Gail Quets, a sociologist and convert to Judaism, is director of research at the Jewish Outreach Institute.
Review of The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life: An InterfaithFamily.com Handbook, edited by Ronnie Friedland and Edmund Case, Woodstock, Vt.: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2001, 336 pp., $18.95.
This article originally appeared in Moment magazine and is reprinted with permission of the author. Visit www.momentmag.com.
The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life is a testament to what interfaith couples determined to create Jewish homes can accomplish with the support of enlightened family and friends. Many of the essays in this collection, which were authored by interfaith couples, other family members, and a wide range of Jewish communal professionals, originally appeared on the InterfaithFamily.com website. The volume is a fascinating look at the complexities--and rewards--of interfaith family life.
While this book will likely reassure interfaith families that they are not alone and the obstacles they face are not insurmountable, these stories also indicate that there is no end to the challenges interfaith families face. Difficulties may arise as soon as couples begin to plan their wedding and continue right through to the raising and educating of children. Although the "December dilemma" is no longer as big a problem for interfaith families as it used to be, holiday celebrations can still be difficult. Even the death of loved ones can require discussion about mutually agreeable mourning and burial practices. Moreover, sometimes interfaith issues are never fully resolved, as each partner's interest in his or her received tradition may wax and wane, and children's attitudes toward their interfaith heritage may change.
So what's an interfaith couple to do? For many of the contributors to this book, negotiating issues of religious belief and practice has heightened their spiritual awareness and strengthened their marital relationships. A young adult who was raised in an interfaith family notes that this experience made it impossible for her to take her heritage or beliefs for granted and gave her a unique opportunity to confirm her religious beliefs. An interfaith couple married for thirteen years is grateful for the "special blessings" their interfaith relationship has brought them. Perhaps Rabbi Reena Judd, another of the book's contributors, says it best: "being part of an interfaith family has enriched my life--teaching me through personal encounters that God is alive and flourishing within each and every person! This truth motivates my very action and helps form my every thought."
This book will benefit more than just interfaith couples and their families. The rabbis, social workers, and educators who work with the interfaith will also benefit from the book's most obvious lesson: the typical interfaith family does not exist. While almost all of the interfaith families who share their experiences in the book are raising their children as Jews and emphasizing Jewish practice in the home, diversity still abounds. We meet a female rabbi engaged to a non-Jew, a gay rabbi with a non-Jewish partner, an Orthodox woman with a Catholic boyfriend, and single, Jewish mothers of adopted, non-Jewish children. In some of these families, the non-Jewish partner converts; in others they don't but actively help raise the children as Jews. Some practice their own religion in private, others ask their Jewish children and spouses to "help" them celebrate non-Jewish holidays, "as you might ask a friend or family member to help celebrate a birthday," says one such partner. (All readers can check out the resource list at the end of the book, which includes recommended websites and books and a glossary of frequently used Hebrew words.)
There are people out there who may never pick up this book, believing that their own lives will never be touched by intermarriage. This is unfortunate. With intermarriage increasing in America and the community at large changing with it, The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life is a great starting point for learning about interfaith issues.
Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.