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This week, InterfaithFamily is celebrating its important work and the leadership provided by InterfaithFamily Founder Ed Case and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston President Barry Shrage in making it possible for more of us to #ChooseLove without needing to decide between love and a Jewish life. Leading up to Thursday’s celebration, I hope you have had a chance to read IFF’s own Liz Polay-Wettengel’s “An Open Letter to Judaism from an Interfaith Family” on Medium this week, as well as Molly Tolsky’s great response on Kveller. In her essay, Liz Polay-Wettengel speaks some honest and difficult truths about her family’s path to, with, and outside of Judaism as an Interfaith family. Molly Tolsky underscores the importance of Liz’s piece, and shares her own experience, one that rings true to so many of us, of how often Interfaith couples are whole-heartedly raising their famililes Jewishly, even while there are those in our community who still decry “the problem” of their couplehood.
I am lucky that my family’s story is not filled with the denials, closed doors or simple no’s described in these two pieces. A huge reason for this is based in a single exchange I had with InterfaithFamily, with Ed Case specifically, eleven years ago.
When Eric and I were engaged in Los Angeles in 2004, we knew we wanted to be married by a rabbi. We also knew we wanted opportunities for members of both of our families to be involved and engaged in the wedding ceremony. We had taken an Introduction to Judaism class together and had shul-shopped a bit, but we didn’t have one rabbi we knew we wanted to marry us. My parents lived in Newton, where IFF’s founding and national office is located, and they knew a little about Ed Case and IFF. They encouraged us to check out the IFF website, and I was happy when I first poked around to find a link about “Seeking a Rabbi.”
I emailed the IFF general email with a request for some ideas about rabbis in Los Angeles who would be open to marrying us. Ed Case quickly wrote back with a list of potential clergy, at least a dozen long. We started working our way through the list, setting up interviews, and eventually found a perfect fit – a wonderful rabbi named Allen Freehling with whom we both easily connected.
A list of names in an email might not sound like much, but when I compare it to the stories my peers shared this week, I am reminded of our great fortune. Wedding planning is a huge endeavor, and the process lays a foundation for your identity as a couple. If the very first step in this process is to encounter a set of “no’s,” it can derail both your planning and your spirit. Because IFF had actively engaged in assembling lists just like the one Ed Case emailed to me, we had a long list of Yeses to send us down a path that encouraged both our pursuit of Judaism and our identity as an Interfaith family.
This week, I am thankful that IFF was available to Eric and me to support our establishment as a family. Every week, I am grateful for the resources of this organization and the communities it creates to continue this support. I hope you find it helpful to you in some small or large way, too. If you are anywhere near Boston on Thursday, I’ll look out for you at IFF’s #ChooseLove celebration.
I have a confession. I love the events posted on InterfaithFamily.com’s Network.
I am jealous. I wish we had similar events here. So I went on a mission. I wanted to find some kind of local support group for interfaith families with one Jewish parent.
I didn’t have any success finding anything established locally. The programs I found were beginner level designed to teach basic concepts of Jewish spirituality and culture, which wasn’t what I was looking for.
Naaleh offers a series of lectures on making Jewish holidays and life events meaningful to children. I have listened to a couple and Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller does present some great ideas for making Jewish spirituality come alive to children of all ages. I am looking for the ideas but put into the context of an interfaith family — when one parent isn’t Jewish.
Thankfully, Benjamin from right here on IFF helped me get some things rolling. He met up with some of the local Jewish Federation people at TribeFest. He pitched my idea and they loved it. He got me in touch with the right person and we’re trying to set up an introductory event, mostly to get people in the room and figure out where to go with this idea.
Benjamin suggested I work on articulating the goal of this support group: The goal is to help parents of interfaith families with parenting skills and decisions within a partial or fully Jewish household. For example, there are the winter holidays — do you celebrate one or both and how would you explain it to the kids?
Here are some of the questions that have crossed my mind:
– How do we keep the non-Jewish parent involved and not let them feel like the odd wheel?
I am trying to find practical answers to these questions. How do you answer the questions without sounding like you have joined some kind of cult? (“Yeah and then on Yom Kippur we swing a chicken around our heads…”)
I know there is no right answer, and in fact it’s the mixture of answers I would love to hear.
They say that it takes a village to raise a child, and I am trying to find a village! I keep hearing about the 50% interfaith marriage rate and assume some of these people have children — where is everybody?
Do you have any experience with a similar kind of support network? Do you just rely on your local shul for support or do you have a parent group you meet with regularly? What do you talk about?
I would really appreciate if you would share your experiences or even what you would look for in a support group.