Red Hair, Green Eyes, & Jewish
by Lucas McMahon

Discussing Outreach

Reform Judaism has created a discussion guide for the home and synagogue on "Outreach: The Next Generation."

Here I am, a living example that one must go deeper than the exterior to discover a person’s true nature.

Red hair. Green eyes. A face full of freckles, and a Gaelic surname like McMahon. Not many would guess that a 17-year-old with these distinctions would be a Jew, but here I am, a living example that one must go deeper than the exterior to discover a person’s true nature. I can’t tell you how many times a teacher has looked at me cockeyed when I announced I wouldn’t be in school for the High Holy Days, or friends have said, “You don’t look Jewish!” when I mention I’m a member of my school’s Jewish Student Union. Yes, my last name is Irish and I don’t look like any Jew I’ve ever met. But I am a member of the Jewish community and my everyday actions are directly connected to the values Judaism has taught me.

Lucas McMahon at his bar mitzvahI grew up in an interfaith household—my mother born to a large Jewish family in New York City and my father to a large Irish Catholic household in Framingham, Massachusetts. When my mother became pregnant with their first child (that’s me), she and my father faced perhaps the greatest parenting decision they’d ever make: in what religion shall we raise the children? Initially, it seemed easier to avoid the question altogether—that is, until my mother’s grandfather gave her the advice that would change our lives forever: “Taking the easy road is not an option. You cannot raise your child without religion in his life. You must give him an identity to cherish. You must make him part of a community that he will feel connected to.” And so, my parents ultimately decided to raise their child Jewish and began their search for a synagogue that would accept them.

This search was not easy. Many synagogues rather uncomfortably and reluctantly greeted my parents. Eventually, however, my parents walked into Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, Massachusetts and were warmly received by a congregation that cared only that my parents wished to become part of their community. Thus it was that I grew up in Emanu-El, attending religious school, becoming a bar mitzvah, receiving the honor of an aliyah at my brother’s bar mitzvah ceremony, and, earlier this year, completing my Confirmation. And, remarkably, my father’s Catholic family joyfully shared these lifecycle events with us all.

You see, about five years ago my mother decided to participate in the temple’s first adult b’nai mitzvah class. She felt it her duty as a Jewish parent to learn Hebrew and read from the Torah before I began preparations for my bar mitzvah. After working hard to learn the Hebrew alphabet and read the prayers from the siddur, she was ready to participate in the class b’nai mitzvah ceremony. Her only question was whether or not to invite her Catholic mother-in-law. Not wanting to make her uncomfortable, Mom opted not to mention the occasion, but near the date, my grandmother phoned: “Mindy, did you think I wouldn’t find out about your bat mitzvah?” Embarrassed, my mother replied, “I’m sorry, I didn’t think you would want to come.” “Of course I am going to come,” Grandma told her. “I would not miss this for the world.” And so I sat there, in the sixth row, with Dad and Grandma, neither of whom are Jews, witnessing my mother becoming a bat mitzvah. I cried as she read from her siddur, knowing that she was becoming a bat mitzvah because she didn’t want me to feel alone as I prepared for mine. It was among the most moving, powerful moments I had ever experienced as a Jew. And here was my grandmother, complimenting the beauty of the service and our welcoming congregation.

As I search my heart for the answers to my own future, many things remain unsure. However, my dedication to my family and my religion are two things I know will stay with me.

Reform Outreach Resources

From the URJ Press

  • Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner’s Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family by Jim Keen
  • Mingled Roots: A Guide for Grandparents of Interfaith Children by Sunie Levin, illustrated by Dahlia G. Schoenberg
  • If I’m Jewish and You’re Christian, What Are the Kids? A Parenting Guide for Interfaith Families by Andrea King
  • Every Person’s Guide to Judaism by Stephen J. Einstein and Lydia Kukoff
  • Choosing Judaism (Revised Edition) by Lydia Kukoff
  • The Outreach and Membership Idea Book, Volume II
  • The Outreach and Membership Idea Book (2006) from the URJ-CCAR Commission on Outreach and Membership
  • Defining the Role of the Non-Jew in the Synagogue: A Resource for Congregations (Revised Edition)

From the Outreach & Membership Department, 212-650-4230

  • Intermarried? Reform Judaism Welcomes You
  • Becoming a Jew
  • Biennial Initiative: Supporting Interfaith Families: Recognizing and Honoring the Non-Jewish Spouse.
  • A Two-Year Action Plan for Your Congregation to Recognize and Honor Non-Jews Raising Jewish Children and to Invite and Support Conversion
  • 18+ Ways to Welcome and Support Interfaith Families in Your Synagogue
  • Introduction to Sanctuary Etiquette
  • Biennial Initiative: Inviting Conversion and Supporting Those Who Are in the Process of Conversion
  • 18 Ways to Invite and Support Conversion in Your Synagogue
  • When a Family Member Converts… Q&A about Conversion to Judaism
  • Inviting Someone You Love to Become a Jew

Union for Reform Judaism.