Last November, we were sitting across from Rabbi Shira Stutman from Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. Her home office was wrapped in many books that created a sort of leather-bound coziness. Even before Rose and I took her class for interfaith couples, she had been one of our favorites and a wonderful resource for navigating our interfaith marriage. Now, we were meeting to share the news that Rose was pregnant – and we wanted to raise our child, our son, Jewish.
I was squirming a bit in my seat and not exactly breathing regularly, yet Rose seemed relaxed. Her smile was gentle, even as she explained the less glamorous moments for women in their first trimester. And even though she was feeling exhausted all of the time, she said she was very lucky that she and baby were happy and healthy.
Rabbi Shira was perched on the edge of her couch, leaning on her knees, just bubbling with excitement for us. Her vibrant hand gestures and boisterous tone made it seem as though she might roll off the couch into a giggling fit at any moment.
“So, I have a question,” she asked, settling down for a moment. “If the baby isn’t coming until May, why are you coming to me now?”
Without a pause, the words just erupted from my mouth: “Our parents are coming for Thanksgiving and we need to have all of the answers for them about how we will raise our kids.”
We were past the point of worrying about letting family members down, but we didn’t want there to be any bad feelings on either side of the family. It felt important to get answers and advice, so everyone felt informed, involved and included in the joy of raising our child.
Rabbi Shira walked us through everything and empowered us to make our own decisions. We learned about options for conversion, if that was something we felt was necessary given not all streams of Judaism would recognize our son as Jewish; she suggested synagogues for us to join – if we didn’t have one in mind – that would be welcoming of interfaith couples. You could tell by the way that the answers effortlessly and lovingly rolled off of Rabbi Shira’s tongue that we were not the only couple faced with these decisions.
I personally found myself delving deeper into each answer with her, trying to ground myself in technical and halachic questions yet in reality digging deeper into more emotional and confusing places. I felt pulled in two directions between wanting our son to be recognized by all Jews yet not wanting to give in to the idea that are son wasn’t “Jewish enough.” At that moment, I looked away from Rabbi Shira to an empty corner in the room and hesitantly said out loud, “I guess this whole conversation is more about my own Jewish identity and the questions I still have about my own Judaism.”
Then it was Rose’s turn to share, she very calmly said she was looking forward to bringing a baby into the world and raising him Jewish. She reassured me nothing had changed for her – we would do what was necessary to raise our child Jewish in the best way possible. Then she leaned back on the sofa again, closed her eyes for a moment and gently sighed. It was not a frustrated sigh, but the kind that let me know that I could keep going around in circles with Rabbi Shira if I wanted to, but she had gotten what she needed out of the conversation. She was content and at peace.
When I reflect on moments like these, I realize how wonderful a life partner and soon-to-be parenting partner I have in Rose. She was patient enough to let me vomit the last vestiges of my Jewish guilt to the rabbi, kind enough to come along for the ride while I wrestled with my own personal unsettled feelings about Jewish identity. She is loyal to uphold her commitment to join me in creating the Jewish home that will be a warm and inviting place for our children to live Jewishly. At the same time, she seems to intuitively know how to do this without denying her own non-Jewish identity.
Because of Rose, our children will understand patience, kindness and unconditional love. I also believe that with her help, our children will come to know Judaism as well as anyone with two Jewish parents.
Rose has been able to participate in our family’s Jewish traditions and observances in a way that is authentic to her. For example, Rose loves to be crafty, so for Purim she made her own costume and helped me create mine. During Passover, Rose helped with the crazy regiment of ridding our home of chametz and then took any non-Passover products she wanted to eat during the week to work. I have even noticed lately at Shabbat dinner that she has learned the words of kiddush.
This last year of anticipating parenthood has definitely come with some fun conversations. Since we are having a boy, Rose had to explain to her mom what actually happens at a bris, a.k.a. it’s not just a baby naming with bagels. And surprisingly, when everyone came for Thanksgiving, there was no interrogation. Our parents wanted to celebrate and make sure Rose was feeling well and taken care of. Most of the questions had to do with colors for the nursery and if we had thought about creating a registry for gifts – the concerns of eager, excited grandparents.
Over the last nine months, we have grown together, navigating this uncharted territory of almost-parenthood. Although technically we are not parents until our son breaths his first breath in this world, we have already begun to feel many of the pressures and joys that comes with being responsible for the life of another human being. We know we are not even close to being ready to bring a child into the world, but as most people have told us, we know that we will never truly feel ready. We accept that there is too much to learn, know and understand, and at this point it is happening no matter what.
It reminds me of those moments where you are about to go on stage for the big scene in a play. It’s the night of the show: there is no more time for rehearsals, so you hope that you have prepared enough and the right words will come out of your mouth. You walk on stage, look at your partner, and connect, putting your faith in the intentions and emotions that you have set for the scene.
For this performance – perhaps the most important one of my life – I couldn’t imagine being on stage with anyone else but Rose.
For more posts in the “I Love You Too, Mom” series, go here.