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Adopted and Part of an Interfaith Family

February 19, 2010

When I was an infant I was adopted into an interfaith family. My mother is Jewish and my father is Catholic. My parents made the choice to raise me with one religion instead of two, to be less confusing for me as I got older. My parents decided it made more sense to follow the Jewish tradition and raise me the same religion as my mother.

My parents had a baby naming for me at their synagogue, and they gave me the Hebrew name Rivka. I was not baptized, and therefore I am not Catholic.

Northern Cardinal, state bird of IllinoisOne of the biggest differences being raised in an interfaith family is what happens during the holidays. In our household we set up the menorah and say the prayers during the week of Hanukkah. Recently I was at a local Barnes & Noble and found myself staring at a mini Christmas tree made of tinsel. Immediately I knew I had to have it. It soon found its home on top of our entertainment center.

During Hanukkah we visit my mother's side of the family and eat a traditional Hanukkah meal consisting of latkes (potato pancakes) and borsht (cabbage soup). On Christmas Eve we watch It's a Wonderful Life or White Christmas at home, a tradition my father created. On Christmas Day we visit my father's mother and eat dinner together. My Jewish grandparents also join us at my paternal grandmother's place for Christmas dinner.

I really like seeing all the lights and the decorations of Christmas, but I really enjoy the hominess of Hanukkah, and of getting together with our Jewish friends at Fox Valley Jewish Neighbors, our local Jewish community group. I feel more connected to the Jewish faith and traditions, but I do like celebrating Christmas with my dad's family.

We also observe other Jewish traditions and holidays in our home and with our Jewish community, and we spend Easter with my father's mother.

I find it is more exciting and interesting to live in an interfaith family as opposed to living in a one religion home, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

My father is very supportive of raising me Jewish. When I was younger and enrolled in Jewish Sunday school my father was often the one to help me with my homework, even though he doesn't know how to speak or read Hebrew. He was also very supportive every step of the way while I was preparing for my bat mitzvah. My mother led the service for my bat mitzvah and it was a very special moment in all of our lives.

I have enjoyed living in a interfaith family because I feel that I have the best of both worlds. During the Jewish holidays I have the pleasure of enjoying the lively services and seeing all of my Jewish friends and family, and during the Catholic holidays I enjoy seeing my father's side of the family and going to church with them because I know it is important to my father.

When I was younger sometimes I got the concepts of synagogue and church confused. Once I was staying with my father's parents and they took me to church. I remember walking around the church looking at the statues of religious figures with my grandma and asking her, "Where's Moses?" She laughed and explained to me that Moses was a Jewish figure and therefore wouldn't be in a church. Sometimes I still have questions, like why is Jesus so special, and why doesn't my dad go to church more often, but I have loved every aspect of my interfaith life.

Sometimes I wonder why some Catholics are mean to Jews if Jesus was Jewish. And I don't really understand, if Jesus was Jewish, how he became the messiah for a completely different religion. I haven't asked my dad these questions; we haven't really talked about these things--it's just never come up. I don't question his beliefs because I know that's what he believes in, and I respect that.

I respect what other people believe in, and I think being raised in an interfaith family has influenced that. But I've had experiences with other people who don't respect other people's beliefs. Sometimes, people at school tell "Jew jokes." When I say that I'm Jewish and it bothers me, I usually get, "Why don't you look Jewish?" It shouldn't matter, and I say, "What do you think Jewish people look like?" Or sometimes I sarcastically ask, "You couldn't tell I am Jewish?"

You can't tell someone's religion by looking at her. My birth mother was Mexican-American, and most people assume I'm Catholic. My parents couldn't give me their looks, but they gave me two wonderful religions and religious traditions that make me who I am, and I'll carry that with me all my life.

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." Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. Hebrew for "candelabrum" or "lamp," it usually refers to the nine-branched candelabrum that is lit for the holiday of Hanukkah. (A seven-branched candelabrum, a symbol of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, is a symbol of Judaism and is included in Israel's coat of arms.) 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.
Yiddish word for a potato pancake, traditionally eaten during Hanukkah.
Rebecca Yackley

Rebecca Yackley is a junior in high school. She is in the band and the choir, and enjoys running, reading and spending time with her friends. She is planning to go to nursing school and would like to work in pediatrics.

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