Interfaith Baby Namings
Planning a ceremony when your family is multi-faith or multi-cultural.
Even before getting to the ritual elements, there are many ways to acknowledge the background of both sides of the family at your celebration, which can include explicit recognition of a non-Jewish parent’s heritage.
At one ceremony held at San Francisco’s Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, for example, the baby wore a handmade christening gown which had been passed down as a family heirloom for several generations. While to some that might seem out of place at a Jewish ceremony, the public acknowledgment of this mother’s non-Jewish heritage helped make it possible for her to fully commit to raising her children as Jews, because her own past was not being rendered invisible.
The décor for the day adds more opportunities: red, a color which in China represents good fortune, can be used for flowers and tablecloths if part of the child's background is Asian; if the family is of African heritage, lengths of mud- or kente cloth can be used. You can also include food from the culture of the non-Jewish part of the family at the party immediately following the ceremony; these days, it’s not hard to provide vegetarian or even kosher Italian, Irish, African, and Asian foods, for example.
Yet another way to incorporate some of the non-Jewish culture which may be part of your child's heritage is to include relevant songs from that tradition.
Both parents should stand in the front of the room in which the ceremony is being held, and welcome their guests. If one isn’t Jewish, and the Jewish parent will have more involvement in the ritual aspects, then the non-Jew might be the one to start the day off with a few words to orient people to what they will be witnessing.
A non-Jewish parent, along with non-Jewish grandparents, can offer personal thoughts about the meaning of this baby’s arrival in their family’s life. Similarly, they can speak about the person after whom the baby has received her English or Hebrew name, if that person was from their side of the family (for example, one girl named after her Irish Catholic great-aunt Elizabeth received the Hebrew name Elisheva). Both are simple ways to seamlessly integrate the participation of non-Jewish loved ones.
Non-Jewish family members can also honor and celebrate the baby by reading something related to her arrival during the ceremony. It might be a contemporary poem, a prose passage from a favorite book, or even a section of text from the Torah translated into English, like one of the Psalms. Many different sources can be appropriate so long as they don't refer to another faith. And of course, it is important to discuss your plans and needs with the mohel (if it's a bris), rabbi or cantor, or other officiant(s) before the ceremony.
An additional way to thoughtfully include non-Jewish relatives, particularly grandparents, is to express your appreciation to them as you close your welcoming ritual by saying something like, “We thank Patrick’s parents for lending their love and presence to this holy moment in the life of our baby and their grandchild.”
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