——(Originally published in slightly shorter form for my Mombian newspaper column.)
It’s the season of the High Holidays for Jews around the world—and that means that Julie Silver, one of the most popular singers and songwriters of Jewish contemporary music — and a lesbian mom — is very busy. She took time, however, to speak with me about being a mom, balancing family and work, coming out, living as an interfaith family, and doing good in the world.
Silver has been performing professionally for over 25 years, first in her native Massachusetts and now across the United States and beyond. Her albums are a mix of songs about the Jewish and the broader human experience as well as Jewish holiday and liturgical songs. Her 2007 album It’s Chanukah Time is the only Jewish album ever to have been recognized on Billboard, reaching the number five spot in 2009. A retrospective CD for the (appropriately) silver anniversary of her career is in the works.
For the past 20 years, she has made her home in Southern California, where she lives with her spouse Mary Connelly, a television producer, and their two daughters, ages eight-and-a-half and one-and-a-half years. (She remains, however, a devoted Red Sox fan, and sang the National Anthem at Fenway Park in 2011.)
The couple coordinates parenting duties, since Silver performs most weekends and Connolly works weekdays. The family uses Internet video calls to stay in touch while Silver is on the road. Despite some initial fears that becoming a parent would interrupt her career, Silver found that “The most meaningful surprise I got was that it only added to everything I do. Possibly it’s because I’m in a world that values children and I work in a world that values depth and endurance and meaning and all these great things. So my having a baby elevated my whole life, and elevated my career. . . . It didn’t really divide my time. Adding love to your life shouldn’t be a drawback and it shouldn’t be an interruption, and it really wasn’t.”
Parenthood has instead “elevated” her life and career. “It felt out of spiritual necessity that I had to keep doing this work, and do it even better,” she explained. She wants her daughters to see her passion for making a contribution to the world, so they in turn “feel passion in their work and in their everyday lives.”
Conversely, her career has informed her parenting. Having sung at High Holiday services since she was 15 years old, she said, she feels well equipped to explain “in very simple terms” to her daughters what the holidays mean and “what it means to be part of a community of learners and seekers and people who want to do good things in the world.”
That community—of progressive, liberal Jews—has always accepted her, she said. She’s had “a completely different experience” from LGBT people who feel condemned by their religion. “There was nobody more important to me than Jewish professionals in my coming out,” she said. “Judaism has done nothing but support and embrace all the pieces of me. Especially that one.”
Because of her deep roots in the Jewish community, Silver surprised herself when she fell in love with Connolly, an Irish Catholic. “I never thought in a million years I would ever be with somebody who was non-Jewish,” she said.
As part of an interfaith couple, Silver said, “I had to learn to accept everything that raised my partner, and everything that she embraced. Even though we come from two totally different faiths, the only thing that’s important is that we support each other in what we’re doing.”
As a parent, Silver said, “I’m going to raise my children with love and they’re going to know how I was raised, and they’re going to experience all these Jewish things—but they have another mother, who has her experience as well. And so we have to find a way to fit both into our home.”
She explained, “We raise our children in a synagogue, but we also go to midnight mass in New York City and celebrate some of [Mary’s] holidays.” Silver organized the Easter egg hunt for their girls last year when Connolly was away. Similarly, when Silver is away on the weekends, Connolly takes their eldest to Hebrew school.
And Connolly’s middle name is in honor of a nun who was an advocate for the impoverished and marginalized, Silver said. “What about that isn’t Jewish?” she asked. “I teach my daughter, ‘Your mother was named after somebody who did good in the world,’ in hopes that she will do good in the world.”
Still, Silver said that being an interfaith family is “a running dialogue . . . . The more we talk about our faith, the more we talk about our separate experiences, the more we have combined experiences, the more our experiences mean to us.”
For example, she related, “There was one year when Easter Sunday coincided with the first night of Passover, and I dreaded it as it was coming.” As it turned out, “It was the best weekend ever. Nothing got watered down. If anything, everything felt heightened and even more deeply celebrated.”
In her public life, Silver is committed to using her experiences and her platform as a performer to help LGBT people. “In the last 10 years, it’s become an entire wing of my career to mentor and at least connect with young people—or not young people—who are coming out, and to be an ear and an advocate,” she said.
“I’ve come out to 10,000 people in Washington, D.C. at the regional biennial for the Reform movement. I’ve come out for 25 seventh graders that I’m just kind of talking with. Audiences throughout the country hear me say, ‘our daughters; my wife,’” she related. It’s clear “that they’re watching someone who is incidentally a lesbian, someone who’s completely comfortable with it.” By getting people to be comfortable with her, she hopes they can learn to feel comfortable with themselves and others.
Another cause in which she is “deeply invested” is women’s right to pray equally with men at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. This November, she will be going to Israel for the 25th anniversary of Women of the Wall, the advocacy group pushing for change there.
Silver insists that when it comes to social action, “Everybody has a gift. Everybody has something to offer.” For herself, she said, “If I can raise my voice because I have a platform, then that’s the best I can do. I have a performance skill. That’s how I’m going to hopefully help.”
Silver will continue to perform around the country this year, on both coasts and points in between. Visit juliesilver.com for details.