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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.
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