Interfaith Rollercoaster

I recently attended the symposium called “Interfaith Rollercoaster: Navigating the Challenges, Enjoying the Ride,” sponsored by Congregation Kol Ami in Elkins Park, PA and their Interfaith Relationship Dialogue. It was a great opportunity for sharing ideas and solutions for couples and families in our communities.

I attended the workshop “Out of the Mouths of Babes: Young Adults Share Their Experience of Growing Up Interfaith.” The teens on this panel had varying perspectives, but were all raised interfaith and were members at the synagogue hosting the event. It was fascinating to hear about their experiences. One panelist discussed her relationship with her grandparents who aren’t Jewish, including their attitudes toward elements of Judaism. The teen remarked how she enjoyed teaching her grandparents about the various holidays.

At the workshop entitled “Managing Your In-Laws,” the facilitator introduced the concept that managing our in-laws is not really what we need to do — we need to learn to manage ourselves. One suggestion was to manage our own issues by prioritizing them into three baskets: “A,” really important; “B,” negotiable; and “C,” doesn’t really matter. The strategy is to have a small “A” basket and try to put more issues in the “C” basket. I found this to be a great tool to manage all aspects of life beyond the issues raised in an intermarriage or interfaith family.

During discussion groups, it was great to hear how everyone is addressing similar items over the course of their marriage. Many couples go through the same things, but have a varying array of solutions and compromises. What was really gratifying was that many members of the congregation said that the rabbi was always learning new perspectives. The rabbi discussed this with the group, saying that he was often revisiting concepts and frequently revising his opinion. This was very refreshing and encouraging to all attendees.

My favorite story from Anita Diamant, the keynote speaker, was when she told us about a man who was Catholic but celebrates all of the High Holidays with his wife and daughters. He said that he was “Jew-ish.” The symposium was a wonderful model for sharing that would be beneficial for any interfaith community.

To read more about it, check out this article from the Jewish Exponent.

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5 thoughts on “Interfaith Rollercoaster

  1. I did not attend this conference, but after reading the article in the Exponent, it appears that these children were not “raised interfaith,” as Ms. Armon describes it, but raised Jewish by interfaith parents, in the sense that the parents chose a Jewish identity and synagogue affiliation for the children. Presumably, they were not “raised interfaith” in the sense of having equal access to Jewish and Christian education (since Reform policy advocates against dual-faith education). I am glad to see a synagogue making space for these interfaith families to talk about their own experiences, and for interfaith children to express the sense in which they feel connected to both religions even when raised with one. But that is not the same as being raised interfaith with equal weight given to both religions, as happens in independent interfaith communities. Anita Diamant rightly notes that the boundaries are blurring, but as they do, I think it is important that we are careful in describing what we mean when we use the term “interfaith,” which has so many meanings at this point.

  2. Thank you so much for highlighting our program. As the Chair of the event, we were thrilled that every participants evaluation acknowledged the value of feeling welcomed at an event and in a community where the did not have to be defined by external definitions of ‘interfaith’ but could be comfortable defining it their own way. In response to Ms. Katz Miller’s comments, it seems that she has a fairly rigid definition of ‘interfaith.’ Rigidity related to any faith issue (are you a real Jew? a real Christian? etc.) is what turn so many away from faith communities. As a Jewish woman married to a Christian man raising a Jewish son, and exposing him to his father’s traditions, I can’t but help bristling over Ms. Katz Miller’s assumption that her ‘interfaith’ is real, while mine is not. The tent is big enough for all of us.

  3. I am a member of Kol Ami and participated in the symposium. It was a wonderful, well-conceived program.

    I have had such a journey in regard to the above conversation that I felt compelled to comment! Julie, I think you are right that the “tent” is big enough to encompass many experiences or definitions of interfaith. I think the term “dual faith education” is a great way to conceive of what Susan is describing. Susan, I have always liked the term “hybrid” that you have adopted in your blog—it is very fitting!

    My children are exposed to my faith traditions, but they are being raised in my husband’s Jewish faith tradition. That said, I recognize (and feel that it is important to recognize) that their experience of Judaism and their sense of that identity is probably quite distinct from their peers who have two Jewish parents. I am very proud of my children’s own unique identities in this regard, though. Susan, your blog has been eye-opening and very meaningful as I have wrestled with what “interfaith” means to my family.

    The balance that any individual family strikes in matters of faith is so unique and personal. What I have come to appreciate deeply, however, is that the synagogue where my family is affiliated offers a forum for candid, open discussions that are respectful and supportive of their interfaith families.

  4. The Interfaith Symposium sponsored by Congregation Kol Ami in Elkins Park, PA was a wonderful opportunity for the community to learn more about challenges and opportunities of being in an interfaith relationship. I have been married for 20 years and prior to getting married my wife (raised Catholic) and I spent alot of time researching how to make an interfaith family work. Based upon our research, we knew that if we should be blessed to have children, it was important to raise the child(ren) in one religion. Since my wife did not have a strong Catholic identity and I loved being Jewish, we had agreed that our children would be raised Jewish. Fortunately, we met Rabbi Holin who officiated at our wedding and now has been our spirtual leader for the past 20 years. We have two beautiful daughters, Maya (16) and Lia (13) who have been very active at Kol Ami and have been very much participated at my wife’s family holiday meals.

  5. Again, congratulations to Kol Ami for expanding their Interfaith Relationship Dialogue to the larger community! The symposium model has lots of potential to be beneficial for other communities. The blogs on InterfaithFamily are a great electronic format for couples across the country to share their struggles and successes. But there is nothing like a face to face discussion of issues :-) We are all on a journey and it is great to get support and strength along the way.

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