Being a Bahá'í in a Jewish Community: Reflections on Being an Interfaith Family
When my husband and I decided to get married, we knew that one of our main challenges would be raising children in a Jewish and Bahá'í home with Jewish and Christian grandparents. I had become a Bahá'í in 1993 after years of searching for a faith that had a more diverse and spiritual population than I found in most of the Christian churches in which I had grown up. [See bahai.org or bahai.us for more information on the Bahá'í Faith.] My husband and I talked about our wishes for the children we hoped to have and both agreed that we wanted a home that welcomed questions and encouraged exploration of one's beliefs and values. We hoped that our children would be able to be comfortable and respectful of both religions.
Once we had our first child, I realized how difficult this might be when we first met with Rabbi Eric Gurvis at Temple Shalom in Newton, MA, where we had decided to join because of their welcoming attitude to interfaith families and their focus on Jewish education and social service work. We discussed our daughter's naming ceremony, and I realized that I was committing to say that I would raise her as a Jewish girl, something I wasn't fully comfortable with at the time because I also wanted raise her as a Bahá'í girl. The rabbi pointed out that one doesn't learn Judaism by osmosis in this culture and that there are not many Bahá'ís who become Jews, but there are more Jews who become Bahá'ís. I took comfort in this, knowing that I did want our daughter to learn about being Jewish, and that she could certainly have a bat mitzvah at age 13 and then decide to become a Bahá'í at age 15 (the age of maturity for Bahá'ís, when one is able to sign the Bahá'í declaration card if ready to do so, and thereby gain voting rights and the freedom to participate in the full range of Bahá'í activities) or later if she desired.
We had a beautiful naming ceremony with my Presbyterian family and my husband's Jewish family present with us. The rabbi worked with us on the ceremony and allowed us to include a message to our daughter about the type of spiritual atmosphere and education we wanted to provide for her and a passage from the Bahá'í writings that expressed our hopes for her. I have always loved the Jewish prayers and writings and see the core spiritual principles they share with Bahá'í writings, so once I saw the program and prayers, I not only felt comfortable with doing a naming ceremony, but blessed to have this opportunity, which is unique to Judaism. We then decided to send our daughter to the nursery school program at Temple Shalom, and I felt very happy with what she was learning and what I was learning as I read the wonderful educational packets sent home by the director of the program. We celebrated the Jewish holidays with my husband's parents and the Christian ones with my parents, as I continued to attend regular Bahá'í gatherings and holidays in our community and to serve on Newton's Bahá'í Local Spiritual Assembly. We went on to have two more daughters, whom we also named in ceremonies led by Rabbi Gurvis and the synagogue's nursery school.
As our oldest daughter became of age to attend Hebrew school, the questions of which religion we would follow came up again for us. Her first year, I decided to fully embrace spending our Sunday mornings taking her to Hebrew school while my husband and I took a Jewish parenting class, "Parenting Through a Jewish Lens," while our youngest girls went to the babysitting provided. I loved this class and enjoyed sharing my Bahá'í perspective on various topics that we explored, along with several other interfaith families and some completely Jewish families. The next year, we decided that it was time to take a turn experiencing the Bahá'í Sunday school that is run at the Boston Bahá'í Center downtown. I took our younger two daughters there and taught a class each Sunday while my husband and our oldest daughter went to Hebrew school. I loved feeling more connected to the Bahá'í community and seeing my girls learn more about the Bahá'í Faith, but I also felt sad to not be together as a family on Sunday mornings. I missed being a part of the temple, so the next year, after much discussion with my husband, we decided to go back to all going to the temple on Sunday mornings for the children's service and Hebrew school for our two oldest daughters. I also started teaching Bahá'í classes in my home every Monday afternoon so the girls are learning about both religions. They feel a little overexposed to religious school, but they usually come out of both sets of classes feeling happy. I'm not sure how long we can maintain this system, but for now it is working, and I am grateful.
Two of my close Bahá'í friends are married to Jewish men, and we have enjoyed sharing our journeys with each other. One of them recently decided to join Temple Shalom so her children could have more experience with both religions. It is wonderful to see our children at the temple and at the Monday Bahá'í school she helps me run in our town. I love having the girls learn prayers from both religions and comment on connections they see in the teachings and practices of both religions. The Bahá'í faith teaches us, "Love ye all religions and all races with a love that is true and sincere and show that love through deeds..." ('Abdu'l-Bahá) For me, it is a joy to be part of a temple with a warm and welcoming congregation, and to participate in the schools, services and activities. It is challenging to also be an active member of the Bahá'í community in Newton in terms of time, but I feel spiritually alive as I connect with other people across faiths and continue my path of lifelong learning and discovery.
Amy Behrens and her family belong to Temple Shalom of Newton in Newton, MA.