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Living an Interfaith Life: Guide Offers Stories about Coping with Differences

This article is reprinted with permission of The Jewish Western Bulletin, where it first appeared.

Interfaith relationships and marriage are facts of Jewish life. They involve struggles that many of us have experienced ourselves or have witnessed with friends and family. A new book from Jewish Lights, called The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life: An Handbook, compiles almost 100 articles on the topic.

The articles in The Guide to Jewish Interfaith Family Life were originally written for the Web magazine and readers of the book can discuss the issues it raises in special online forums at The authors include Anita Diamant, who has written six guides to contemporary Jewish practice; Edmund Case, the publisher of; Dru Greenwood, director of the William and Lottie Daniel Department of Outreach at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC); and Jonathan E. Kraus, rabbi of Beth El Temple Centre in Belmont, Mass.

The guidebook follows the stages of a couple's life together: the wedding, the relationship, raising children (from birth to bar/bat mitzvah to dating), dealing with extended family and grandparenting. It also looks at the issues of divorce, adoption, gay relationships, death and mourning, synagogue, conversion and, especially appropriate to this time of year, the December dilemma.

The chapters mainly look at interfaith relationships between Jews and Christians, although there is some generic advice for other combinations. As well, the majority of writers are women, so the paternal viewpoint is not as well voiced. Each contribution is three to four pages long and tells of an event in the writer's life, such as the moment when a mother realized she wanted to have her son circumcised or a single Jewish mother's decision to raise her two adopted First Nations' children in a Jewish household. The stories don't provide answers per se, but show how one person or family dealt with a specific situation.

There are a few pieces of an advisory nature. June Andrews Horowitz, an associate professor at Boston College's school of nursing who is involved with the UAHC's outreach efforts, provides some guidelines for interfaith families trying to negotiate the dilemma that is December:
* Think about your personal holiday memories, what holiday practices and activities were important to you. Share these with your partner and ask them about their memories. The goal is to understand each other better, not to convince the other about what activities you want to do this year.
* Talk openly about your concerns regarding, for example, a worry about confusing the children, upsetting extended family, etc.
* Be open to compromise and to looking at all of these issues in new ways.
* Explain your plans in advance to extended family and selected friends so that they will not feel left out and can know what to expect.
* Don't use the holiday season as a battleground to struggle over unresolved conflicts concerning your relationship, children or extended families. Instead, use holiday planning as a chance to learn how to discuss and resolve other issues in your life together.

The stated mission of is to welcome interfaith families to the Jewish community, to offer them support and information, and to gently encourage them to make Jewish choices. It is produced by Jewish Family & Life!, which publishes a series of magazines on the Internet, including,,, and, as well as the print journal Sh'ma.

Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." 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." A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. 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.

Cynthia Ramsay is the co-owner and publisher of The Jewish Western Bulletin newspaper in Vancouver, Canada.

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