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.
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.
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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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!
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:
Christmas time in our family is spent with my in-laws. Church for a 4:30 p.m. mass on Christmas Eve and then back to my in-laws’ house for an extended family, buffet-style, Christmas dinner, complete with Portuguese-style cocktail weenies and finger sandwiches. We eat around the Christmas tree while the kids (5 of them – all boys!) run around downstairs. For the past couple of years, Santa has visited after dinner, ringing the doorbell and coming inside with gifts for the kids. They seem to love this and are in awe of the large man in a red suit. While I never grew up with Santa, and I don’t have the nostalgic feeling that comes from a visit from him, it is neat watching the kids get all excited. And it’s fun to look forward to their reactions.
This year, however, I’m worried.
About a month ago, my six-year-old said, out of the clear blue, “I think Cousin Johnny is Santa.”
Shocked and stunned, I had no idea how to respond. “Why do you say that?” I asked.
“Well, he’s never around when Santa comes to the door.” Again, I am shocked. I can ask my son 100 times to put his dirty clothes in the laundry room and not drop them on the floor, and he is incapable of doing this. But he’s perceptive enough to realize that Cousin Johnny is not in the room when Santa comes and remembers it 11 months later!
I’m not worried that by answering this I’m going to ruin Christmas for my son. I’m worried that my response is going to be repeated to my nephews and end up ruining Christmas for them. I never had to answer questions about Santa or the Easter Bunny before! I can’t check in with my mom and see how she responded. What do I do?!
I ended up mumbling something under my breath and changing the topic. This worked for the time being, but I needed to nip this one in the bud before I single-handedly ruined Christmas for my extended family.
As soon as possible, I consulted the expert, my sister-in-law. After all, her kids were the ones who would be potentially scarred for life (depending on my answer). She helped me out by telling me how she responded when her kids got confused when they saw Santa standing in front of the grocery store ringing a bell after they had just taken pictures with him at the mall. “I tell them Santa has a lot of helpers around Christmas in order to get everything done. But, he’s always watching to see if you’ve been naughty or nice.”
The threat of the omnipresent Santa looking down on the kids aside, I think the “helping Santa out” response may work. For now, I’m hoping that the question doesn’t come up again. And, if it does, maybe I can quickly shove a cocktail weenie in my son’s mouth as Santa comes in the door this year…
Let’s just call this a random hodgepodge. A bunch of stuff came across my desk (or over the series of tubes that make up the internet) this week that were too interesting not to share:
Step aside Chelsea Clinton and Mark Mevinsky, here comes Lauren Bush and David Lauren! Yup, the grandaughter of former President George H. W. Bush, and niece of former President George W. Bush, is marrying David Lauren, son of the famous Jewish fashion designer Ralph Lauren. The Jewish press has run plenty of headlines proclaiming that she’ll become “Lauren Lauren” but, really, let’s hope she keeps her birth-name.
Remember that General Assembly that Ed’s mentioned a few times? Well, our friends at Keshet were there too. And they made a great video while they were there:
After doing the program, I have to say, I still think “Chrismukkah” is a bad idea. Basically, for interfaith couples who are raising their children as Jews, mushing Hanukkah and Christmas into one hybrid holiday blurs and eliminates the meaning and integrity of each holiday, and risks confusing children. In our recent December Holiday Survey, 89% of these respondents said they planned on keeping their holiday celebrations separate, or mostly separate.
But InterfaithFamily.com doesn’t pass judgment or tell people that what they are doing is wrong. Ron Gompertz and his wife, who is not Jewish, are active members of a synagogue community in Bozeman, Montana, and they are raising their daughter as a Jew. Ron is a very thoughtful person and I’m not worried that his daughter will be confused. But if any interfaith couple asked for advice, our advice at InterfaithFamily.com would be – keep the holidays distinct.
The program also included Karen Boyer, the executive director of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, who was raised Jewish by a Jewish mother and a father who was not Jewish, now also practices Buddhism, and was married to a Muslim from West Africa, and Imam Aslam Abdullah, the director of the Islamic Society of Nevada. Dr. Abdullah’s description of his response to interfaith marriage among Muslims and others sounded similar in many ways to our approach – especially in his expression of hope and invitation to such couples to raise their children with one religious identity.
It’s that busy time of the year (is there ever not a busy time of the year?). Hanukkah’s over but we’re still celebrating the December holidays with friends and family, colleagues and communities. You need a break, we need a break, time for a hodgepodge of links. Happy reading!
Take a break…
In The Forward, Edgar Bronfman opines on the rising profile of interfaith discussions in the Jewish community. My favorite excerpt? “Intermarriage today can even be an opportunity for a stronger embrace of Jewish identity… [My nephew] became engaged to a non-Jew, and when his fiancée decided to convert, he decided to join her in study. In the old paradigm, the community would have lost one uneducated Jew; instead, it has gained a Jewish family.”
To my joy and surprise, we’ve had a few comments on our discussion boards over the last week about the Jewish or Hebrew calendar and its often confusing and complicated particularities. So for those calendar geeks (myself included), The December Dilemma: 10 Tevet on Friday.
For something a little different, Cake Wrecks shared a bunch of disastrous Hanukkah cakes, including the one seen in the video below. (I don’t know about you, but I won’t be making that for my Hanukkah party this weekend!)
With the festival of lights starting this evening (are you ready to light the menorah? Check out our new video for candle lighting instructions, below, if you’re unsure or just want a refresher), this week I’m bringing you a Hanukkah hodgepodge.
Let’s start with the folks at BBYO/Panim, who have a great new resource. In Those Days, At This Time links the history of Hanukkah to the virtues of service and advocacy today – and tomorrow! Be sure to watch their video guide and start a conversation as you light the candles in your homes.
