Rebecca Reyes Tells Her Side of the Story


At we have posted previously about Rebecca and Joseph Reyes’ divorce and custody battle in Chicago, which could have implications for other interfaith couples divorcing. Joseph Reyes had agreed to raise his daughter Ela as a Jew and had indeed converted to Judaism himself. When the marriage broke up, Joseph Reyes brought the child to church  and had her baptized Catholic. He took photos of the baptism and sent them to his ex-wife. Rebecca Reyes sought a temporary restraining order to prevent Reyes from taking the child to church again–which he proceeded to do, in apparent violation of the order, and this time, brought a television crew with him.

Chicago television spoke with Joseph Reyes and presented his views on their websites, which we found disturbing.

On ABC’s 20/20 show on February 26, reporter Chris Cuomo interviewed the estranged parents. Rebecca Reyes, who had not spoken to the press about this personal matter, apparently decided to go public. Rebecca Reyes told Cuomo on the show, “The constant undermining of who [Ela] is, who she was born as, and who we agreed she would be in our home, is really harmful. There will be confusion; there will be an abrogation of her identity.”  She expressed concerns over the threatening emails and Facebook messages she’s had from people she’s never met, and especially over visits to her child’s Jewish preschool from strangers. 

It’s tempting just to side with the mother in this case, especially since she’s Jewish and her thinking is similar to everything we’ve read about consistency in child-rearing after divorce. We have a lot of trouble, from the selections quoted in the press, believing Joseph Reyes’ self-presentation, especially his insistence that he was coerced into conversion. You can watch the story on the ABC website to see what I mean. But even though we are freer, as a non-profit organization, to take a partisan position on this private matter than journalistic organizations ought to feel themselves to be, we know we don’t know everything about this case, and that any judgment we offer will be based on this limited information.

One thing, however, seems obvious. Parenting in an interfaith marriage means being able to negotiate–even when the marriage is breaking up. Sticking with agreements about religion is just as important as sticking with other parenting agreements, like the ones about school and who will supervise a small child. What obviously seems to the media like a sexy case about freedom of religion or father’s rights looks very different when you think about what this may be like for the little girl involved.

5 thoughts on “Rebecca Reyes Tells Her Side of the Story”

  • “Anybody who converts due to “pressure” clearly was not religious to begin with, they are just going through the motions.” Amy, I, as a bat-Anusim, find this comment very insulting. Were my ancestors secular just because they felt worn down by “Christian” Anti Semitism?

  • As a Jewish mother, who married a man who converted to Judaism before he met me, I feel I have interesting insight. Ironically, my husband converted due to pressure from his ex-wifes parents, a similar scenario. The difference is that my husband converted because he was an anti-catholic. He would have converted to any other branch of Christianity, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu if his ex wife’s family pressured. Anybody who converts due to “pressure” clearly was not religious to begin with, they are just going through the motions. There are many members of my synagogue who have one parent that is not Jewish but agreed to allow their children to be raised Jewish. It was so pathetic and filled with hypocrisy when my husbands ex wife just assumed he’d go back to being Catholic after they divorced and initially gave him custody of the kids during all the Christian holidays, lol. It just makes a mockery of the entire process. Being Jewish is not just a religion, it’s a cultural and ethnic identity, so raising someone Jewish is not just about G-d. After reading about this case, it is clear this man is using religion as a way of punishing his ex wife and her family. Especially if he does not have primary custody, this is certainly the way. He knows how important raising their child Jewish is to them, so he decided to have the child baptized. Listen, he could have done it privately without them knowing, but he took pictures and notified them! This guy was just pressing buttons, the only ones he knew how to press. I am surprised the priest even did this. Usually the family is consulted and the priest knows about the family situation, so shame on him as well. Joesph Reyes can take his daughter to church all he wants, but the child will never be able to attend Catechism because now the mother will make it very clear that she is not allowed to do so and the church does not want any more lawsuits. Instead, the child will attend Hebrew School and Sunday school which is 3 days per week. All Joseph Reyes can do is take the child to mass occasionally but what’s the point? The child will never be able to take communion. If he tries to hype up Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny then the mother will just tell the child they do not exist, that it’s just make believe. Let’s face it, marriage is a contract in the eyes of the law. Maybe she only agreed to marry him if he converted and if he agreed that the children would be raised Jewish. There is no going back on this. If a Catholic woman married a Jewish man who converted to Catholicism and the same scenario happened, I would think the mother would be livid if dad ruined Christmas and told the kids that Jesus was not the son of G-d. If you keep pushing Mr. Reyes, maybe your ex wife will send your daughter to a private Jewish day school, where she learns about Judaism 30 hours a week. This is a battle he just cannot win. Mr. Reyes, please stop using religion as a way of punishing your ex wife and her family, all you are doing is hurting and confusing your daughter. Marry a nice Catholic girl and please get on with your life.

  • I watched the ABC story you linked to and frankly I think the poster who said they were just trying to get back at each other was correct. I didn’t believe either of them. I think they are both misrepresenting themselves and the situation. Playing games while a little girl suffers. Shame on them both.

  • I saw the 20/20 story and read some of the newspaper coverage. They’re both behaving badly here. Rebecca Reyes apparently had an affair and was pretty determined to have everything her own way when it came to custody and the child’s upbringing and it sounds like she had the financial and social status to do it. Joseph Reyes shouldn’t have lined up a PR firm and TV cameras to take his kid to Mass but it may be that he figures he has to do some of that to get Rebecca Reyes back to the bargaining table. I don’t think the original court order should stand. It’s a violation of Joseph Reyes’ freedom of religion. Most of the time child custody orders make it clear that a parent is free to share his religion with a child or take her to religious services during custodial time. And even if Joseph Reyes converted willingly, he’s now changed his mind, as often happens. It’s not that uncommon for parents who switch religions to expose the child to the new religion (in this case Joseph Reyes’ cradle religion) and baptize, etc. Joseph Reyes called the Catholic baptism “an insurance policy on her soul” and Rebecca Reyes calls it “an assault,” which seems a bit hysterical. No one is preventing her from taking the child to synagogue or sending her to Jewish preschool or even raising her as a Jew. She has custody and the greater influence. All Reyes says he wants to do is take her to church on his time. That won’t hurt her.

  • I believe these people are both hurting and real issue is about the anger they feel about a relationship that fell apart due to both their doing. No support from Rebecca’s family did not help the situation. If they had family members who were more suppotive there would be some chance of reconciliation.

    The real issue here is not about religion or even Ela. It is about wanting to get back at each other. Rebecca felt betrayed because Joseph failed to provide a stable income after the military. Joseph is hurting because Rebecca made him feel imasculated, quite likely cheated and divorced him. Joseph got more angry when he lost everything to Rebecca and feeling that he was somewhat powerless decided to get back at Rebecca the only way he thinks he can—by using their daughter as the pawn. They had a real love before and now they are expessing that by being hostile and trying to hurt each other. This case requires a good mediator who can break down the walls of hostility and get Rebecca and Joseph to be honest about their true feelings. However you look at it ,the line between love and hate is quite thin, and in Rebecca’s words she does not hate Joseph, so there is hope. Joseph needs validation and Rebecca needs to be given a easy way to admit to having been the initiator of all their divorce woes.

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