I appreciate the thoughtfulness in Mamie Kanfer Stewart’s reflections but one line gave me pause: “ We can say ‘thank you’ to fellow travelers who have chosen to raise their children as Jews…” Stewart’s suggestion reminds me of stories I have heard of rabbis who have an aliya and/or misheberach on the High Holidays for non-Jewish partners/parents also to “thank them” for raising their children as Jews.
To me this begs a number of questions, which I submit in a spirit of respectful dissent and honest puzzlement:
Not to be insensitive, but what exactly are we thanking them for, and why? I find it hard to imagine the reverse: a church where the minister of priest or members are expected or invited or motivated to “thank” Jewish parents for raising their children as Christians.
Is there something implicitly negative (even if subliminal) being suggested about Jewish identity such that a decision to raise a Jewish child needs an appreciation? Is there a suggestion that in doing so the parent(s) made a hard decision? Why would it be a hard decision except for intra-parental debate? In which case the Jewish parent might want to thank the non-Jewish parent for going along with her or his wishes…but why ought the Jewish community be thanking anyone?
I cannot imagine it is the intention of people who suggest non-Jewish parents are owed a “thank-you” that there is something negative, risky, or difficult about someone being raised as a Jew, but I wonder if that might be heard as a/the message?
Finally, I wonder whether “thanking” does not inevitably invoke a residual aura either of anxiety (“whew, we got another one!”) or implicit triumphalism (“Thank God he/she isn’t going to be a Christian!”).
My own sense is that there are pretty intense sensitivities in the Jewish community about what non-Jews think about Jewish identity and Jewish boundaries. Whether, for example, non-Jews can have aliyot or be in a minyan and the like are often argued as if “reserving” these for Jews is “restricting” them from non-Jews. But I have yet to hear a progressive Jew who is in favor of giving aliyot to non-Jews complain the she or he is unfairly denied communion at a church and thus marginalized. It is at least curious. Is it in some way connected to minority consciousness? Is there perhaps insecurity and/or some form of residual internalized anti-Jewishness among some Jews (I am not accusing Stewart of anything like that, just raising the question)? Is Jewish identity seen as one that cannot stand on its own terms as equal to any other and not in need of apology?
Now I admit I may have, even likely have, way over-read into a relatively small piece of a much longer and more complex article. And I fear I may have given offense where none was intended. Mostly I am puzzled at the suggestion that I as a Jew owe a non-Jewish parent a “thank you” for raising a Jewish child. This strikes me as something I cannot imagine a Jew suggesting of any other parent in any other circumstance (“Thank you for raising your inter-racial child as black?”). And that, I suggest, tells us something about how even in the 21st century perhaps some American Jews may still not feel fully at home in America.