Few writers are chronicling the interfaith family journey from anything other than a “raising the kids Jewish” perspective. So, soon after I started this blog, I was thrilled to discover an essay written by Joanna Brooks about her Mormon and Jewish family. As she explained in that essay to her daughters, “You are what we all are: composite, recycled…You are a whole soul living in a divided world.”
Brooks, I soon learned, is an English professor who writes a blog called “Ask Mormon Girl,” in which she dispenses thoughtful advice and perceptive explanations to troubled Mormons, and curious non-Mormons. This year, she launched a self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl, into the midst of the prolonged “Mormon moment” which has now reached an extended climax with the a Mormon candidate for President. During the run-up to the election, Brooks became the go-to media voice of progressive Mormonism, her memoir was picked up by a commercial publisher, and she even appeared with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.
For Mormons, as for Jews, growing up as part of a misunderstood religious minority with distinct foodways and cultures exerts a powerful effect, even on those who move outside the formal borders of the community. In her memoir, Brooks chronicles her idyllic childhood as part of the Mormon community in southern California, her painful alienation over Mormon opposition to feminism and same-sex marriage, and her eventual, rather unorthodox return. She brings affection and charm and wry humor to her depiction of Mormonism, while also agonizing over how to confront the difficult realities of exclusion in her cradle religion.
Brooks displays her trademark bravery, independence and vision when she and her Jewish husband decide to raise their daughters with exposure to both Judaism and Mormonism, despite the usual advice from clergy to choose one religion. Her pioneering role as an interfaith parent plays only an oblique role in this memoir. And I admit I was disappointed that the topic did not come up during her appearance with Jon Stewart (another intermarried parent, since he is Jewish and married to a Catholic). In the book, Brooks stands firm in the choice she and her husband have made. She writes, “…to put away either one of our stories, our families, our peoples, to hold back these huge parts of ourselves from our children seems more damaging than the confusion that well-meaning people grimly prognosticate.” These words will resonate with many of the parents on this blog—parents who have chosen to raise children with two religions.
Brooks has said that a publisher dissuaded her from making her Mormon and Jewish interfaith marriage the central element of her memoir, fearing such a combination would be too obscure. But as the election nears, Mormonism is no longer so obscure, and Brooks has become its most eloquent commentator, with the ideal “insider/outsider” viewpoint. I hope that her next book will continue her interfaith story, sharing more of her perspective as part of a growing movement of interfaith families raising children with more than one religion.