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mixed & matched |  I’m Jewish, she’s Asian—what will our future kids be?

by Dawn Kepler

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Dawn Kepler leads Building Jewish Bridges, a program that helps Bay Area interfaith families negotiate religious and cultural choices. Send your letters to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

I’m a 26-year-old Conservative Jew and celebrate the major Jewish holidays, although I’m not terribly religious. I’ve been dating a Korean girl who is Catholic but also not very religious. We are getting serious and I’m scared. I do love her, she’s my best friend, and I think about what would happen if we got married. She is open to raising our kids Jewish but still would want to celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter. I think this would cause identity issues for our kids, and obviously they won’t look Jewish. Do you have any thoughts on whether it’s possible to successfully raise mixed children with a Jewish father and Asian mother without the children feeling confused or left out? — Uncertain

Dawn_KeplerDear Uncertain: You are asking the right questions, and answering them will clarify your options. There are two primary concerns: your kids being multiracial (can Jews be Asian?) and your home being interfaith (can we do two sets of holidays and have the kids feel Jewish?).

You are correct that a biracial child is more likely to be “questioned” about his or her Jewish identity. Don’t let starry-eyed liberals tell you that race doesn’t matter. Young biracial Jews report that it is harder when their parents don’t address this issue and racism in general. You can build your children’s confidence by making sure they have a Jewish community — typically a synagogue — that accepts them and affirms their Jewish identity. There are many such children; I suggest you pick a synagogue that has a noticeable multiracial membership.

A biracial or multiracial child in an interfaith family faces additional concerns. First is the American assumption that Asians can’t be Jewish. Many only consider someone to be Jewish if he or she has a Jewish mother. A young biracial woman whose mother is Jewish and father is Vietnamese told me, “I can’t get the words ‘My mom is Jewish’ out of my mouth fast enough.”

In the eyes of the Conservative movement, your children would not be considered Jewish unless you convert them. Typically, a Conservative Jewish man in your situation takes his infants to the mikvah for conversion. This is something you should think about and discuss with your sweetheart. For some young people, knowing that they were taken to the mikvah is tremendously important. They tell me, “My parents made sure I went to the mikvah. I’m Jewish and have been since before I have any memory.”

Otherwise, I suggest you go to a Reform congregation where they accept patrilineal children as Jewish. But be aware that even if your children are raised Jewish, they will still come into contact with people who do not accept patrilineal descent, and you must be prepared to deal with that in a calm and supportive manner.

Before you go any further, you need to have a discussion about what is involved in raising children as Jews. You are right that a number of Jewish kids who grow up with Christian holidays often feel a sense of dual loyalty. The truth is that this is a compromise, and it does affect the children. This isn’t to say they don’t end up Jewish. But it means you have to be sensitive to how they are taking it in. If you do decide to celebrate Christian holidays, decide in advance which ones and how your partner wants to observe them. Then be sure that you are truly “doing Jewish” the rest of the year.

Ask yourself how important it is that your children self-identify as Jewish. If it is extremely important, then ask your sweetheart if she is willing to have a dialogue about what that would involve. Chances are she has no idea and you have only a sketchy one. She must be given the opportunity to find out what she is getting into before marriage.

No one can promise that your children will be Jewish if you marry a non-Jew. But no one can promise that you will ever feel this strongly about another woman. I would highly recommend that the two of you go to a couples discussion group to sort things out. You’ll get a chance to hear from other interfaith couples and make your decision together.


Posted by happilymixedup
06/06/2014  at  05:23 PM
Choosing how to raise your child

I run a networking site focused on Family and the raising of children whose parents are from different races, religions, cultures. Our network helps these families locate others with similar situations connect within their own communities, enabling them to find support and
form new friendships for both parents and children.

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Posted by DrMartyKlein
06/08/2014  at  11:35 PM
Another side to recent advice

I have been a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist for 34 years. Dawn Kepler’s column on interfaith families is valuable, but her recent response was terribly incomplete.
  She writes of an Asian Catholic-Jewish couple who are “getting serious,” and he’s scared about how kids raised in such a marriage will fare. Ms. Kepler gives plenty of reasonable advice on how to maximize the chance that this would-be family and their kids could manage.
  She forgot to mention, however, that many Catholic-Jewish and mixed-race couples DON’T manage OK. They may face non-supportive families or friends. They may have conflicting ideas about parenting (some are evident in the writer’s question), which can affect virtually every aspect of their lives, leading to chronic marital conflict.
  Too many young people want to believe that “love conquers all.” It doesn’t. Sending the writer and his girlfriend to a group of mixed couples will yield predictable advice—“it’s hard, but we’ve done it, and it’s worth it.” Unfortunately, there’s no group of mixed couples who split up or who regret marrying or having kids that young people can consult for another viewpoint.
  Your columnist owes it to readers (and those writing in) to give a full picture of the complex, sometimes-tragic situation that they’re considering—not simply be a cheerleader, saying “here’s what could make it easier or better.” Of course, as therapists our job is not to tell people what to do (or not do). But we need to remind people contemplating something that is extremely difficult and often heartbreaking that NOT doing it is an important option they should consider.

