Ear­li­er this week, Gayle Redling­shafer Berman wrote about mourn­ing the loss of a non-Jew­ish par­ent. Today we hear from Gayle’s co-author, her hus­band Harold Berman, the for­mer Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Jew­ish Fed­er­a­tion of West­ern Mass­a­chu­setts. Gayle and Harold are the co-authors of Dou­blelife: One Fam­i­ly, TwoFaiths and a Jour­ney of Hope, the first true-life account of an inter­mar­riage gone Jew­ish.” They have been blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

When my wife and I speak to groups about our fam­i­ly’s jour­ney to Judaism, inevitably we are asked about our par­ents. How did Gayle’s par­ents, devout Chris­tians that they were, feel about Gayle becom­ing an obser­vant Jew? How did my par­ents feel about me leav­ing my Reform upbring­ing to embrace an Ortho­dox life?

The ques­tions are hard­ly aca­d­e­m­ic. We have heard from numer­ous con­verts about par­ents who did­n’t under­stand their deci­sion, who felt betrayed, who now wor­ried for their souls, who some­times even active­ly tried to under­mine their choic­es. For Ba’alei Teshu­va – those Jews who were not raised obser­vant but became so as adults – the reac­tion of their Jew­ish par­ents often is hard­ly more positive.

When we are asked about how our par­ents react­ed and if we had any dif­fi­cul­ties, we respond hon­est­ly that we are blessed. Gayle wrote in the pre­vi­ous blog post about her father. His sup­port of Israel was rock sol­id. He was a true Chris­t­ian Zion­ist and got it” far more than many Jews I know. He was not only sup­port­ive of our move to Israel, but proud­ly wore his Israel Defense Forces cap in the midst of the corn­fields of Farm­ing­ton, Illinois.

My par­ents, too, have been unre­served­ly sup­port­ive, in stark con­trast to the par­ents of so many Ba’alei Teshu­va I have met. When I start­ed to become obser­vant and Gayle start­ed to explore the pos­si­bil­i­ty of becom­ing Jew­ish, I secret­ly feared my par­ents’ reac­tion. I had heard of par­ents who, upon learn­ing that their adult chil­dren now kept kosher, angri­ly demand­ed, What do you mean you won’t eat in my house? My food’s not good enough for you any­more?” Instead, my par­ents called one day to tell me that they were kash­er­ing their kitchen, down to every last plate, bowl and fork. After all,” my moth­er said, my grand­chil­dren should be able to eat in my kitchen.”

A cou­ple of years lat­er, my par­ents were stand­ing in line at the super­mar­ket next to a man whose son had gone to Hebrew school with me. His son also had become obser­vant as an adult. The father was beside him­self, speak­ing with frus­tra­tion about his son’s new dietary habits and Shab­bat obser­vance. Think­ing his words were falling on sym­pa­thet­ic ears, he turned to my par­ents and sighed, Oh, where did we go wrong?” To which my moth­er, with­out drop­ping a beat, fired back, No – where did we go right?”

When we wrote Dou­blelife: One Fam­i­ly, Two Faiths and a Jour­ney of Hope, about our unan­tic­i­pat­ed jour­ney from inter­mar­ried cou­ple to obser­vant Jew­ish fam­i­ly, we were sur­prised to receive so many enthu­si­as­tic e‑mails not only from the inter­mar­ried fam­i­lies for whom the book was orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed, but from Jews across the reli­gious spec­trum as well as reli­gious Chris­tians. The theme in Dou­blelife that res­onates most often, even for those on very dif­fer­ent reli­gious paths, is the theme of relationship.

As our jour­ney shows, hus­band and wife each grow and change over time and are often not the same peo­ple years down the road as they were when they mar­ried. As hus­band and wife change, they can just as eas­i­ly grow apart as togeth­er, large­ly depend­ing on their out­look and how hard they decide to work at it.

Par­ents and chil­dren rep­re­sent a dif­fer­ent kind of rela­tion­ship, but the same dynam­ics of con­stant change apply. There is the same ten­den­cy to grow apart or togeth­er, depend­ing on out­look and effort. And there is the same imper­a­tive to keep the rela­tion­ship strong, what­ev­er obsta­cles may fall along the path. 

For what we have learned above all – with each oth­er and with our par­ents – is that obsta­cles need not remain obsta­cles. They can be turned into blessings.

Find out more about Gayle and Harold here