Post # 1
I’ve been dating their son for almost 3 years. They have always known that I am not Jewish (they are) and it had not been an issue. Now that we’re engaged, they’re hoping I will convert, etc.
I feel rejected and hurt. They have broached the topic in such a way that I feel like I and my future children will be a disappointment to them. Also, they are secular Jews, which is impossible to convert to. I feel that it is hypocritical for them to expect from me more than they themselves could honestly do. They are atheists.
Sooo I’m posting here because I want to have some sympathy and understanding for them. Right now I feel like they’re missing the bigger picture and focusing on the wrong things. But I don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes; maybe you could help me see it from their perspective?
PS – for the record, I have completely honoured and respected my fiance’s culture and heritage. I celebrate all the Jewish holidays with him, and have made challah and done other things to really participate. I feel like all of that counts for nothing and that my efforts don’t matter because it’s not “official”.
Post # 2
Can you have a Jewish ceremony without being Jewish yourself?
The Catholic church allows catholics to marry christians without too much fuss. That was enough to silence my Catholic MIL. Thankfully, she never once gave the slightest hint of displeasure in my presence. But the hubby heard plenty. From both of us. lol.
We did the whole thing by the book, pre-cana and all. In the end, I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful ceremony and I’m really happy we did it. I wouldn’t change a thing. Hopefully a Jewish ceremony would be enough for your FIL’s as well? Good luck!
Post # 3
mrsgarkenzie: Hmm. I don’t know if I can help, but I can definitely relate! FI is Jewish; I’m not. Like your FI’s family, his family is not very religious. In the 6 years that FI and I have been dating, he’s never once been to temple, nor has he celebrated any religious holiday. In fact, the only reason we celebrated Hannukah is because I went out and bought a menorah!
Then, as soon as we got engaged, his parents (mostly his mom) started dropping hints about how they were looking forward to all of the Jewish traditions at our wedding, like stomping on the glass, having a chuppah, the chair dance thing, etc. I was pretty caught off guard, as like you, they know I’m not Jewish and they know my family is pretty Catholic (although I’m not). The worst part was that FI decided that all of a sudden, he wanted those things too. It came out of nowhere and it definitely led to some tension early on in our engagement. FI and I decided that in terms of our wedding and our children, we will make the decisions together and stand united. For our wedding, he will be stomping on the glass, but we’ll also be including a traditional Christian reading during our ceremony. We each decided to give our families one thing, and if they don’t like it, so be it.
My advice, I suppose, is to make sure that you and your FI are on the same page. If you are, then the annoying comments and suggestions won’t matter. Once you’ve decided what you want for your wedding, future and children, stand firm and don’t let anyone make you feel like you have to convert or do something you’re uncomfortable with. I’m sure his parents will get used to the idea of having a non-Jewish daughter in law and/or grandchildren. These things take time, but if you have a supportive partner in your FI, it will all work out.
Post # 4
This has to be an extremely difficult situation to be in the middle of now and I certainly don’t envy it. Religion often brings out the worst from individuals. I am Jewish (raised traditionally but am quite secular). My mom’s parents are holocaust survivors and so marrying someone jewish was more than for a religious reason..its more of for a united identity/understanding of our background and for me -eventually being able to extend the family line that was taken away from us. My FI’s fathers family are also holocaust survivors. I mention this because perhaps their background is similar and there are reasons behind what they are expressing? Although if they are atheists, I find this even more interesting
With this said, my siblings and I have been bought up to be tolerant of other religions, races and so forth and while I will be marrying someone of the same religion, my sisters quite possibly wont. I think it becomes more of an “issue” with children not so much with the couple themselves – especially since you’ve explicitly shown an interest/ respect in the jewish holidays
I know of a few couples where one has converted to reform judaism (the most secular) however still have maintained a connection with all holidays- still celebrate christmas, easter and so forth with their family. If you are not considering converting then don’t do it! If this was never a concern for your FI (before proposing)/ never discussed then it should not be now! I would just suggest setting your goals before marriage for how you would raise your children because I’ve also seen that become a bit tense if never discussed prior.
Not sure how helpful this is!
Post # 5
mrsgarkenzie: I’m a little confused how they can consider themselves atheist AND Jewish…maybe my ignorance is showing, but I’m pretty sure that’s impossible.
