When my husband read an early draft of this essay, he asked, "Why doesn't her partner have to support our daughter? After all, they agreed to raise children as Jews." What does it mean to raise a Jewish child?
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
I attended a fascinating conference, Comforting the Bereaved: Issues of Loss and Mourning in the Interfaith Family, an Outreach Training Institute program led by The Union for Reform Judaism, Northeast Council, which was organized and run by Paula Brody on Wednesday, March 28. The conference had varied interesting speakers who spoke about nuances of interfaith mourning I’d never considered before.
An intermarried woman spoke of two funerals she had attended recently, one for her grandfather, the other for her Jewish husband’s grandmother. The speaker, a non-Jew, mentioned that her family is not comfortable expressing their emotions, unlike her husband’s family, which is. These differences were manifest in the different mourning rituals for these funerals she attended. Her family was very comfortable with gathering for a family dinner the night before her grandfather’s funeral, then attending the funeral and then returning to their normal lives the day after the funeral. The long shiva period for her husband’s grandmother, and all the emotions expressed, made her uncomfortable, and she felt overwhelmed.
Jews-by-choice spoke of the emotional complexities of arranging funerals for loved ones from their non-Jewish family, how feelings they had had of ambiguous loss are amplified at the time of bereavement. In addition, one mentioned how a member of his congregation left a basin of water and towels outside his home for when he returned from the Christian funeral, and how affirming this was for him of his Jewish identity. Another mentioned the loneliness of loss for Jews-by-choice, who don’t have Jewish family members to attend shiva with them. One spoke of the comfort of having Jewish mourning rituals a requirement for him. Continue reading →
The survey specifically looked at interfaith families raising their children exclusively in Judaism, and we found results both familiar and surprising. Generally, they negotiated the holidays in the same way they negotiated the December holidays: they celebrated more Jewish rituals, kept the holidays separate and saw the Jewish holiday as more religious than the Christian one. But once we started slicing up the population, we found some interesting results. There was no difference in Passover behaviors between families where the woman is Jewish vs. families where the woman isn’t Jewish, but there were significant differences in the Easter behaviors, especially “secular” rituals like decorating Easter eggs and participating in an Easter egg hunt. There were also significant differences between Jewish and Christian respondents on their level of comfort with, and anticipation of, Easter.
It’s interesting for a number of reasons: first off, the impetus for the new school came from a woman whose daughter is married to a Catholic man and has two children. The fact that a grandmother was looking for ways to communicate Jewish heritage to her interfaith grandchildren highlights a phenomenon that we expect to see more of in the coming years. We expect to see grandparents take an increasing role in the Jewish education of their grandchildren as the grandparents are often the population most concerned about passing on Jewish heritage. Continue reading →
Three interesting articles today, each focusing on a different stage in the lifecycle of an interfaith family:
The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles has a short story on the recent RAVSAK conference in L.A., where IFF Publisher and President Ed Case spoke. RAVSAK is the association of Jewish community day schools. Community day schools are unaffiliated with any movement and are therefore open to Jewish people of all backgrounds, including children of intermarriages. In the article, Marc Kramer, executive director of RAVSAK, points out how in the past day school enrollment flowed from a family’s religious observance, but now the path is often reversed. Many families become more religious and more Jewishly identifying because they send their children to Jewish day school. Day school becomes an opportunity not just to educate the child, but to educate the parent.
According to Hillel, The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, increasing numbers of college students are looking to convert to Judaism. A story on their website mostly focuses on kids who grew up with other faith traditions, but also notes that some of the students are children of interfaith families. The article relates the particularly sad story of a student who grew up Jewish but whose mother is Catholic and was told on a birthright trip that the State of Israel did not consider her Jewish. Now she’s pursuing an Orthodox conversion. Good for her, I guess, but I suspect that message will turn more people away from Judaism than turn them toward it.
January’s JTA story on interfaith burial options continues to inspire locally focused stories on the topic. The latest one is from the Cleveland Jewish News. One thing that strikes me about these stories is that there really are a lot of Jewish burial options for interfaith couples. Many Jewish cemeteries have separate sections for intermarried couples and many Reform congregations freely allow their intermarried members to be buried with their spouses in their section of the local Jewish cemetery. One stumbling block that has yet to be resolved, however, is how to handle the funeral services for non-Jewish partners who actively practiced their faith. I don’t know of any Jewish cemeteries that will allow Christian markings on a tombstone or a non-Jewish religious service at the grave.
Next Monday, participants in the first Mothers Circle program in the country will be speaking at the Jewish Federation North Metro Campus in Alpharetta, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. The Mothers Circle is a nine-week course for non-Jewish mothers raising Jewish children started by the New York-based Jewish Outreach Institute. In the Atlanta Jewish Times, one of the early participants, Abi Auer, eloquently explains the value of the Mothers Circle: “Everyone who is involved in the Mothers Circle has made a sacrifice to give up some of those things we were raised with,” she says. “You don’t know what you don’t know when you are raising Jewish children and weren’t raised Jewish yourself.”
The JTA had a recent story on how Federations are becoming more sophisticated in how they allocate funding. One example of what the article calls “priority-based” funding is the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties, which put money towards interfaith sensitivity training after finding that 75 percent of the couples in Sonoma and Marin counties were intermarried.
While everyone in an interfaith relationships knows–and plans–in advance for the issue of what kind of wedding ceremony to have and how to raise the kids, circumcision often creeps up unexpectedly on an unsuspecting interfaith couple, usually one that assumed they were secular. Circumcision is perhaps the only cultural ritual that is almost as common among secular Jews as it is among the Orthodox. The strong desire of the Jewish partner to circumcise their sons can of course be a bit of a shock to the non-Jewish partner.
On Salon.com, Neal Pollack, a terrific writer and author of the forthcoming book Alternadad, writes about his and his wife’s decision to circumcise their son. He’s Jewish, she is not. She felt circumcision was barbaric and detrimental to their child’s health and sexual enjoyment; his parents said they would betray 6,000 years of tradition by not circumcising their grandson. Pollack discusses in an amusing and poignant way how he and his wife came to their decision, and how the procedure went.
The piece is testament to the committed, powerful Jewish choices that interfaith families make, and makes the important point that in some cases, the non-Jewish parent is the driving force behind the children’s Jewish education. (The story even includes the story of a non-Jewish single mother who adopted a child who was born Jewish and decided to send the child to Jewish day school.)
And there’s also this great quote:
“Children are the main thing,” says Dawn Kepler, director of interfaith resources at the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay. “Reasonable adults can make a lot of compromises, but when it comes to kids, it’s the King Solomon thing. In any parenting situation you have to make sacrifices.”
Request a Rabbi or Cantor!
Looking for a rabbi or cantor to officiate at a wedding or other life cycle event? Our free referral service can help.