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This article is reprinted with permission from the Columbia Missourian. Visit columbiamissourian.com.
Sunday, January 30, 2005. A year ago, Hana Solomon's son bought her husband a plastic Christmas tree from Wal-Mart.
"It was his Hanukkah present for his dad," she said.
George Solomon was raised in the Catholic faith, while Hana was raised by a family of Holocaust survivors. They met on their first day of medical school at MU. For five years, they were good friends and study partners.
After a romance developed, the talk turned to their different faiths.
"The only way we could proceed," Hana said, "was if we kept a Jewish home and the kids were raised Jewish."
Marrying outside the faith continues to pose a dilemma for Jewish people wanting to preserve their identity. The Jewish Agency's Institution for Jewish People Planning, a group that forms general and long-term strategic plans for Jews, composed a report that examines the condition of Jewish people in 2004. The report, the first of its kind, found that while the world population grew by 70 percent between 1970 and 2003 (although most of the growth was in poorer nations), the Jewish population grew by only 2 percent.
That slow growth, Rabbi Yossi Feintuch of Columbia's Congregation Beth Shalom said, is due in part to assimilation--that is, when a Jewish person marries a non-Jew and doesn't continue practicing Judaism.
Another major reason more prevalent in countries other than the United States, the report says, is anti-Semitism and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
In the United States, the report found, Jewish people marrying for the first time choose a spouse who is not Jewish at a rate of 54 percent.
"There is no taboo anymore for Jewish people against marrying a non-Jew," Feintuch said.
"The statistics are very clear. They indicate without a doubt that only a small percentage of these interfaith marriages end up raising Jewish kids."
Hana Solomon said the decision to keep a Jewish home was never up for discussion.
"My Jewishness has always been a part of my soul," she said.
She never expected anything further from her husband, she said, except for the total freedom to practice holidays.
During their marriage, George Solomon began to attend services more often with the family.
"I go with my family to be supportive," he said.
As George was growing up, he was an altar boy, went to church every Sunday and attended Catholic grade school. Despite being inundated with the Catholic religion as a child, he did not find it particularly difficult to adhere to Hana's requests of having a Jewish household when he was an adult.
"I was 27 when we met and was no longer participating regularly in my religion," he said.
"Through life experience, I had come to a more cosmic view of the universe, so I regarded religion differently then I did when I was a child."
Hana said George's family is still devoutly Catholic but has adapted to Hana and George's celebration of Judaism.
"His mother will say a generic grace when we have dinner together so that I can participate," Hana said.
George said that even though he supports his wife and children's practice, he does not consider himself a Jew. Hana said her husband respects the religion so much that when their son complains about not wanting to partake in some aspect of the religion with the argument, "Dad, you don't," her husband responds, "But you should, because you're Jewish."
"I have great respect for the Jewish religion and the Jewish people," George said.
"I find the Jewish religion more consistent with my cosmic view of life than I have seen in the Christian way of looking at life. That makes it much easier to be supportive of my wife and children as they take part in their religion."
Sociologist Bruce Phillips, professor of Jewish communal services for Hebrew Union College/Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, has extensively studied marriage between Jews and non-Jews. In his 1997 book, Re-examining Intermarriage: Trends, Textures, Strategies, he found that only 14 percent of intermarried couples could be classified as "Judaic" in the sense that the balance of religious observance in the home is Jewish. He wrote that even in such homes, 60 percent had Christmas trees.
Although the Solomons displayed Christmas trees when their children were young and George did receive one as a gift last year, George said his family is more concerned that he acknowledge Christmas than he is. Hana said she hangs his handmade Christmas stocking every year, just as a kind of "We love Dad" sign.
Phillips said almost 90 percent of the children of intermarriage will themselves marry non-Jews. Feintuch is willing to settle for that, as long as the Jewish partner in the relationship labors to keep their faith alive in their families.
"In Judaism, the most important institution is the home, so they need to instill this faith in their children from infancy," Feintuch said. "The Jewish partner must work twice as hard to ensure that they communicate to their child the heritage of our people."
Hana said she hopes that when her children marry, regardless of whether their partner is Jewish, they continue the practice of their faith.
"I want my children to pass on to their children their roots and where they came from," she said.
The legacy she wants to leave with her children is one of negotiation and compromise, of looking at faith in a more spiritual sense. She has learned a lot as she worked to bridge the gap not only between two families united by marriage but also between a Catholic family and a Jewish family.
"George's family and I both agree that believing in something is what's most important and not necessarily the hows and whys," she said.
Jill McDonnell is a senior at the Missouri School of Journalism.