ETA: I'VE EDITED THIS POST TO REFLECT THE LETTER AS I SENT IT TO MY PARENTS
Dear Abba and Mom,
B and I have read over your last message carefully, and given it full thought. While we both very much appreciate your effort to try and find a solution that would make everyone happy, conversion is not a step we are willing to take.
Perhaps in my effort to spare your feelings and not insult your belief system, I have been a bit unclear about my beliefs. This seems to have led to some confusion on your part. So here it is: While we completely respect your decision to be orthodox jews, and would not impose our beliefs on anyone else, we ourselves do not want to be a part of any organized religion. We have both come to this decision after years of thinking about and debating different aspects of religion (independently, before we met each other). B and I are atheists, not agnostics. We are not religious, not because we are lazy or think religion is too hard, or don't think it's a big deal. We are not religious because we think organized religion is wrong, and harmful, and we do not want to be a part of it. For instance, one way in which we think religion is harmful is that it makes otherwise good people (like you and mom) place your community over an honest and open relationship with your children. Another way is that you seem to believe that if we don't join your religion then there is no way you can have a relationship with us. But from our perspective, we see no reason why you can't do both- be religious and have a relationship with us.
I'm telling you this not to insult your beliefs, but to clarify why converting would very much be a very big deal for us. Having B convert would be a larger compromise than we are willing to make. Not only to us as individuals, for we would be compromising a very important part of our identity. But also to B's family, who have always been very warm to us. Imagine if B's mom insisted that I undergo a sham conversion to catholicism in order to have a relationship with them; wouldn't you be very hurt by such a sham, even though you know I don't believe in it? B's mother has very strong religious convictions, and has already been hurt by the knowledge that B will never be religious, just as you have been hurt by the knowledge that I will never be religious. The difference is that she has still maintained a close relationship with B, and has welcomed me warmly into their family, because she cares more about B as a person then about B's religion. We would not want to damage our relationship with her after she has treated us so kindly.
Even if we were willing to go through with this (which we are not), it would not magically fix the relationship between us and you. We have both been very hurt by your refusal to meet B and by the way you have handled this situation. You don't seem to realize how hurtful and insulting some of the things you have written to us have been- for instance, in my last email I wrote to you asking for a more honest and open relationship, and you replied by asking us to put on some elaborate hoax conversion in order to be accepted into the family. This makes it seem to us as if your love is conditional upon such a hoax. How would you feel if I asked you to lie to everyone and tell them you were in atheist in order to be accepted into my family? Religious beliefs are not something you can force upon other people.
And how would that further your aims? You clearly want me and my future kids to have some kind of jewish identity- but how would lying to a rabbi, tricking him into allowing B to convert, lying to all our relatives, and going through with this insincere conversion achieve that goal? B and I are not going to change our stance about religion. An insincere conversion isn't even considered a valid conversion in your religion. Our kids would be halachicly jewish either way. We will still raise our children without organized religion, and allow them to join or not join any religion they would like.
We have discussed the matter in depth, and these are the compromises we are willing to make: We will be getting married on May 17th 2009. We are having the wedding on this day, which is a Sunday after lag ba'omer, so that you can come if you choose. What we plan to do for our wedding ceremony is exchange vows that we have written ourselves, and then have our guests speak about us before we all sign the marriage license, with the guests as witnesses. We will not have an officiant, as we are getting a 'self uniting' marriage license.
I know that it is important to you that I maintain some type of Jewish identity, which is why you came up with this conversion idea. So this is what I propose: While I am not willing to have a religious jewish wedding ceremony, since I disagree with so many things about it (as you might recall from all the fights we had when I was engaged to A), I would be willing to incorporate some jewish cultural traditions into our wedding ceremony. For instance, we will be happy to exchange the vows we have written under a chuppah if you lend us one. We will get kosher food for you and/or Mom if you decide to attend.
Furthermore, in the future, if you ever decide to welcome B and me into your life (even if you decide not to come to our wedding) then I will try to forget the extremely hurtful way in which you have treated us over the past few years, and to have a relationship with you. We will be happy to dress appropriately and keep the laws of kasharut, etc, for any time we are under your roof. You can have a relationship with our future children, and we could visit for some of the more secular jewish holidays, such as channukah, so that our children have a sense of their Jewish cultural heritage. We would be happy for them to learn the history of the Jewish people, and of their own family history on my side. However we will not accept any attempts from you or anyone else to 'do kiruv' on them and to persuade them to be religious.
If you feel that inviting us both to family events would be too much strain, and that you can't accept B into the family unless he converts, then that is your choice, and we will have to go our separate ways. How the other members of our extended family decides to treat us is up to them, and we will deal with them individually. I hope you understand that if you refuse to meet B I am not willing to go behind his back and allow you to have a relationship with our future children.
I hope you will consider what I have said, as this is as far a I am willing to go. While I would love to have a relationship with you, this is much higher of a price than I am willing to pay for one, as it would compromise my and B's very strong beliefs. I hope you will be willing to think about ways in which we can have a relationship with each other, without either of us trying to impose our beliefs on each other. In fact, I think the best possible way for us to have a relationship may be if neither of us ever discusses religion at all, as it seems that every time we do it causes too many hurt feelings on both sides.
Let me know what you think, and feel free to take as much time as you need to think about it. Even if you decide you still can't have a relationship with B now, if at any point in the future you change your mind, we will be happy to welcome you into our family.