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Posted by Patricia Munro
06/09/2014  at  09:02 AM
Response to LMFP

Originally I had simply intended to compliment Dawn’s answer, but after having read the response from the LMFP, I’m afraid my comment now falls into the “someone is wrong on the internet” category.
LMFP focuses on those couples who don’t make it, with the concern being that intermarriage is SO VERY VERY difficult.
In fact, Dawn addresses all the issues couples should be paying attention to: racial, religious, and cultural differences, both within the family and as affected by others’ perceptions. Couples (of whatever background) who carefully address these issues and continue to revisit them will be more successful in how they engage with Judaism and Jewish community. (And, not coincidentally, those negotiating skills translate to other areas of life.)

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Posted by Dawn Kepler
06/09/2014  at  10:48 AM
Thanks for posting, Marty; I

Thanks for posting, Marty; I appreciate your candid thoughts. I think you would be reassured to know that the interfaith couples groups I run do not yield the advice you suggest because the couples are not there to recommend or comment on their own success or lack thereof.  They are all present to honestly confront the questions and challenges they are experiencing or believe they will experience as part of their interfaith life together. Do any of my couples break up? Yes, some do. But they do so after they have explored their options and come to their own decision that they have insurmountable differences.  A very lovely young couple who very much hoped to find a way to get married decided to break up after many discussions. Their primarily issue was that neither one felt they could tell their family and friends about the relationship.

You are right that “Love does not conquer all.”  Too bad our American culture remains so unrealistic about love.  Unfortunately the pronounced negativism of the Jewish community has had a backlash affect of making many liberal Jews equate messages about endogenous marriage with narrow mindedness and even racism.  For the Jewish person, determining that having a Jewish family is important, is only the first step.  A tremendous amount of learning and communication should follow so that both members of the couple know what the other one thinks and expects.

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Posted by sfocisco
06/09/2014  at  12:25 PM
Great article

As a gay Jewish couple raising a mixed race daughter, the issues of Jewish identity and race come up all the time. It’s been very important for us to make sure that our daughter be part of Jewish life to foster her Jewish identity. We enrolled her in Jewish preschool, and now that she will start public school in the fall, we’ve already signed her up for Hebrew school at our synagogue. I think the advice you offer to this couple is direct and to the point, and I think, if they follow your advice, it will allow them to talk it out. Finding the right synagogue where they feel comfortable is key. We feel very blessed that not only is our daughter welcomed openly at our synagogue, but we, as a gay couple are welcomed just as warmly.

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Posted by Oberon123
06/17/2014  at  04:06 AM
I'm Mixed

My mother was Jewish and my father was a Christian. I have followed a Pagan path. When my daughter went to college at The George Washington University, she started a Pagan studies group. At a reception, then-president of the university, Trachtenberg, approached us, chatted for a bit, and then asked how she came to a Pagan perspective. I explained that she was raised in that environment, that I was the product of a mixed Jewish-Christian marriage, and that I myself had been drawn to a Pagan perspective. At that point, Trachtenberg said, “I knew no good came of those marriages” and walked away. Needless to say, both my daughter and I were horrified. This is the bigotry that the Jewish community shows toward anybody who strays from the fold. I grew up with my mother’s family denigrating my father, usually when he was around. Folks that I spent time around, knowing of my Jewish mother, felt free to spew all sorts of anti-goyim hatred toward non-Jews. My advice to the man asking the question: Don’t get married to this woman because your family will make her life hell, as well as those of your children should they choose any path but Judaism.

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Posted by Dawn Kepler
06/17/2014  at  12:15 PM
Dear Oberon, I am so

Dear Oberon, I am so very sorry for your terrible experience. These sorts of stories are the reason that I became engaged in the work that I do. The fact is that we live in a world that has negative messages for many of us - whether Jewish, mixed, African-American, deaf or blonde. We can’t change everyone else but we can be prepared for living in this world.  I’ll point out that Mr. Trachenberg was born in 1937. Much has changed since his days. Much has changed since you were growing up.  I appreciate that you feel that this Jewish man shouldn’t marry this Korean woman but the likelihood is that they will get married. Luckily they will live in a more welcoming and diverse world than the one in which you were raised. Additionally, I am here to assist them in navigating their lives as an interfaith, interracial, intercultural couple/family.

Oberon, I wish you healing and comfort.

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