Anyways, the furthest I’d go was to have a Jewish ceremony. If that won’t please them, they’ll have to learn to get over themselves. I might feel differently if they actually practiced or something.
Post # 6
koi424: We will have Jewish elements in the wedding but his dad emphasized that he doesn’t care about the “external trappings” because it “wouldn’t be authentic, so it doesn’t matter”. Yaaaay.
annb9: I bought a menorah for my fiance, too! Haha! My fiance is amazing and very supportive and my non-Jewish heritage is not a big deal for him AT ALL. And I totally agree that his parents will get used to it over time, it just hurts to disappoint them because I really love his family so much.
Charmed3: Thank you for weighing in, your perspective is very helpful! My fiance’s father is the son of a holocaust survivor, and I think that has definitely influenced his perspective. I think the “united understanding of the family background” and “extending the line” are concepts that are new to me. I have a very close family and we share a history but it’s apples and oranges (I’m Scottish). I can’t relate to coming from a history of persecution and hardship. So I understand that, to a point, but I wonder… if marrying a non-Jew is making the family line… uh, non-pure or something (for lack of a better word)… is that a form of racism? I feel like I’m being judged for things that are outside of my control. I can’t help that I was born Scottish, and that I can’t honestly convert to Judaism. I hope my comments are not offensive and I am truly just seeking to understand. Thank you so much for taking the time to explain things to me!
Yes – you are so right, it is the future grandchildren that they care a lot about. Something about having citizenship in Israel?? I didn’t ask for details becuase I wanted them to just have their say, get it out, and I didn’t want to drag it out… but I’m unclear on why it’s so important that the grandkids be Jewish. And couldn’t they feasibly convert, if they wanted to? Sorry this is so long!
It’s ironic because I’m the one that wanted to send our future kids to Hebrew school, and my fiance is like “omg no I hated Hebrew school” haha… ah, life.
IzzyBear: Interesting, isn’t it? If you are born from a Jewish mother, you’re Jewish. If you grow up to become athiest, you’re still Jewish. (That’s my understanding). I think on a certain level, I will not be able to make all of their dreams come true… it’s just hard to go from being really loved by them, to feeling like they’ll have to “make do” because this is happening. Bleh.
Post # 7
In traditional Jewish culture, the baby is considered Jewish only if the mother is Jewish. I think this is why a lot of Jewish moms freak out once their sons get engaged. They suddenly realize that their grandchildren won’t be Jewish unless the mom converts. Even the least religious Jews will sometimes care about this.
I think a lot of people who didn’t grow up with large Jewish communities have a hard time understand being Jewish as both a religion and a culture. I consider myself culturally Jewish but agnostic. Being culturally Jewish is like being British or Italian. I think secular Jews still worry about carrying on the cultural traditions and history, and that’s where your FMIL is coming from.
I think including some Jewish cultural traditions in your wedding will help. FI and I are not having any religion at all in our wedding, but we’re having cultural things like a huppah, going up in the chairs, dancing the hora, etc. It sounds like you’ve made a great effort to blend your FI’s culture with yours, so just keep doing what you’re doing and I think your FMIL will come around. Jewish moms can be pretty ridiculous about their sons getting married, but for most people it works out.<br />
Post # 8
TGold: Thanks for sharing that 🙂 Let’s just say that Scottish guilt doesn’t have ANYTHING on Jewish guilt! Haha I’ll have to get a thicker skin.
The wedding will have many Jewish elements, no room for the Horah but maybe someone will put us in chairs? I dunno.
Post # 9
mrsgarkenzie: I’m sorry you are going through this. I am not Jewish, but I grew up in a community that is 95% Jewish (both orthodox and secular). I’m writing because you said you want to have sympathy and understanding for your FI’s position and I think I can help with that.
His parents are probably pushing for you to convert because, as you mentioned, Judaism is passed through the mother. If your mother is not Jewish you have to convert. His parents being secular atheists is really irrelevant in this context, because the dichotomy between religion and culture doesn’t exist in the same way as in other religious groups. To that end, over 50 percent of Jewish people in North America identify as secular. 80 percent of Jewish people in Israel identify as secular. The issue of conversion in this sense has nothin to do with the religion. Expression and participation in culture and cultural activity is perceived as essential to Jewish identity. So, unless you convert, his parents are having to accept that their grandchildren will be outsiders in their identity. Your children will be able to participate, but they will not have the culturally shared identity with their family.
