I am the Grandparent of a Non-Jewish Child
by Shelly Cyprus
My husband and I have six children. Three suffer from adult-onset Gaucher’s Disease, a genetic disorder prevalent among East European Ashkenazi Jews. While the modern miracle of enzyme replacement therapy has allowed them to live relatively normal lives, we are all in favor of expanding the gene pool. Several of our children have obliged. Their interfaith marriages mirror the growing trend in American society today. In fact, in the Reform congregation in Boise, Idaho, where my daughter and her family worship, ALL of the marriages involve a non-Jewish spouse.
Until our youngest grandson, now six years old, was born, we did not have to face the challenges inherent in transmitting our Jewish heritage and values to our grandchildren. Nine of our ten grandchildren are being raised as Jews; however, Miles is not. Our eldest son married a lovely Taiwanese woman. Her family fled the mainland with Chiang Kai-shek, but they maintain deep and personal ties to Chinese language and culture. Miles is bi-lingual. He travels regularly to China to visit relatives. He celebrates the Chinese New Year and other festivals with his many Chinese-American friends and family. He is, by his own account, 100% Chinese. He knows that his father is Jewish; however, our son, who experienced a traditional Jewish upbringing, has only the most tenuous ties to his faith. He has no interest in bringing Jewish customs and traditions into his home. Who is to answer the question, “What’s Jewish?” I believe that awesome responsibility falls to us, his Jewish grandparents
Although thousands of miles separate us, my husband and I have attempted to maintain a close and loving relationship with our grandson. We call and Skype regularly; we send holiday gifts; we never forget a birthday. Miles has shared Passover and Hanukkah with us and his extended Jewish family on a regular basis. Fortunately, our greatest ally in our recent attempts to share the beauty and joy of our Jewish heritage, is our Chinese daughter-in-law. Now that Miles is learning to read and has begun to ask questions about who he is, she is determined to include Jewish culture in his life. Hanukkah is approaching. She has always enjoyed the candle-lighting ceremony and would like Miles to experience it this year in a Jewish setting. I suggested that she email the parents in his class and ask if there were a Jewish family who might include them. We also talked about their family joining the JCC, where meeting and making Jewish friends might be accomplished in a non-threatening, non-religious environment. It’s a start.
Shelly Cyprus and her husband have recently celebrated their 50th anniversary. She is Founder and President Emeritus of SEARCH Homeless Services in Houston, Texas; a member of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism; and, Administrative Vice-President of Congregation Emanu El Sisterhood.