family holidays parenting

Notes from an Interfaith Child

January 1, 2017

If you haven’t figured it out already, I am an interfaith child. My father is Jewish, and my mother is Christian. It makes celebrating the holidays enjoyable  and fun. In my home, we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah which makes December lively.

When my parents married, in the 60s, they were extremely unusual. In fact, they had a hard time finding a Rabbi/Priest who would consider marrying them.They ended up finally finding a reform synagogue who would allow their marriage ceremony. I grew up in an area where I was the ONLY interfaith child I knew (talk about lonely). I benefitted from it but times were sometimes difficult.  However, in my cohort of cousins and siblings, no one has a spouse of the same faith.I offer my tips for interfaith families (and these are only my opinions and may not work for all families).

  • Pick one religion for your family. Sounds harsh, I know but it makes life so much easier. This does not mean that the traditions and holidays of the non-dominant religion are ignored.Some faiths make this decision easy. In most branches of Judaism, the child follows the religion of the mother. In my case, as my Mother wasn’t Jewish, I was not considered Jewish. However, my parents made every effort for me to experience my father’s family’s traditions. I attended every Hanukkah party and I don’t miss a Passover Seder (I even went to one in Iraq). We have a big Hanukkah party with my Aunt and Uncle, and I teach about the holiday annually at my children’s school. I feel blessed to be able to act as an emissary for my father’s faith and to help others understand Jewish traditions.(Once I had to teach my priest how to correctly pronounce the Hebrew words in our bible study).
  • Don’t make your child choose a religion, make the choice for them. One thing that most individuals fail to understand is that by making your child choose, it is asking the child to pick one parent over the other. However be open to the idea of different faiths later in life. There are many people who experiment with religion as they mature. A person who is an an observant Catholic as a child might grow to be an agnostic. Let them know you will love them whatever faith they espouse.
  • Highlight the values that are inherent in both faiths. When you list out the values practiced by most of the dominant world religions, they have many commonalities. For example, both Jews and Christians embrace the concept of charity, they just call it different words (charity and tzedakah) and the practices vary slightly. All parents wish for their children to be kind humans.A great exercise is listing the values both parents want for their home and then figure out where to go from there. Focus on the family memories you want to create. As family meals are universal, inviting extended family members who are of another faith to join in the holiday meals can serve to focus on the commonalities of your traditions. Over time, these gatherings become part of the year’s cycle for the extended family. They become familiar.
  • Don’t be afraid to discuss differences: children understand them. My children know that Babbo & Nonna (my father and stepmother) have only a menorah at their home but MorMor (my mother) has a tree. They understand that. They also understand that the although we have a menorah, our religion is christianity but they have an Ashkenazi heritage.
  • Don’t shy away from religious discussions. We’ve had many talks about the role of Jesus. Even though they are young, my children realize that he has different meanings for different people. This has taught my children the ability to look at the world from different perspectives, something that we feel is very important. We teach there are no correct answers. Discussing different perspectives encourages them to be open minded and willing to embrace the diversity of thought in our world. I love this quote I read about interfaith families, “Interfaith family communities welcome believers, spiritual seekers, agnostics and atheists — but value religious literacy for all.”

I welcome your comments and opinions. Remember there are no right answers, just different responses. I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on this issue. Happy New Year!

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3 Comments on "Notes from an Interfaith Child"

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Good article, Gabrielle, and very well thought out. Christmas and Hanukkah really overlapped this year so you must have been extra busy with celebration. We do not have a lot of diversity where I live, unless you are talking diversity of Christian denominations. Our area does have a small mosque, only about a year old, in the city north of here, I think it mainly serves students that are in the area for the state university. Our synagogue is now a museum for the Jewish heritage of earlier settlers. The operating synagogue–it is north of us also. We are actually… Read more »

Well, it’s a nice place to live. City is probably an incorrect term. We are towns, not even large towns. Our whole county is about 70,000. It’s not perfect…there was another harassment of the Amish next county. It is 4th time their school was shot at, “fortunately” always at night. There can be intolerance of newcomers, white and non white. But we don’t see the strife and fights that make the national news.

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