Our December Holiday Survey Results Are In!

Thanks to all of you who responded to our December holidays survey.

The results are in! Earlier this morning, we sent out the following press release – let us know what you think of the findings.

Interfaith Families Participate in Secular Christmas Activities While Raising Jewish Children

BOSTON – December 14, 2011 – Interfaith families raising their children Jewish are continuing at high and stable levels to participate in secular Christmas activities, to keep their Hanukkah and Christmas holiday celebrations separate, and to believe that their participation in Christmas celebrations does not compromise their children’s Jewish identity. These trends emerged from the eighth annual December Holidays Survey conducted by InterfaithFamily.com, an independent non-profit.

InterfaithFamily.com has surveyed how interfaith couples raising their children deal with the “December dilemma,” the confluence of Hanukkah and Christmas, annually the past eight years. Some observers of intermarriage have cast a skeptical eye on interfaith families raising Jewish children participating in Christmas activities, arguing that interfaith families can’t impart a strong Jewish identity to their children and celebrate Christmas. The results of InterfaithFamily.com’s surveys suggest that they in fact are doing so.

This year the percentage of interfaith families raising Jewish children who participate in Christmas celebrations increased to 83%, from 76% last year. These families still make clear distinctions between the holidays and are giving clear priority to Hanukkah over Christmas, as both a family celebration and a religious holiday. The overwhelming majority celebrates Hanukkah at home, while less than half celebrate Christmas at home.

Hanukkah is much more of a religious holiday for this population than is Christmas. Only 13% attend Christmas religious services and only 3% tell the Christmas story.  While more families will give Christmas gifts in their own homes this year (60%) compared to last year (53%), and slightly fewer (46%) will have a Christmas tree in their own homes than last year (48%), ninety percent view their Christmas celebrations as secular in nature.

Many families celebrate Christmas at the home of relatives, suggesting that Christmas is largely centered around the extended family.

Eighty percent of interfaith couples who participate in Christmas celebrations keep them separate from their Hanukkah celebrations, and 77% think that their Christmas celebrations do not affect their children’s Jewish identity.

“Interfaith couples raising Jewish children and participating in Christmas is now common,” said Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com. “These families see their Christmas celebrations as  secular in nature and not confusing to their children’s Jewish identity. We noted somewhat more Christmas celebrations on a variety of measures this year, but not of a religious nature.”

This year Christmas falls on the fifth day of Hanukkah. Despite this overlap, 62% said their holiday observances would not change. “We find it heartening,” Case said, “that many respondents noted they would bring their Hanukkah menorahs and light them at their Christian relatives’ homes.”

Other key findings on interfaith families raising Jewish children include:

  • Ninety-seven percent plan on celebrating Hanukkah at home, compared to 48 percent planning on celebrating Christmas there. Seventy-one percent plan on celebrating Christmas at the home of relatives.
  • Seventy-seven percent of the respondents participating in Christmas celebrations believe it will not affect their children’s Jewish identity.
  • Only 3 percent plan on telling the Christmas story at home while 48 percent plan on telling the Hanukkah story at home. Only 13 percent plan on attending religious services for Christmas.
  • Ninety-nine percent of respondents plan on lighting a menorah and 93 percent plan on giving gifts as part of their Hanukkah celebrations at home.
  • Forty-six percent plan on putting up a Christmas tree and 60 percent plan on giving gifts at home as part of Christmas.
  • The families are opposed to blending the two holidays. Eighty percent plan on keeping the holidays separate or mostly separate.
  • Six percent of the families will participate in Hanukkah celebrations in the office, versus 25 percent that plan to celebrate Christmas there.

For more information, read the full report online.

About InterfaithFamily.com
InterfaithFamily.com is the premiere web based resource for interfaith couples exploring Jewish life and making Jewish choices, and the leading web based advocate for attitudes, policies and practices that welcome and embrace them.

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Editor’s Note
InterfaithFamily.com has developed a resource page for interfaith families dealing with the December holidays that includes resources such as “Handling the December Holidays: Ten Tips from InterfaithFamily.com” and numerous articles that help interfaith families have a more enjoyable and meaningful holiday season. For more, visit http://www.interfaithfamily.com/decemberholidays.

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Do check out that full report, and let us know your thoughts!

Watching Hanukkah

Some very different videos to start getting you ready for this holiday season.

Let’s start with the basics. How do you spell the name of this holiday in English? And what’s the deal with latkes? From the senior citizens at the Los Angeles Jewish Home, some of the more pressing questions of the season:

A mashup of top hits from decades past (a different era for each night of Hanukkah?), rewritten to explain the history, story and rituals of Hanukkah:

Then, Sarah Silverman‘s take on the December dilemma. Warning: her lyrics are, unsurprisingly, explicit. So I’m going to let you click over to it yourself.

Of course, there’s our favorite video, Lighting the Hanukkah Menorah:

“It's time to light the hanukkiah, the Hanukkah menorah!” might be my favorite line.

And if you’re more a gastronomical celebrant than religious enthusiast, you might enjoy the Potato Tabernacle Choir’s performance of Cheryl Wheeler’s Potato Song:

 

(Wondering why there are so few videos here? Check out what our friends at the Jewish Women’s Archive had to say about the lack of progressive Jewish viral videos.)

On Different Hebrew Pronunciation…

A friend of mine, Amanda, is writing some articles for InterfaithFamily.com, explaining the different ways different people pronounce, translate and transliterate (write with English letters) Hebrew. The first article just went up: The Case of the Missing Sav, and other mysteries in the transition of American Hebrew. But in addition to that, I wanted to share an article that didn’t make it into her final draft.

