Excerpts from Keeping the Faith: How Compromise, Curiosity and Tradition Guide One Interfaith Family, by Abigail Mnookin

Reflections before the mikveh: For my mom’s 70th birthday this month, my brother and I are giving her an unusual gift. Her four grandchildren will be immersed in a ritual bath, or mikveh, which symbolizes their conversion to the Jewish faith. Temple clergy will be there, along with our families. The festive celebration will include blessings for the children and joyful songs. And it will mean a lot to my mother.

My brother and I grew up Jewish, and we both married non-Jews. Our children are considered Jewish in our families, as well as in the more liberal Reform Judaism. But in Conservative Judaism and according to the Torah’s teachings, one must be born to a Jewish mother in order to be considered a Jew. To my mother, this is an important distinction…

Even before we had children, Laura and I discussed our future family’s religious affiliation. Would we celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or both? Would we have Passover or Easter dinners? Like many interfaith couples — nearly 40 percent of people married since 2010, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study — we compromised. We would alternate winter holidays with each of our families. We wouldn’t have a Christmas tree in our home. And, due to the stronger ties I had to my cultural and religious upbringing and our shared appreciation for Jewish rituals, we would raise our children to be Jewish…

Though Jewish practices are already part of our lives, we decided to hold the communal mikveh for the four grandchildren to honor my mom. I birthed my older daughter, so she’s considered Jewish. But since my wife gave birth to our younger daughter, she’s not. To be inclusive, we’ll have both girls join their cousins in the ceremony. The mikveh makes my mom feel even more connected to our Jewish heritage, and she has already expressed tremendous gratitude to us. I’m looking forward to giving her this gift. (Read more)

mnookin-mikvah-002Reflections after the mikveh: The conversion in the mikveh for the four Mnookin grandchildren at Mayyim Hayyim a few weeks ago was a meaningful and heart-warming experience. The clergy from Temple Emanuel and the staff at Mayyim Hayyim were warm and welcoming, treating our entire family with loving kindness and respect. My two daughters and their two cousins enjoyed stepping into the warm waters and were given time to laugh and play. When the older children showed concern about submerging their heads under water, the rabbis filled the room with songs to provide comfort and foster courage. The mikveh was not only a conversion, but also a celebration of Jewish life and an honoring of the sacredness of water. This sacred water took on new meaning for me as I’d just returned from a week-long solidarity trip to Standing Rock, a movement centered around “Mni Wiconi,” or “Water is Life.” Thank you, Mayyim Hayyim, for helping to create a shared, sacred space for my family through this mikveh experience!

Watch our short documentary film, “Mikveh Baby” to see how babies immerse in the mikveh.

Abigail Mnookin is an educator, writer, nature lover, birth doula, and climate activist working with 350VT on their Mother Up! program. Abby lives with her wife and their two young daughters in southern Vermont where they strive to integrate Judaism into their lives.