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?Go To Parenting
Why does there need to be support for interfaith families that is independent of any religious institution? Jewish institutions have made dramatic strides in the last decade in opening doors to interfaith families. And for this, interfaith families are thankful. But the truth is, there are still families who are geographically isolated in places where no synagogue is reaching out to them. There are still families that have been hurt and excluded so many times that they are unwilling, at least at first, to trust outreach from a Jewish institution. There are still families that bridle the minute they feel they are being persuaded, rather than being allowed to form a religious identity on their own time and in their own way.
And there are families, whether you agree with them or not, who would rather educate their children about two religions, than deprive them of deep knowledge of their Jewish (or Christian) roots. For instance, my children are "one quarter" Jewish, and the "wrong quarter" at that, because they have only a grandfather who is Jewish. But I refuse to raise them in ignorance of Judaism--they dress up for Purim, plant trees on Tu B'Shevat, and are learning Hebrew. I even have the chutzpah to claim that in choosing to educate them about both of their family religions, I am making a "Jewish choice," as compared to the more logical choice to raise them as Christians.
The Dovetail Institute for Interfaith Family Resources is the only national, independent organization that supports all interfaith families engaged in the struggle to find a pathway. As Dovetail's website explains: "No one path is right for everyone, whether in Catholic interfaith marriages, Protestant and Jewish intermarriage, or some other interfaith marriage situation. We are here to help you make the choices that are right for you and implement them drawing on the experiences and advice of all the clergy and intermarried lay couples who contribute to our resources."
Most religious institutions have given Dovetail a wide berth, fearing that Dovetail is somehow encouraging a "mixing" of religions. But in recent years, a growing number of individuals are seeing beyond this fear. I sense a heartening shift towards understanding the need for the sort of completely non-judgmental support for interfaith families that Dovetail provides. Dovetail board members and conference speakers have included many rabbis and people in the Jewish outreach movement who appreciate the need for this independent support. That will be true at the upcoming Dovetail national conference August 6-8 in Berkeley.
What is the risk of engaging in Dovetail's mission to support all interfaith families? It is interesting to note that Dovetail was founded by Joan Hawxhurst, a Protestant married to a Jew, after an uncomfortable experience in a synagogue group for interfaith couples. She felt she was "steered firmly, if surreptitiously, toward the decision to create a Jewish home," and she felt "excluded and faintly disrespected." A decade later, in what she describes as a "beautiful irony," Hawxhurst and her husband have joined a congregation and are raising their children as Jews, in a Jewish home. But she gives at least partial credit to Dovetail for this decision. She writes, "Within the supportive Dovetail community, we were able to explore the possibilities, talk about the tough issues, and come to our own mutually acceptable solution. To me, that is the essence of Dovetail: Our mission is not to decide right or wrong, not to steer couples toward any particular decision, but to provide couples with the tools and information they need to make their own best choice."