You’re already off to a great start on this one. The worst thing you could do would be something reactionary or reactive. A careful and considered response is always the best way to deal with questions of identity, in both yourself and your children.
One of my favorite interpretations of the Four Sons at Passover involves the Wicked Son. He asks, “What does this ritual mean to you?” and the Hagaddah tells us to answer him caustically, since he would not have been redeemed. This bothered me, until a rabbi I studied with shared this idea: the Wicked Son is actually the best son. The son pushes and prods, demanding that his father re-examine his own interpretation of the Passover story. The son is of the world of Egypt, and therefore has an outside perspective on the ritual. It is the father’s mistake to answer caustically. In that way, the father ensures that his son will not re-enter the community because the terms of entry have been defined so rigidly.
Your reaction to your daughter’s exploration seems kind and considered. But there is still a danger here in defining Jewish identity too rigidly. This is an opportunity for you to look at what it means to you, before you worry about how connected your teenager is. Does Jewish identity exclusively mean marrying someone Jewish? Does it exclusively mean having Jewish friends or volunteering at a synagogue? I do not belong to a synagogue, and I have never had a Jewish girlfriend, but I direct many Jewish plays, I write for the Forward, and am constantly investigating the question of my own Jewish identity. In my late twenties, I started keeping kosher again - at my own interest, and not a parent’s request. I identify as an engaged Jew.
What makes up a Jewish identity is for each generation to explore. To cite another piece of the Hagaddah: In every generation a man must look at himself as though he exited Egypt.
We live in an unprecedented era of acceptance. It is exciting and it is terrifying. If you continue to ask these questions for yourself, and invite your daughter to ask them with you, then she will end up with a Jewish identity that satisfies her. You will help her build a Jewish identity that she will then engage with when she has her own family. And isn’t that the goal? Don’t force the ritual to mean to her what it means to you. Just make sure you both keep asking that question.
And don’t worry so much about who she is dating. It sounds like you are raising a great person. Trust both her and yourself in that.
Benjamin Kamine is a New York-based stage director, primarily focused on new works. His recent credits include productions at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago, The Flea Theater in New York, and development work with companies all over the country. He was a 2014-15 Fellow at , and is currently working to expand his knowledge of Jewish texts.