My Girls Are 100% Jewish


So I’m at Thanksgiving last night with my husband’s family and religion somehow came up (does it come up as much with families that are all one religion, or do I just notice it more being from an interfaith family?).  I was discussing how my daughters actually like going to temple (have no idea what I’m doing right there) and my husband’s uncle mentioned that they are half-Jewish.  That got the hairs on the back of my neck to rise like a disturbed cat.  I don’t know about you, but my kids aren’t “half” anything.  They have a Jewish mother and a Catholic father but they aren’t half Catholic; they are 100% Jewish.  I didn’t even know how to respond without offending him (and more importantly my mother-in-law) and to top it off my mother was sitting right there too but thankfully it either went over her head, she didn’t hear it, or the filter between her brain and mouth was working (it doesn’t always work) and she kept quiet.  If she did hear I can’t wait to see if she comments next time we are together without my husband around, that’ll be a hoot.

It bothers me that I didn’t know how to respond.  I am so grateful that my mother-in-law is cool (or at least an academy award winning actress) about my girls being brought up Jewish and no one else from my husband’s family has ever said anything negative about it, but the 50-50 comments bother me.  Is there a way to address it or do I just let it go, knowing that my girls view everything correctly and that it will all get sorted out as they get older?

7 thoughts on “My Girls Are 100% Jewish”

  • My kids are Jewish. That being said, it’s not all that they are. I converted to Judaism when my oldest was five, (she and her little brother came to the mikvah with me) because I didn’t want her to ever feel like she wasn’t really Jewish. That being said – I completely understand the half Jewish statement. I think it’s really coming from wanting to make sure that they are also considered part of the other (non Jewish) family. It’s not based on a theological debate, at least not when it’s said by my family re: my kids. It’s a way for my family to assert that they love my kids and consider them to be part of them too. Interfaith is hard, and for me, the hardest part is navigating the idea that the kids are Jewish AND something else. Because they have half their family that ISN’T Jewish. They inherit certain traditions and are a part of a culture that isn’t Jewish. I know I really struggle to make sure that my kids know that they are as much a part of my extended family as my husbands, even though they’re only getting matzah ball soup from one grandmother. The other one is going to give them candy canes. That’s part of the awesomeness of it, they have this huge, rich family tradition on both sides. Yes, we’re Jewish, but that’s not all.

  • Dear Friends:

    As the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, one of the largest organizations for adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage, I would like to offer a different perspective.

    Many of us were raised as “real Jews” or “100% Christian,” but retain ties to our other ethnic and spiritual heritage.

    The message sent to children who are told that they are “100% X” is — sometimes — that their intermarried parents might be ashamed of their other heritage — or that the parent whose religion/ethinicity is not represented in the home is “less than” the other parent.

    I now deal sometimes with young half-Jewish people who were raised over the last 20 or 30 years as “100% Jewish,” who hide their other heritage as adults, appear ashamed of their Christian parent’s existence and avoid mentioning their parents’ intermarriage. That seems very unhealthy psychologically.

    I know they are also reacting to poor Jewish communal treatment of half-Jewish people, but it seems they got no teaching at home that having a parent of another faith/culture is OK.

    I personally — but this is not the viewpoint of all half-Jewish people — favor raising children with a solid identity in one faith/ethnic culture, but with some exposure to their other heritage — basic information about it —

    so that they don’t grow up feeling ashamed or that they have to hide half of themselves. As in: “We are raising you as a Jew, but ethically you are also half-Irish Catholic, and it is something to be proud of. Here is information about it.”

    Denying our other heritage flies in the face of reality. If I had a nickel for every time someone Jewish said to me, “You really don’t look Jewish,” I’d have a substantial amount of bus fare. Those Jews are correct. I am a physical copy of my WASP Episcopalian father. Many other children of intermarriage have similar stories.

    I don’t think a population of closeted half-Jews within the Jewish community who are hiding one parent is really the outcome any of us would like. Would it not be better if they identified as Jews who are proud of, say, a half-Irish ethnicity? And their Irish parent?

    I notice that biracial Jews are usually not told that they are “100%” Jewish, as this might be viewed as racism. This “100% Jewish” theme seems more prevalent where both parents are outwardly white. I believe that it is well-meant, but not realistic.

    Robin Margolis

  • Culturally, my kids are half-Jewish (or 1/4 depending on how you calculate), or “Jewish and Protestant English/Swedish/German”

    Halachically, and by Jewish tradition, they’re Jewish, period.

    If someone called them half-Jewish, I don’t think my partner or I would be offended, unless the speaker implied they were less legitimate than other Jews.

  • My children identify as 100% Jewish, even at 7 and 5. That’s really all that matters to me. I can’t control how other people feel.

  • Even by Orthodox Jewish law, if the mother is Jewish, the children are fully Jewish.

    Half/Whole like Jewish denominations is a choice. By traditional/orthodox standards you are either Jewish or not. It’s much more clear cut, as long as the mother is Jewish, the child is Jewish. Other denominations have accepted and included patrilineal descent, and consider children of a Jewish parent fully Jewish. From my reading, it seems the child is really the one who chooses to identify as full/half (possibly with the influence of parents i don’t know).

    As for what to tell people who try to put you in a “box” of full/half/reform/orthodox etc, I personally feel a) you need to figure out for yourself and your children how to define your/their identity. Then go from there. People ask me and I answer that i am an observant Jewish woman married to someone who isn’t Jewish, raising our son also to be observantly Jewish. That is mostly because my spiritual growth is in process and I will learn to define it more clearly as I grow.

  • I actually lost a friendship over this very topic. A “friend” told me that my kids “weren’t really Jewish” and that if I even wanted them to have to “have a chance to be Jewish, I would have to take them to a mikvah”. I almost wanted to tell her – “no problem – if the Jews don’t want her – the Catholics would be happy to have her”.

    We chose to raise them Jewish. They identify themselves as Jewish. They were Bar/Bat Mitzvahed. My daughter is more involved in BBYO and Judaism than 99% of her Jewish friends. She has been to Israel on a teen trip. Honestly, this attitude (which I have heard from others) is the one that has made it the hardest for me to accept my choice to raise my children Jewish. BUT – all that being said, my kids have no issue with it. They identify themselves as Jewish, with no hesitation. What others say seems to have no effect on them. So, my simple answer is if they are confident in their identity – it doesn’t matter how other label them.

  • I notice it a lot to. I think it comes from being an interfaith family.

    For me it has depends on who the 50/50 comments come from. My grandmother is oblivious to how we raise our children. This year, she started talking about Christmas the day after Thanksgiving and kept pestering my 4 year old to draw Christmas trees. (We don’t have a Christmas Tree in the house!) With her I find that it is easier to ignore her comments than to correct her or ask her to follow our traditions. I redirect my daughters to something that is more familiar for them.

    Others, I actually will correct. Since my husband is Jewish and I am not; we did the whole conversion, mikvah thing. My response is usually just, “The girls are only Jewish”. If someone pushes I will give them a more descriptive response with a lesson on how someone is Jewish. I want my girls to see that we don’t have to hide their identity and be confident in their religion.

    We don’t live close to my in-laws or in a larger jewish community so maybe it’s also me being a little protective.

    Great topic!

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