I am a soon-to- be-converted Jew by Choice. When I told my parents, they didn't take it very well but have gradually come to accept it (they participated in our baby naming and Mom was most recently helping shop for a deal on my Passover china, for example). However, I know my parents are keeping my conversion a "big secret" from my grandparents, aunts and uncles. My extended family would definitely not be as accepting, but am I wrong to be bothered by this? I feel very uncomfortable talking to them (mostly by phone; we live 10 hours away) when I know they don't know. They have even sent "First Christmas" teddy bears to my children. I feel like they are going to be horrified at a future family gathering when my son blurts out something like, "We don't celebrate Christmas." Should I go ahead and tell them myself?
First, welcome to the Jewish people! I hope you find your choice meaningful and productive, and that it leads to a life filled with fulfillment and satisfaction. I am not sure I understand the chronology-- if you have not yet completed your conversion, I would think that means your children are not yet converted, either (unless you're married to a Jew/Jewess, and are now converting). Of course, if your spouse is Jewish and you're raising the children as Jews, you could tell that to the family without getting into your own status.
I also think this question is mostly a personal/familial/political one, not a particularly religious one. From my understanding of Judaism, it is a somewhat complicated question as to whether you can profess another faith, even if you don't mean it, and in that sense, it might be a problem to actively say you were Moslem or Christian if you no longer are. But the real question is familial: granted that your parents are working their way towards accepting this, would that be true of your grandparents, etc. as well? Would they take it better or worse?
If better, perhaps you could tell them in confidence, noting that your parents are having a hard time, and asking them not to make a big deal of it. If they're going to take it as bad or worse, you might simply tell them, to start, that you have decided to no longer celebrate religious holidays (which would itself be hard for them to hear, I suppose). You might even just accept their gifts, glossing over the issue, but when your children grow up, you'd have to weigh which was more likely: that the kids can keep the secret or the relatives can accept the truth.
Best of luck with your choices-- family is hard even without a conversion, but with wisdom, patience, and perseverance, it usually (eventually) works out. I hope the road to that isn't too rocky.
Choosing Judaism is a beautiful and profound spiritual path. The essence of this choice and path is one of transformation. It is the transformation of your personal identity privately, meaning your internal spiritual beliefs and attitudes, as well as how you express those beliefs and attitudes among your immediate household. Judaism also affects your public identity, such as regarding the holidays you celebrate with friends and family, the educational decisions you make for your children, and how you observe your Sabbath. When you choose to take this wondrous and enriching Jewish path, it is expected that you and your life will change, and you – most of all – will be aware of it.
This means that for you to truly be you as a Jewish person in the world, for you to raise your family the way you must as a Jew, and for you to maintain your relationship with God and your community as a Jew, you will have to engage with many personal and public issues of identification. This is a natural process of learning, growth, and spiritual transformation.
As you are not yet converted (and a new child is involved), it is especially important for you have several conversations about this with your significant other now. The two of you must mutually support each other. What does it mean for each of you when Christmas time comes and your family will want to celebrate and give gifts? How will it be when Passover comes – will you involve your family in your seder? How will it feel for your family to visit a Sabbath observing, kosher home, where Hebrew language is used in ritual and prayer? When your kids attend Jewish school or Jewish camp?
Once you’ve aligned yourself with your spouse, these sorts of conversations need to be repeated with your family, including those who you are closest to in your extended family (the longer you wait the worse for you and them). Tell them about what drew you to Judaism and how it inspires you. Explain that you and your children will certainly not be broken away from them – there are birthdays to share, accomplishments and milestones to honor, and even mutual holidays to celebrate (e.g., Thanksgiving). You must be both open to the possibility of their acceptance and open to possibility that they may not be ready to understand.
I also strongly recommend that you nourish your new Jewish path. Join a synagogue and become involved in your Jewish community, get to know the rabbi and ask him or her lots of questions, go to services, take a class. It is important to be with community and I’m absolutely sure there are others in your local synagogue experiencing similar kinds of things. Having a support system, beginning with your spouse and then your Jewish community is deeply important during this time of transformation and beyond.
This is obviously a difficult situation for you, but one that you will ultimately have to confront or risk being cut off from your family altogether. While I do not know under what auspices you are converting, in the Reform movement (and I know this is true for the other movements as well) one of the key elements of conversion is raising your child as Jewish in a public way – i.e. naming ceremonies and Bar/Bat Mitzvah among other opportunities.
If you want your extended family to be involved in any of this, you will need to let them know about the life decisions you have made. At that point it will be up to them to decide if they want to honor that or not. To be quite frank, if they don’t honor that, then they are not people worth having all that involved in your life or in the raising of your child(ren).
This task is up to you, however, not your parents. Even though it may be hard, calling them on the phone and getting this out in the open before the upcoming Christian holidays is the best way to go about it. IF possible, tell your grandparents face-to-face, but I would advise against a “big announcement” at the Thanksgiving or other holiday table.
By doing it personally, even if by phone, you let each family member know that the decision you made was about you and your immediate family, not about them. Furthermore you give each family member the respect to deal with the news in their own way and on their time in addition to communicating the message that each person you speak with is still important enough to you that you wanted to make this call.
As a resource, although it is geared toward parents of converts, you may want to look at the link below and offer it to your family members who have questions.
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