Grandparents seek support relating to interfaith grandchildren

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Columbia was founded with the intention to host a diverse community, and Howard County as a whole has embraced that. At Temple Isaiah this month, Jewish grandparents came together to talk about their own religiously diverse families in the Grandparents Circle.

The program, hosted nationally by Big Tent Judaism, an organization that pushes the Jewish community to be more welcoming to those who are underserved or left out, “is geared toward Jewish grandparents whose adult children have intermarried,” according to Rachel Petroff, family educator at Temple Isaiah.

“Our feeling is that nothing is more important to us than the love of our children,” said Jackie Norden, who with her husband, Roger, hosted the first meeting. “Judaism is important to us, but my husband and I both feel that we wouldn’t want to jeopardize our relationship with our children.”

The group’s first meeting took place this month, attracting about 15 people, and while it was initially only a one-off idea to discuss the issue, there was a consensus among the members to continue meeting in the fall.

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Barbara Davis, who lives in Ellicott City and has been a member at Temple Isaiah for more than three decades, attended the first meeting with her husband, Larry. She said that while many in her parents’ generation were intolerant of interfaith marriage, she moved to Howard County with the understanding that its purpose was to be religiously and ethnically diverse.

She and Norden stressed that their children marrying outside their faith isn’t the issue; the issue is how to maintain a relationship with their grandchildren without bumping up against sensitive boundaries concerning faith.

“I was looking for ideas and information or helpful suggestions on how to deal with the [grandchildren] and their parents without stepping on toes or intruding where we don’t belong,” said Davis. “[As far as] religious education, it is up to the parents unless you’re invited in as a grandparent.”

All members of the group have slightly different situations, which Davis said she found interesting.

Norden, of Clarksville, has attended Temple Isaiah for more than 35 years. She has three sons, all of whom have made different choices; one married a Jewish woman and is practicing, one married a non-Jewish woman and is practicing a different religion, and one married a non-Jewish woman but continues to embrace Judaism.

This diversity among her own family made getting involved with the group an easy decision.
Davis has two grandchildren, ages 4 years and 5 months; both are being raised Catholic.

“The relationship between our grandchildren and us is more important and deeper than whatever religion is being taught in the home,” said Davis. “My husband and I have always said we would never let anything come between us and our kids.”

Many of the members have very young grandchildren; therefore, another consensus formed by the group was to look for people who had grandchildren who are teenagers as a way to understand what is to come.

“The Grandparents Circle was very comforting because it is nice to know others out there have the same questions,” said Davis. “I’m sure as we go forward, there’ll be stumbles along the way, but my husband and I just take the kids’ leads. If we have questions, they’re happy to answer, but we just follow their lead with how much or how little involvement [we should have in our grandchildren’s] religious education.”

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