And, lastly, I leave you with this video, below, made by teens of the Gay-Straight Alliance at the A. J. Heschel School in New York, shared by Keshet, encouraging us all to make our communities more welcoming as we light the menorah tonight.
Happy Hanukkah! I don’t know about you, but I am already wondering if there is any way, when I make latkes this weekend, to avoid making the entire house smell like a fryolator for several days. Do you have any suggestions?
This year I have to make a double batch. Every year we help my wife’s college roommate and her husband, among our oldest and dearest friends, decorate their Christmas tree (neither are Jewish); our gathering is early this year, so I’ll be bringing latkes to them (they love it when it’s Hanukkah so we can light our menorah with their family). The next batch is for our annual Hanukkah gathering with my parents (who are now 93 and 92, still living on their own) in Connecticut. This year I may try some latkes made of both potatoes and butternut squash. We have a lot of great recipes to choose from on the site.
I am really pleased this year with InterfaithFamily.com’s first in-house produced video,Lighting the Hanukkah Menorah. One of our long-range goals is to provide a comprehensive set of introductory “how-to-do-Jewish” resources, and we know that many people prefer to learn from video rather than or in addition to text. We hope this will be one of the first of many helpful videos. Benjamin Maron, our new managing editor, gets the writer/director/producer credit, and we want to especially thank our on-screen talent, our good friend from JewishBoston.com Liz Polay-Wettengel, and her family. They should be movie stars!
I’m also pleased that we have a new article by Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, who has also made a series of videos for us, “Rabbi Reuben’s Ruminations,” professionally produced by the Jewish Television Network. I’m happy about it because there are people who say that the meaning of Hanukkah is antithetical to welcoming interfaith families to Jewish life and community. They say that Hanukkah commemorates a rebellion by the Jews against assimilation into the Hellenistic Greek society that surrounded them – and they make the common mistake of equating intermarriage with assimilation. Rabbi Reuben explains that “Jewish civilization represents a value system that declares to every single individual human being on earth, that what they say matters, and what they do matters, and who they are matters.” The Jews were resisting assimilation into a culture where “the only rule that mattered was that whoever had the most power and carried the biggest club got to make the rules,…” a culture of bigotry and prejudice based on “might makes right.” He concludes,
Light the lights this year with pride as we continue to stand for the enduring values that celebrate the fundamental spiritual worth of every human spirit. That is why Hanukkah continues to matter.
That’s hardly a message that is antithetical to embracing interfaith families.
Finally, we do two surveys a year, around Hanukkah and Christmas, and again around Passover and Easter. We just released the report on our seventh December Holidays Survey. Cathy Grossman blogged about our survey on her Faith & Reason blog on USAToday.com. I really respect Cathy’s writing but I’m not sure I agree with her take on our survey results this year.
Our holiday surveys have consistently focused on interfaith families that are raising their children as Jews, to illuminate how such families deal with potential conflict between Hanukkah and Christmas, and how they participate in Christmas celebrations at all. Over the years almost all of these families celebrate Hanukkah, and about half have a Christmas tree in their own home. An extremely small percentage, as low as 1%, “tell the Christmas story” – which of course is fundamentally religious in nature, and in comments our survey respondents say that Christmas doesn’t have religious significance to them, it is just a warm family time with traditions from the parent who is not Jewish. Kind of like Thanksgiving is a warm family time that isn’t religious.
The surveys have consistently shown a higher percentage of respondents who treat Hanukkah as a religious holiday. This year, for example, 55% said they would tell the Hanukkah story. When asked to rate the religious or secular nature of their holiday participation, 23% said their Hanukkah celebrations were religious and 28% said they were secular (49% said half and half), vs. 2% who said their Christmas celebrations were religious and 89% who said they were secular (only 9% said half and half). We did note in a press release that there was an increase this year from 20% to 28% who said their Hanukkah celebrations were secular, and that is what Cathy zeroes in on in her blog post.
But there was another finding noted in our press release suggesting a different trend. We saw in increase in the percentage who said they would celebrate Hanukkah in the synagogue this year, from 62% last year to 71% this year. So I don’t think it’s quite fair to suggest that the prevailing way that interfaith families raising Jewish children celebrate Hanukkah is in a secular way without religious significance. What do you think?
The blogosphere is lit up with Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s response to a question at her confirmation hearing. The Washington Post reported that a senator asked, “’Christmas Day bomber. Where were you at on Christmas Day?’ Kagan … seemed confused by his query and started answering him seriously. But Graham cut her off and said, ‘No. I just asked where you were at on Christmas.’ Kagan’s response – ‘Like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant’ — was brilliant in its humor, timing and the self-effacing manner in which it was delivered.”
Most of the commentary is about Kagan’s sense of humor, like that from JTA, the Jewish Week, and the Christian Science Monitor. Over at Jewcy, Jason Diamond said “a serious burst of pride shot through my being when a person who is possibly (hopefully) going to sit in the highest judicial seat in the land, made mention of one of my favorite Jewish traditions.”
I also hope that Elena Kagan is confirmed. I’m proud that she’s Jewish. I’m even proud of her association with one of my alma maters – yes, I have a degree from Harvard Law School, something I don’t ever emphasize in my current position.
But Supreme Court justices shouldn’t make factual errors, and she ought to know, and the commentators ought to know, that we are way past the time when “all Jews” are at Chinese restaurants” at Christmas. In fact, we all ought to realize that we are either at the time, or close to the time, when half of young adults who identify as Jews will have grown up participating in Christmas celebrations with their interfaith families. The Jewish partners and children in interfaith families aren’t going to Chinese restaurants for Christmas – they’re having Christmas dinner with their relatives who aren’t Jewish.
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