MULTIKULTI - 5 WAYS WE ARE RAISING A JEWISH GERMAN CHILD
October 23, 2017
"Multikulti" is maybe one of my favorite German words. Its meaning is pretty obvious if you ask me - it's short for multi-cultural. Remember my post about raising a bilingual child? Well, for many multi-lingual families, including us, languages are only one among many facets of raising a multi-cultural child. For us, two other big ones are nationality and religion: I was raised Christian-Lutheran in Germany and D was raised Jewish in Miami.
This post is something I struggled a lot with and debated writing at all because it is so very personal. You know how they say don't talk about religion or politics online? Yeah... add a sprinkle of World War II for good measure (there, I said it), and voilà, I present you with the ultimate forbidden fruit of a blog post.
Why, then, is this online? Ultimately, I was inspired to write this by two conversations I've had with fellow moms who are raising mixed faith kids - one Christian-Bahai combo and one Jewish-Muslim combo. If your first thought is "that's so cool", you are not alone - I completely agree! At the same time, navigating two (or more) cultures, two (or more) languages and two (or more) religions can sometimes feel like a minefield in which you make one wrong step and someone feels left out, misunderstood or hurt. As with all difficult topics, I get the feeling that a lot of people would like to talk about it, but aren't really sure how without diving right into that minefield. That includes me, by the way - but hey, here's an attempt! These five things have worked for us so far:
As with everything in life, communication is key. We make a point to voice when we feel uncomfortable with something, or when something feels a little too foreign to one of us. For example, I didn't want any Hebrew at our wedding because I don't know the language and didn't grow up hearing it. D was uncomfortable with baby names that sounded too German - I looooove the name Friedrich for a little boy, but that just wasn't going to fly. It can be challenging to hear these things, but it's too important to us that neither one of us feels that their culture is taking a backseat in bringing up Magnus.
2) Storytime! Music time!
Read or tell the stories and sing the songs that you grew up with. Raising a child abroad (and for me, the US is "abroad"), or with someone who had a completely different upbringing, is hard because naturally, our toolbox for raising children is full of all the stories, songs, little sayings and sweet nicknames we grew up with. Being surrounded by people who don't know the same things can feel pretty isolating. We always sing a German lullaby at bedtime, and we each read books to Magnus that we grew up with. Once he is a little older, those books will likely include biblical stories - and guess what, we are pretty lucky because we share the Old Testament, so a lot of the stories are actually the same!
3) Embrace the whole beautiful mish-mash.
We don't like to say Magnus is "half" Jewish or "half" German or "half" American. If you're thinking, yeah, duh, he'd have to be a third each to get the math right, allow me to remind you that we live in a world of alternative facts (#thankstrump), and he can be American, German and Jewish, and all of those things 100%. (See, I told you I was going to fit in politics somewhere.) Kidding aside, what I mean by that is that we are making a conscious effort not to limit any aspect of Magnus's heritage but give him as much exposure as we can manage to every facet of it.
4) Don't hide your history.
The big, ugly elephant in the room. The combination of Jewish and German, as opposed to just any two nationalities or sets of religious beliefs, comes with its own unique challenges, and is therefore at the heart of what this post is about. This is and has always been a big deal for D and me and will probably become an even greater challenge once Magnus is at an age where he starts asking and learning about history. D and I both grew up learning a lot about World War II, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. We both grew up with a firm and unshakable understanding that what happened in Germany in the 30s and 40s was evil, horrible and wrong, and with a strong sense of obligation to remember and and talk about it so that we can prevent it from happening again. And we both want to instill that understanding and sense of obligation in our baby boy. But there is no denying that we also grew up on opposite sides of the equation, and I'm sure other mixed families can relate when I say it makes me a little nervous that neither D nor I have any experience or wisdom to share on what it's like to be a mix of those opposite sides. All I know is that we will do everything in our power to raise Magnus with tons of love and pride in who he is, and not shy away from talking about this difficult piece of history.
5) Celebrate - the more the better.
Every since we first started dating, D and I have embraced each other's celebrations - after all, who doesn't love a good party! We have traditionally done Chrismukkah at our home, I once colored and hid Easter eggs for D's first Easter egg hunt, and he has introduced me to apples and honey for Jewish New Year as well as the beauty that is Manischewitz (don't judge, that stuff is delicious) once a year for Passover dinner. We've hosted Shabbat dinners where D was not only the only American at the table but also the only Jew (I remember a specific one where it was D, me, two Indians, two Mexicans and two British people - it's like there's a "walk into a bar" joke in there somewhere, don't you think...), and we broke the fast with an epic bagel spread on Yom Kippur! If you see a pattern here, you would be correct - the common denominator is (obviously) the food. Food brings people together, and it's easy and fun to learn by trying different foods. In fact, one of my favorite question to ask people around the holidays is what food their families traditionally eat - so if you are reading this and have a great holiday recipe - whatever the holiday may be - please share!! Oh, and a bonus of this Jewish-German-American power combo of ours: We never have to fight about where we spend Thanksgiving or Christmas - it's easy: Thanksgiving with D's family, Christmas with mine :)
...Whew, you guys, writing this definitely took several boxes of cookies and a lot longer than I thought, but I hope you enjoyed! By the way, I absolutely love hearing from you and reading about other multikulti families' lives, so holla at me!
PS: The beautiful photos are from Magnus's Jewish babynaming, which we celebrated two weeks ago in Miami!