A Review of Mixed Blessings The Challenges of Raising Children in a Jewish-Christian Family

By Ronnie Friedland


It’s a helpful resource for sparking discussion in interfaith couples’ groups. And it frames the issues nicely for individual interfaith couples considering marriage and already-married couples thinking about (or already expecting) a child, who might prefer to discuss how to raise their children religiously on their own.

In a calm, reflective tone–an important asset in dealing with what can be a highly charged issue–this sensitive short (26-minute) film by Jennifer Kaplan includes interviews with four intermarried couples about their decisions on how to raise their children religiously. Kaplan, a Jewish interdating woman who does not yet have children, intersperses these interviews with helpful comments from such experts as the late outreach pioneer and scholar Egon Mayer, author and rabbi Tirzah Firestone, therapist and author Dr. Joel Crohn, and Roman Catholic priest Owen Moran.

These couples and experts all agree that interfaith marriage itself may not be that difficult, but that raising children greatly complicates the situation. As one person says, you may be able to compromise on many issues, but choosing a religion for your child means choosing one religion, eliminating any compromise. And, Egon Mayer adds, “Who shall prevail… Each choice is fraught with emotional ties to a complex family structure.”

The four couples each approach the issue of how to raise children differently. One couple chose to raise their children Jewishly, one couple chose to do “both” religions and another couple was leaning in that direction, while the final couple struggled over the fact that the husband had agreed to raise the children as Jews before the marriage, but had changed his mind when his wife became pregnant.

As Joel Crohn says, each choice entails loss: if you choose one religion for the child, then the other parent feels a loss of passing on his/her heritage; if you choose both for your child, then you lose the sense of a family faith; if you choose none, then you lose a connection to a religious community. In this film, the couple that seemed the most tense was the one in which the husband had changed his mind and the decision was still unresolved.

While InterfaithFamily encourages Jewish choices, as Rabbi Tirzah Firestone wisely says, there is no one “right” formula that will work for all families. Each couple needs to understand the psychological and religious factors involved. And the subject is one that must be discussed openly, honestly, and, perhaps, again and again, for feelings change as our life experiences change.

Although the film does an excellent job of raising the issues intermarried couples having children must confront, it feels a little weighted toward the resolution of raising children in both religions.

A longer (55-minute), more in-depth version of this film will also be available after June 5, 2004.



About Ronnie Friedland

Ronnie Friedland was the founding Web Magazine Editor of InterfaithFamily.