Wait. Let me back up. One of the sources cited in her article was Alan Mintz’s Hebrew in America: perspectives and prospects. In it he writes,

I am not convinced that the American teaching agenda [of Hebrew] must be set by a dependence on Israeli teachers.

I agree! And I suspect that many parents who have or had children try to learn Hebrew in a synagogue’s religious or Hebrew school would also agree. Fluency in a language does not necessarily a teacher make.

But his argument goes on to explain, as Amanda’s article paraphrases, that in America:

Camps, schools and other infrastructure existed to teach children Ashkenazi Hebrew, in addition to it being the language of synagogues’ prayers. The transition to Sephardi pronunciation was gradual, and was aided by growing feelings of Zionism, the availability of Hebrew courses on college campuses taught in Sephardi Hebrew, sometimes by Israeli instructors, and other factors.

So what does that mean? The majority of Jews in the U.S. are of German and Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi). Many of them spoke Hebrew with their community’s pronunciation, which included pronouncing some “t” sounds (the Hebrew letter tav) as “s” (sav), “o” sometimes became “oy”, and “a” sometimes was “o.” There were many other differences too. (Which we’ll be sharing a resource on shortly!)

Sometimes, because of the push to standardize Hebrew in the U.S., fuelled, in part, by Zionism and a desire to align our Diaspora Jewish communities with Israel, the “old school,” Ashkenazi pronunciations are seen as backwards, stupid, and sloppy. I strongly diagree. In fact, I call that bullshis. (See what I did there?)

And here we return to the article that didn’t make the cut. Because she, and I, found it offensive. It’s archived from a URJ email discussion list, and we don’t know much about it. But the author, Burt, says in part:

Over the course of the last eight years I have discovered something deeply frustrating within our Reform congregational world. The struggle to instill a knowledge and love of standard, modern Hebrew is challenged not only by the centrifugal pulls of assimilation, the extracurricular demands on our children, the challenges of maintaining two-income households and a terminal case of “pleasure principle”, but by the persistence of archaic and inaccurate pronunciation of Liturgical Hebrew due to old habits, ce , pseudo-orthodox affect or cultural sentimentality. The widespread use of this strange half-Hebrew, half-Yiddish dialect I call Ashkebonics (the Jewish equivalent of Ebonics), subverts the proper teaching of Hebrew and exacerbates a cultural and cognitive gap with between the American Jewish Community and Israel. The fact that so many of our Jewish professionals use and reinforce Ashkebonics is to me both puzzling and deeply frustrating.

If you want to read his rant, by all means. But I’ll stop quoting there. In essence, he argues that this historical, cultural, familial Hebrew pronunciation system should be squashed once and for all. He wants to see all Americans using the Hebrew pronunciation of Israel.

Would that simplify things, help folks learn? Perhaps. Perhaps it would be less confusing if we all referred to the 25 hours of Friday evening through Saturday night as “Shabbat” instead of some people saying “Shabbos.” But then, doesn’t learning about our multitude of cultures and histories make us a stronger, deeper, more enriched community as a whole? When we recognize that there is more than one way to speak or pronounce Hebrew, just as there is more than one way to be or do Jewish, just as there is more than one way to claim Judaism as our own… the whole community benefits.

New Question of the Week: The Home Front

When I last blogged, I asked two questions: Do interfaith families want their own unique programs and opportunities within synagogues, JCCs and other organizations? And should we be asking more about the religious background of parents and couples in organizational membership forms? These are two important questions that we should be talking about so that Jewish institutions have best practices to follow. The key challenge, however, is that the vast majority of interfaith families are not affiliated with synagogues and other organizations, making such data hard to gather. 

That truth raises my broader question of this week: how do we bring unaffiliated interfaith couples and families into Jewish organizations? This is a huge question that everyone wants to know the answer to, although communities around the country sadly have invested very little resources of time and money to try to address. The assumption behind the question is that being part of organized Jewish life leads to identification of the family as Jewish and children growing up affirming their identity. What happens in a synagogue that leads to this? Finding the answer is not easy, since studies about the effectiveness of religious school in instilling knowledge and identity is mixed. Yet, what synagogues succeed in doing is creating a context for Jewish life. The harder job is complimenting that context in the home. The best way to instill identity and an appreciation for Jewish values is to compliment what happens at home with what happens in the synagogue. At the same time, we can find new ways to strengthen Jewish life in both the home and the synagogue, recognizing that not every family will have the opportunity to maximize Jewish life in both settings.

On the synagogue side, we need to put resources into making membership open and accessible to as many families as possible and to making synagogue life as engaging, relevant and meaningful as possible. And, it makes sense to look to every model of Jewish community from synagogues with buildings, to those sharing space with other organizations, to more informal havurot (Jewish fellowship groups).

On the home front, we can continue providing opportunities for learning and engagement. To that end, we will be offering a class called Raising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Family. Chicagoland parents will be able to take this class this spring, and it will include eight sessions online and two in-person family gatherings. The goal of the class will be to introduce and teach home traditions that can feel comfortable, spiritual and meaningful for interfaith families to incorporate into their lives. From bedtime to meal-times, from daily blessings to weekly and annual holidays, to doing good deeds, learning together, cultivating a sense of spirituality and plotting out our personal and family’s religious journeys, there is much parents with young children can do to bring Jewish traditions and customs into their regular parenting. I hope many interfaith families will register for this class and carve out time over two months to think about and experiment with their own home observances. When interfaith families consciously engage with Judaism in the home, children will internalize the holiness inherent in struggling, learning and compromise and come out richer people for being part of that ride.