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Essay Contest Topic Ideas

September 2003

"WE'RE INTERFAITH FAMILIES ...
CONNECTING WITH JEWISH LIFE"

AN ESSAY CONTEST
FROM THE INTERFAITHFAMILY.COM NETWORK

SUGGESTED TOPICS

Please feel free to write on any topic that interests you and that you are familiar with in terms of your own life experiences with interfaith relationships. The following are offered as suggestions of topics that essays might address, and are not requirements or topics that must be addressed:

Category: "We're an Interfaith Family ... Raising Jewish Children." Individuals writing about child raising might:

  • Describe why you chose to raise Jewish children. For example:
    • If you felt strongly that your children had to be raised as Jews, explain why you felt that way.
    • When did you decide what the religious identity of your children would be? In discussions before you were married? When they were born? When they became of school age?
    • If any of the following influenced your decision, explain how they did: Your experience looking for clergy to officiate at your wedding, and who did officiate at your wedding; your own religious upbringing and attitudes about your religion and the religion of your partner; your friends; teachers, outreach workers, rabbis, other Jewish or religious professionals.
  • Describe how you have gone about raising your children as Jews. For example:
    • Describe what you do or have done in terms of formal religious education, life-cycle ceremonies, holidays, attendance at religious services, and/or cultural events.
    • Describe the influence on your children of extended family members and grandparents in particular.
  • How have you taught your children (if at all) about the non-Jewish partner's religion? Formal education? Attending religious services? How has this affected the religious identity of your children?
    • If you participate in Christian (or other non-Jewish) holidays, describe what you do and where (in your own home, in non-Jewish relatives' homes, in places of worship); whether, how and why your practices have changed over time; and what the practices mean to you and your children in terms of their Jewish identity. If you bring Christian holiday celebrations into your home, do you think that that conveys a dual religious message to your children?
  • Describe how your choice to raise Jewish children has gone or is going, including your feelings, your children's feelings, your partner's feelings, and extended family members' feelings.
    • Do you feel that you are involved in an ongoing negotiation about the religious identity of your children, or do you feel that matters are resolved?
    • Describe whether and how a desire to be "fair" to the non-Jewish partner has influenced your practices and whether that has become more important over time.
    • What do you hope your children will do in terms of their own religious identity as adults, who they marry, and how they raise their children?
    • For non-Jewish partners: How did you feel as your children became Jewishly educated, celebrated Jewish holidays, learned Hebrew and prayers -- did you feel different, left out, excluded, resentful?
    • For non-Jewish partners: Describe your attitudes about and any experiences you have had related to conversion. For example, did you receive any pressure to convert, or any invitation to consider conversion? How did that make you feel? Have you considered conversion? Did you ever take any classes that might have lead to conversion? Have you considered but decided not to convert? If you have decided not to convert, explain why?
  • What challenges have you dealt with in raising your children as Jews?
    • How have you been received by Jewish family members, organizations and communities?
    • Describe any positive and negative aspects of Jewish traditions and life that you find attractive and desirable, or problematic. Describe your attitudes toward organized religion in general.

 

Category: "We're an Interfaith Family ... Loving Jewish Grandchildren." Grandparents might:

  • Tell about your intermarried children's decision to raise their children as Jews, how you found out about it, whether you raised the issue, and how you feel about it.
  • Describe how you celebrate holidays with your grandchildren, and any ways these celebrations may be different because your child is intermarried. If you include your son or daughter-in-law's parents in your celebrations, tell about that, or about how you relate to them in general.
  • Describe other situations with interfaith elements that have come up with your intermarried children and/or your grandchildren, and how you have handled them.
  • For Jewish grandparents:
    • Tell whether you discussed intermarriage with your children as they were growing up? Did you encourage them to date and marry Jews? How did you feel, and what feelings did you express to your child, when you learned that he or she had decided to marry a non-Jew? Did your feelings change over time?
    • Describe how you help your intermarried children raise their children as Jews, for example, how you and your grandchild together do "Jewish" things.
    • How have you as a grandparent, with the permission of your children, brought Judaism into your grandchildren's life, if Judaism hasn't been the choice their parents have made?

 

Category: "I'm a Child of an Interfaith Family ... Claiming My Jewish Roots." Teens and young adults might:

  • Tell how you were raised (Jewish, both, nothing) and your journey to Judaism.
    • Describe your formal Jewish education, your family's life-cycle ceremonies and holiday celebrations, and your attendance at religious services growing up.
    • Describe family traditions you enjoy, and how these family traditions helped you to choose Judaism.
    • Describe a close relationship with a family member that influenced your choice to claim your Jewish heritage. Describe the influence on you of extended family members and grandparents in particular--did they affect your feelings of closeness to one religion or another?
    • Who helped you along the way? A friend, a friend's parent, a teacher, a rabbi, someone else?
    • Describe your friendship groups and dating patterns growing up -- are they mostly Jews, mixed, mostly non-Jews?
  • Describe how it feels and what it means to you to be Jewish.
    • Tell what you like about Judaism. What is most appealing? Are there aspects of Judaism that are less attractive to you?
    • Describe how you reconcile your feelings for your parent who is not Jewish, with your choice of Judaism. If your non-Jewish parent follows another religion, how do you feel about that religion? Have you learned about it? Attended services?
    • To what extent do you define yourself as Jewish by thinking of yourself as "not being Christian (or the other religion of your non-Jewish parent)"? Does identifying as Jewish make you feel "different," "other," or "isolated" from broader American society, and if so, how do you feel about that -- is it positive or negative?
    • Do you feel your religious identity is a matter of choice that can be changed frequently? How do you feel about religious choices? Not serious or momentous? Powerful and meaningful?
  • If you participate in Christian (or other non-Jewish) holidays, describe what you do and where (in your own home, in non-Jewish relatives' homes, in places of worship); whether, how and why your practices have changed over time; and what the practices mean to you in terms of your Jewish identity. If you had Christian (or other non-Jewish) holiday celebrations in your home, do you feel that your parents were giving you a dual religious message?
  • How do you feel about matrilineal and patrilineal descent? How do you feel about how other Jews feel about your Jewish identity? If your mother is not Jewish, have you considered conversion?
  • How have your parents talked to you about whom you date and will marry? What do you hope will happen to you in terms of the religious identity of your future partner and any children you may have?

 

Category: "We're an Interfaith Family ... Engaging in Jewish Life." Individuals not writing about child raising might:

  • Describe the reasons you want to incorporate Jewish elements into your lives. What draws you to Jewish life?
  • Describe how you incorporate Jewish elements in your life, what has worked and what hasn't.
  • Has the fact that you are in an interfaith relationship strengthened the Jewish partner's Jewish identity? How so?
  • For non-Jewish partners: Describe your attitudes about and any experiences you have had related to conversion. For example: Did you feel any pressure to convert, or any invitation to consider conversion? How did that make you feel? Have you considered conversion? Did you ever take any classes that might have lead to conversion? Have you considered but decided not to convert? If you have decided not to convert, explain why?
  • For Jewish partners: Did your parents encourage you to date and marry Jews or discourage you from dating and marrying non-Jews? What impact did that have on you?
  • Describe feeling--or not feeling--part of a religious community and the appeal of that community.
A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
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