Also, it is in fact possible to convert to secular Judaism, it just isn’t a one step process. You would have to convert in the traditional way from one or no faith to Judaism first. Then, once you are Jewish you could become secular. I am not suggesting that you do this, I am just trying to give you an idea of what they may be thinking/ dealing with.
As PP mentioned, I think the key thing is to make sure you and your FI are on the same page. Just as you have done with your FI, if you chose to you could still participate in Jewish cultural life. If your children want to convert at some point, they will have that option. I also wanted to say that I don’t think your FIL are intentionally trying to be hurtful or mean. I think they are just playing out the issues of accepting that they won’t have Jewish grandchildren.
Post # 10
dulcevida: Wow, what an eloquent response! Thank you so much for that insightful explanation. Framing it that way makes it much easier to have sympathy and understanding for his parents. I agree, they’re not trying to be mean… Haha but with emotional subjects it’s easy to say things in not the best way. I think that’s what happened. They have the best intentions, but the emotions of it all made it come out wrong. And me, I felt kind of blindsided. I had felt all along that my non-Jewish heritage was a non-issue, and was surprised to find out otherwise.
Fortunately, my fiancé and I are on the same page (haha except he doesn’t want Hebrew school for the kids!)
Quick question – I’m trying to understand how one could convert to secular Judaism. Would it be like becoming a religious Jew, and then shrugging off the religious part when you’re done? I’m really clueless so pardon me if I seem glib. That is not my intention.
Post # 11
Your not being racist to me! So I should add that I do know a few individuals who are technically jewish but consider themselves atheist (my uncle who is my mom’s brother is atheist)- perhaps this stems from the history/ a lot of people lost faith in “god” after the war but some still feel a connection to the reason they were persecuted – judaism (probably sounds like an oxymoron).
Its incredibly hard for me to convey in words, perhaps my mother would be better at it, the reasoning behind why the holocaust often times plays such an important role in why children of survivors want to marry another jewish person. For some it may be out of “guilt” or the feeling of an “obligation”.. for me, it has to do with my roots, just like you are scottish, its my ancestry, my history and I guess in a way it was a self fulfilling prophecy that I would marry someone jewish because it was important to me (although I did date guys of other religions too .. it just happen to be that I did find the love of my life who happened to be jewish) but say for my middle sister, she may not and thats okay too. I’ve firmly believed .. love is love and ultimately you cannot predetermine the parameters nor define who you love..you can try but it may not work out.
But yes, its unfortunate, within the jewish religion if the mother is not jewish, a child is not considered jewish. I know this may be criticized and not understood but I can imagine not all christians, catholics, and so on believe in all teachings expressed within their religions.
Have you tried to sit down and speak with your in laws on how you feel? Are your in-laws generally rational people? You’ve know them for a few years- are they hard to approach? Can you tell them that you love them and how much you love their son? Sorry for my novel! PM if you want to discuss further?
Post # 12
dulcevida-Expression and participation in culture and cultural activity is perceived as essential to Jewish identity
well said post
Post # 13
Charmed3: thanks, Charmed. I think it will be ok. Already it has blown over, I’m just feeling bad about it.
They have different family dynamics, too. Like when they discuss things, yelling is normal (think like Italian families might be). In my family, yelling means you’re really really upset. So it is hard for me to hear them yelling (my fiancé is not phased by it, because it is normal for him).
I’m nervous to talk to them! Especially since they could tell me, “you don’t REALLY understand”, and they would be right! :/
Post # 14
haha – i have to laugh because yes many jewish and italian families are quite similar…eventually you may be like “whatever”/tune it out to the yelling but I really understand how that can be extremely upsetting
I wish you all the best and that in the future this will have no bearing on your relationship with your in laws. I know its repetitive, but the only two’s opinion that truly matters are your FI’s and yours. If you both are on the same page .. you’ll have a much easier time navigating anything that comes
Post # 15
mrsgarkenzie: From my understanding, and I am in no way an expert, yes converting to secular judaism is essentially converting in the traditional way and then becoming secular. The idea is that in order to be secular Jewish, you first have to be Jewish. This idea is changing in some secular circles and there are even secular conversion or adoption ceremonies (without the initial conversion). I’m not sure how widely accepted these are. But in NYC for example, some communities offer secular conversion ceremonies:
Charmed3: thank you 🙂