My husband Dan and I are members of an interfaith couples group. We joined when we married two years ago and found ourselves among people who had been together for many years. Although they were warm and welcoming and we like them very much, we could see, from the start, that we were at a completely different stage in our "interfaith issues" than they were. They had come together twenty or more years ago to share their hopes, expectations and questions about raising Jewish children in interfaith households. Dan and I made our interfaith home after our children were raised.
Dan has one son, twenty-two, and I have two daughters, twenty-two and twenty-five. Stepping back, I can see that the five of us represent an array of religious perspectives, ranging from antagonistic (Dan was raised as a Catholic and disavowed any connection to the church when he was in college), to oblivious (his son David has had no exposure to religion), to indifferent (my older daughter, Elizabeth, went through Hebrew High School but came out with no interest in Judaism), to committed-but-not-all-that-interested (my younger daughter, Mollie, goes to services on High Holidays and says she feels her Jewish identity is important to her), to connected (me--I was raised in a family that attended only High Holy Day services, but, as an adult, I love going to temple and attending Jewish cultural events). What does this mean to five people who do not all live together, gather as a group infrequently and reside in four different cities?
Dan and I want to connect as a family. I think that all the kids feel that we are very respectful and inclusive of their other parents, but they know we want to identify our "five-some" as a family. To this end, we arrange family dinners around holidays and are saving for one big family trip.
Religious differences are present and felt during our family gatherings which, for understandable scheduling reasons, usually occur on Shabbats (Sabbaths) or at Thanksgiving or around Hanukkah and Christmas. Here are some examples of how our religious differences play out . . .
Shabbat--Although Dan openly disdains the religion of his birth, Catholicsm, he supports my practice of Judaism and joins in with me as we light candles each Shabbat. My daughters don't light candles in their homes but are surely comfortable with the practice in ours. However, when David is with us, it feels odd. He was raised with no religion and with an awareness of both his parents' opposition to Catholicism (his mother was also raised a Catholic). I always wonder how he feels when he sees and hears his father reciting blessings in Hebrew.
Thanksgiving--This year we gathered, for the first time, as a family. I would have liked to say a Shehechyanu (prayer giving thanks), but didn't because I felt that doing so would again put David and hence, Dan, in an uncomfortable position. Had David not been there, my daughters would have been fine with the blessing, but I think that had I said it, they would have accused me of "pushing Judaism on Dan and David."
Christmas and Hanukkah--This year we gathered as a family on December 23, a Friday evening, to celebrate the holidays. It was not yet Hanukkah, but it was the day that Dan and David bought their Christmas tree. Since it was Shabbat, we did light candles. Since Hanukkah was fast approaching, we ate latkes. And since the tree needed decorating, we all joined in placing ornaments on its branches. David brought his serious girlfriend, who is Jewish. Elizabeth brought her serious boyfriend, who is Christian. Mollie brought her best friend, who comes from an interfaith family.
During dinner Dan and I acknowledged our spectrum of religious perspectives and asked the kids what they thought. They each answered as predicted. David said religion meant nothing to him, Elizabeth said religion doesn't matter, and Mollie said that for her it is important to be Jewish. Dan and I joined in, each saying a bit about our histories and perspectives.
In an odd sort of way, this conversation helped us become more of a family. It led to a discussion of values and of the importance of doing mitzvot (commanded good deeds) and observing the commandments, regardless of one's faith or religious practice. To my great joy, our children were all eager to talk, to voice their ideas and opinions, and most of all, to help foster Dan's and my goal: to successfully "blend" our family.
It will be interesting to see how our "religious spectrum" family expands in the future. I am hoping to have Jewish grandchildren but can't predict where those hoped-for Jewish grandchildren will come from. Since Elizabeth and Mollie both have non-Jewish boyfriends, and David--so far--dates only Jewish women, there just may be an interesting twist to this story. Will my "religiously oblivious" stepson be the first to invite me to a bris or naming ceremony?