Growing up Jewish and living on Long Island, I never put any thought about what it would be like to raise children as part of an interfaith couple.
The messages I was sent as a teen who was dating and then again later on in life when relationships became more serious, were that it was important to be with someone of the same faith.
My own attitude though, was it was important to be with someone who was kind and caring.
When my husband and I got married, there were certain aspects of the Jewish faith that we incorporated into our wedding celebration. We had a Chuppah and used the cloth for the canopy that my sister created for her own wedding. We stepped on the glass to symbolize the fragility of relationships and the strength of ours, signaling the end of the service and beginning of the celebration. We also had a Justice of the Peace officiate our wedding, not wanting to favor one religion over the other.
When I was pregnant with my first son, my husband and I had many conversations about his name. Even though we are an interfaith couple, I wanted very much to name our children after our loved ones who had passed on, such as is the tradition in the Jewish faith. In a discussion with my husband, I made the point that for me, knowing I was named after family members brought a very grounded and significant feeling of being tied to the history of my family. He agreed, and thus the back and forth over the name began. One thing we were clear on was that the first letter of our son’s name would be “M” for my great-aunt Marcia and my husband’s grandfather. His middle name would start with “E” for my grandmother.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t struggle being married to someone of a different faith.
For a long time, I thought I was disappointing my family, even going so far as to be disappointing loved ones who had passed on. But funny enough (or predictably, as those who know me would tell you) making peace with my children’s interfaith status and how to celebrate the holidays came from a children’s book. Reading about books in a magazine one day, I stumbled across one entitled, Daddy Christmas and Hanukkah Mama, written by Selina Alko. I immediately bought it. This book so beautifully illustrates all of the amazing and wonderful things that can come from being raised in an interfaith family, from decorating for both Hanukkah and Christmas to enjoying family stories from both perspectives.
Reading this book to my boys helped me begin to see the beauty that is part of being an interfaith family.
I realized that my children come from both backgrounds and can celebrate as such. During the holiday season, we have our menorah and our tree – often a small tree dug up from our yard and replanted if possible. Amusingly, the ornaments that decorate the tree are mostly mine, from years of holiday teacher gifts I’ve been given by my students and their families. We hang them together along with the ones given to our children from their Grammy, my husband’s mother. Last year, my sons and I made cookies for Santa, which I had done as a child living with a grandmother who did not want us to feel left out. We played dreidel. We snuck presents under our tree. We told the stories behind both holidays and what they mean to us. We can celebrate as a family, and also give back to our community.