Religious musings with a 6-year-old

Religious musings image

Out of the blue, my daughter Katie declared, "I am a little bit Christian and a lot bit Jewish, right?"

"Tell me what you are thinking about," I responded.

"Well, my birth mother was Christian."

"She still is," I replied.

"Right," Katie continued. "So a little part of me is Christian, too."

"Not really," I explained, "because we converted you to Judaism when you were a year old."

"But I was born Christian," she persisted. "So I should get credit."

Credit?  Now I was truly confused. Credit with whom?  With God?  Was she trying to cover her bases and make sure she was going to heaven?  I wasn't sure where this was going.

"Credit for what, Katie?"  I asked.

She looked at me in exasperation. "Credit for being born a Christian. I should get an Easter basket and a Christmas stocking and stuff like that."

Aahh, now it all made sense. She wanted some chocolate eggs and new toys. Religion in the eyes of a six-year-old.

"Katie, it is true that your birth mom is a Christian. I think she is a born-again Christian, but I am not entirely sure of her exact beliefs. But you are absolutely Jewish. We celebrate Shabbat every week; you attend Sunday school every Sunday, and we are raising you to be Jewish."

She looked at me with interest, and I continued explaining.

"When we adopted you, we held a Jewish naming ceremony, which is customary for baby girls. You were five months old, and we gave you the Hebrew name Chaya Liron which means "life" and "joy."

But according to Jewish law, you were still Christian because your biological mother was Christian. So a year later, we had a special ceremony to legally convert you. We took you into the mikvah, and Rabbi Brant said prayers while Daddy dunked you under the water, and when it was all done, you were Jewish in the eyes of God and the Jewish people."

"So am I a born-again Jew?" she asked.

I laughed and explained that there is no such thing, that she is simply Jewish.

I remembered that when we were trying to adopt, several birth mothers were frightened off upon learning that we would be raising the baby Jewish.

There was one woman who called in response to our ad, and we had a great conversation. We talked about men and relationships and kids, and I felt very hopeful that I had connected with our baby's birthmother. But about forty minutes into the call, I asked her, "What is the most important quality you are looking for in the parents who will adopt your baby?"

"That they accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior," she responded.

There was an awkward pause.

"Umm," I hesitated. "Well, the thing is, we are Jewish."

The conversation fizzled after that, and she ended the call soon after. I never heard from her again. I didn't expect to.

Shortly after that call, I received a call from another birthmother, and when I told her we were Jewish, she replied, "What's Jewish?"  She too did not call back.

When we received our first call from Katie's birthmother, I told her right up front that we were Jewish, because she told me that she was a religious Christian. I still remember how impressed I was with her reply.

"I don't mind if you are Jewish. I just want my baby to be raised in a house where there is faith. It doesn't matter what you are, as long as you believe in God and you will raise the baby to believe in God."

We were the first Jewish people, Katie's birthmother had ever met, and she was very interested in our holidays and traditions. Over the years, she has called to wish Katie Happy New Year on Rosh Hashanah and Happy Chanukah during the winter holidays.

Andrew and I are committed to raising Katie with a love for Jewish traditions, particularly since we made a choice to convert her. Each summer, Andrew and Katie spend a day making challah for Shabbat from scratch. Usually, they call me to braid the dough when it is time to shape the loaves.

Last year, I wasn't home on challah-making day, and Andrew showed me the beautifully braided loaves that they did without me. I was astonished. This is a man who can barely put a rubber band around a ponytail.  "Who did this?" I asked incredulously.

"I did," Andrew replied proudly. "I looked it up on the Internet and followed the instructions and diagrams."

Katie and Andrew go early to Sunday school each week so they can participate in the Hebrew songs and discussion with Rabbi Brant and Cantor Howard. Katie comes home with art projects and learns new Hebrew letters and words each week.

When she bounds into the door from Sunday school, full of chatter about her knowledge of Jewish traditions, I think of how perfectly her Hebrew name fits her. Chaya Liron, she is full of life and joy, even if she thinks she should get credit for being a little bit Christian. A chocolate bunny sounds good to me too.

Carrie Goldman is the author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear (Harper Collins 2012).  She blogs about parenting, adoption, bullying, and contemporary culture at Portrait of an Adoption for ChicagoNow, the online community of the ChicagoTribune.  For more information, visit

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