When Rachel Crossley was growing up in Ohio, her family celebrated her father’s Christian holidays and her mother’s Jewish ones.
But she knew that she and her twin brother were Jewish her mother always told them so.
Then why, Rachel asked when she was 12, didn’t the family go to synagogue? Why did they put up a Christmas tree and wait for Santa every year?
“I decided I was half-Jewish, and that’s what I told people,” says Crossley, now 25 and a third-year rabbinic student at the Reform movement’s seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, in Cincinnati.
That same year, Crossley went to religious school for the first time with a Jewish friend. It was Sukkot, and for the first time she saw people eating in a beautifully decorated sukkah.
“I fell in love with the energy and the ritual, the engagement of the whole family, how much fun they were having,” she says.
At Crossley s urging, her parents joined the temple. Crossley began studying Hebrew and celebrated her bat mitzvah at age 17.
In college she led the weekly Hillel services, and it was that experience and having her fellow students turn to her with questions about Judaism that encouraged her to consider the rabbinate.
Crossley doesn’t see her mixed background as a detriment.
“Because we only observed a little at home, I had to look for what I wanted to know,” she says. “That made me appreciate it more. I have such a strong Jewish identity now probably because I was given the opportunity to search and ask questions when I was younger.”
She also believes it will make her more sensitive to the intermarried families in her future congregation.
“I’d rather celebrate the impact Judaism has on them than push them away, she says. It was that celebration of Judaism that pulled me in.”