On Sunday, March 5th at 9:00 a.m. at Winnipeg Limmud 2017, Leslie Emery described what it was like growing up in a family with multiple faiths and how she balances this in her own life. She attempted to dispel some of the myths of intermarriage to help pave the way to a more inclusive Jewish community in Winnipeg.
She said that for her growing up with a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father was “normal”. “I can’t imagine being brought up any other way. I was told I was Jewish because my mother is Jewish. However, I was also raised as a citizen of the world,” she explained.
“We celebrated Jewish and non-Jewish holidays because making time to be together with family and celebrating life is of the utmost importance in my family. Basically family is more important than any kind of religious, philosophical or ideological differences between us.”
How did her family find balance with diverse backgrounds and beliefs? She answered, “My Aunties on my dad’s side of the family have made Kosher for Pesach desserts for many an Easter luncheon hosted at my parent’s house, as a sign of understanding and love. It’s really kind of beautiful.”
Leslie is now married to a non-Jewish man and has a young daughter. “She is being raised celebrating every holiday, as I did, but with the knowledge of her Jewish ancestors and traditions. She will learn to read Hebrew and about the Jewish holidays. We light the Chanukah candles together and spin the dreidel. We also have a Christmas tree and open gifts on Christmas morning. To us, the holidays are really about making fun memories and enjoying time together as a family. Ultimately, my daughter will pick her own path as we all do eventually.”
Leslie is program director at Congregation Shaarey Zedek and leads family services with Chazzan Mass. “Being Jewish is a way of life, a history and a heritage that has been preserved for thousands of years,” she sates. “As soon as I recognized that this wealth of history was kept for me and that I could study this wisdom and honour the memory of my ancestors in this way, I felt a deep connection that couldn’t be displaced. I wanted to play my part in preserving that history and teaching it to subsequent generations.
When asked how we can make our community more inclusive to intermarried couples and their children, Leslie said, “The first step is dropping the term intermarriage problem. Intermarriage is not a problem. In fact it is only a problem if you have a problem with it. Intermarriage is a reality.”
“So drop the label and stop treating us differently. If only one part of a Jewish couple attends Shul, it isn’t cause for exclamation, or commentary. Intermarried families are just families. Welcome families like mine when we show up at social cultural community events and honour the contribution of both parents in raising their children.”
The Jewish community of Winnipeg is working in this direction. “I am very moved at how the paradigm has shifted since I began working at Congregation Shaarey Zedek. I have had the opportunity to speak and shed light on what it is like growing up in a family like mine and instead of being met with any hostility, I am met with open minds and hearts.”