This story is hard for me to write. Nevertheless, it is in my head, keeping me up at night, it is a subject that needs to be confronted and I have been chosen. Many years ago, my husband and I faced the fact that we were unable to have children biologically. It was before the days of artificial insemination and surrogate moms. Together we decided to adopt, neither of us could imagine life without kids. Today, almost 65 years later, I am alone yet I can see my Erv nodding his head vociferously, as I say, “I am happy that we adopted Judi and Jeff. They made us a family, totally different from one another, they contributed to the fulfillment of our dreams.”
Of course infertility is a blow, it is handled more intimately today and for many, more satisfactorily. I had always been an advocate of adoption. That is not why I sat down, driven to write. We must fast forward years to the month before our grandson was born. Over dinner with Judi and her husband John, who is not Jewish, we began to discuss the blessed event. Erv and I were excited to welcome our grandson. To our astonishment and John’s as well, Judi stated that there would be no Bris. That meant a circumcision in the hospital without blessings and celebration, without Judaism. But that is also not why I sat down at my computer.
We did the best we could do to teach our grandson about Judaism. We encouraged festive Fridays, Erev (pre) Shabbat visits, his parents frequently joined us for Shabbat, Chanukah and Passover; we were requested to do no more. He learned much about Judaism by osmosis. His grandfather was a rabbi, how could he not learn? Once, as a teen, he stated that by the time he was 20 he would become a Jew. His parents did not encourage a religious belief. Our daughter, who was consecrated and confirmed in Judaism, does not believe in “organized” religion. That is certainly her right.
Now to my point: many children without a religious identity often embark on the search for their truth, a faith, they seem eager to fill in the spaces. Not every child raised in a non-religious family, goes through a search, each child is different. As far as I know, my grandson reached age 25 before he seriously considered who he was. Perhaps one has to stumble on an obstacle, a glitch in the road, disappointment, before realizing that something is missing. When he raised the question with me, he said, “How would you feel if I chose Christianity”, I gulped for air. I quickly decided to be direct, honest. I said, “If the choice were mine, I would choose Judaism for you. But I understand the choice is not mine. If Christianity gives you the support, the encouragement, the strength that you are looking for: God Bless you!” It was not easy; it is not easy. I believe however, that our adult children and grandchildren need to make their own life decisions. If they make mistakes, they are responsible; they will have to rectify errors. We cannot take these young and not so young adults by the hand any longer and lead them. I do believe that we did the best we could do. By the time they are adults, they know what we hope for and what we expect.
The change my grandson is considering, is painful for me. He knew that, he had the sensitivity to ask how I “felt” about it, he added “I will go to synagogue with you.” All this proves that he loves me as much as I love him. That does not take the pain of the now away. If, on the other hand, he makes a choice that will motivate, lift him up and help him find himself, I must be grateful.
Certainly I wondered if we failed, could Erv and I have made my grandson Jewish? Could we have made our daughter more dedicated to Judaism? That is the tortuous game of self-blame we Jews indulge in frequently. It accomplishes nothing except to bring enormous guilt front and center. I will not play that game. My best advice to myself, and to others in a similar situation is to continue to love that child and let him know it.