Agnes Herman Guest Post: Judaism, A Choice?

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.

5 Comments

  1. kol hakavod to you for continuing to love your grandchild. . I have 3 children, two are married to Jews, One is married to a wonderful, loving kind Christian man. They are raising their 2 boys as Christians. The grandchildren are now 16 and 19 And while it was difficult for me at first, I have come to the firm belief that is my my job to understand, appreciate and respect their choices. My grandson asked when he was young, what part of him was Jewish. I decided NOT to give him a halachic answer, but rather to follow the patrilineal descent model. ( The boys AND their parents come to my house for Shabbat, know the Shabbat blessings, give me gifts of Challah covers and so much more.) I said he was a Christian because his parents chose to raise him that way, but he was a unique Christian, one that understood, appreciated and respected Judaism. If all of us of every religion could understand, appreciate and respect other religions maybe there would be no more wars.

  2. Thank you Sharon for sharing your own story and for your kind words of support. Knowing and understanding that others successfully, lovingly walk in my shoes are very meaningful. I am looking forward to the continuance of sharing Judaism with Matt and hearing more from him about his path…many thanks, Ag Herman

  3. Ms. Herman
    I do not ordinarily feel compelled to respond to essays such as yours. Usually the stories are a form of bloodletting; public confessions of the sort encouraged by certain religions. Your story, though, is different.
    I would like to compliment you and your grandson. It is clear that yours is a relationship built on shared honor and respect. You and your husband have apparently fostered a value system for your family that allows matters of belief to be a part of those values rather than then the determinant in what values are appropriate. I encourage you to celebrate that.
    Perhaps you might consider going to church with him on Sunday morning. It is not a test of your faith. Rather it is a sign of your love. I suspect your grandson would be stunned. Plus you could go out for bacon ( god forbid) and eggs afterwards and have a few laughs.
    You are lucky and your grandson is lucky.

  4. Thank you Jim Geiger for your thoughtful, encouraging response. I like your sense of balance and humor, your suggestion is wonderful. Thank you again. Grateful to hear your words of sharing as well…hope your Shabbat is good and that you look forward to a good week. I used to stay off the computer for Shabbat, then realized that that made for a very unhappy day for me…writing is my reason to get up and go…so now I write a bit every day…have a good one, appreciatively…Ag Herman

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