewish identity. What’s more, your identity certainly did not give up its claim on you. Judaism is not the kind of club where when you leave once, there’s no reentry. The stamp the bouncer gave you never rubs off. You are on a journey, you have a ticket to ride, and who knows where it will take you? Maybe all the way back to the shtetl, maybe not. It’ll be fascinating to see.
But meanwhile, what to do about your daughter? How about this: Be authentically you. When your daughter is old enough, say to her what you just said to us. Say, “As you know, you dear dad’s a Christian. But my father, your grandfather, was raised Jewish. And so was I, sort of. And I still feel Jewish in a lot of ways that are hard to explain.” And then try to explain them for her. Play our podcast for her, if you must. Be candid about your confusion. It’s okay for parents to be fully human, to show their children that they don’t have it all figured out. If you are authentically you, she’ll notice your own Jewish quest, and maybe it will send her off on a quest of her own. Or maybe she’ll hitch a ride with you. Whatever happens, you’ll have more, and more meaningful, conversations about Judaism with your daughter than many Jewish parents ever have with their children.
But look, that’s just our opinion, and we’re just some podcasting Jews. Some of you readers may disagree, and if so, let us know—by writing to
email@example.com. Also, send us your questions! We’ll answer them. To get the Unorthodox podcast, visit iTunes here, or use your favorite app.