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A How-To Book for Our Time: Review of The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life

This article originally appeared in The Jewish Post & Opinion of Indianapolis, Indiana, and is reprinted with permission. Visit www.JewishPostOpinion.com.

Review of The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life, edited by Ronnie Friedland & Edmund Case, Jewish Lights, $18.95 paperback, 2001.  

One day I received a phone call from a Jewish relative whose Jewish daughter is married to a non-Jew. The daughter and her husband had received an eight-page letter from her mother-in-law explaining why she would not attend their post-wedding reception since they had not baptized their daughter (who therefore would not be able to go to heaven), whom they are raising Jewish.

I happened to be reading this book [The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life] at the time and was outraged to realize the woman is totally ignorant of the changes in her religion and knows nothing about the Christian position about baptism. The chapter in this book on that very topic is written by a priest and clearly indicates how little this woman knows. I immediately photocopied the article for our relative, her daughter and her Christian son-in-law.

It would be an ideal world if a book like this were unnecessary, but in the real world this is not the case. Here is a book, which speaks the truth and listens to the voices of the interfaith families, utilizing contributors who speak from personal knowledge.

The book is aimed at interfaith couples, interdating couples, parents and relatives of interfaith couples, children of interfaith parents, Jews-by-choice who have non-Jewish relatives, Jewish and non-Jewish relatives of Jews-by-choice, Jewish and non-Jewish friends of interfaith couples and Jews-by-choice, and all of us who are concerned about interfaith marriage.

This is a real guidebook with articles in nineteen chapters written by a wide variety of people who have experienced issues that deal with interfaith relationships. The introduction is by Anita Diamant, author of numerous Jewish life-cycle books with non-Jewish family members. The preface is by Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, a national organization which provides network programs and services to intermarried families and children.

Pick your topic and it is here--interfaith weddings, interfaith relationships, choosing a religious identity for your child, telling your parents about your religious decision for your children, birth ceremonies, parenting, Bar/Bat Mitzvot, interfaith dating, relationships with extended family, grandparenting, divorce and stepfamily issues, gay interfaith relationships, Jewish adoptive families, growing up in an interfaith family, December dilemma, holidays, death and mourning, synagogue and conversion. A glossary and book list complete the book.

In the afterword, the co-author makes it clear that "Jewish interfaith families are engaging in Jewish life...Non-Jewish partners are participating in Jewish life...Jewish partners...are experiencing a deepened commitment to their religion because of their intermarriage...Children are being raised exclusively as Jews while learning about and respecting the backgrounds and traditions of their non-Jewish relatives...Both Jewish and non-Jewish extended family members are accepting and supporting the Jewish choices of their relatives."

The book's concluding message to readers who are part of the Jewish community is powerful, namely, genuinely welcome interfaith families who may not have converted but who are living Jewishly.

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Plural form of the Hebrew word "mitzvah" which means "commandment," it has two meanings. The first are the commandments given in the Torah. ("You should obey the mitzvah of honoring your parents!") The second is a good deed. ("Helping her carry her groceries home was such a mitzvah!") Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.
Sybil Kaplan

Sybil Kaplan is a food writer and cookbook author who lives in Jerusalem.

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