IFF in the NY Times


It’s the first week of December which means only one thing: TV shows and newspapers are flooded with stories on the “December dilemma.”

Yesterday morning, the Today Show had a segment featuring Jewish-Christian couples and advice from Rev. Sherri Hauser, of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, and Rabbi Irwin Kula, best known for his recent book Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life. One of the couples was Mark and Helena McMahon, who we know well from her great work as manager of the Interfaith Connection at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, an outreach program for interfaith couples. Interestingly, the segment made no mention of that fact. Among the few nuggets of wisdom: “Relationships and faith are living things, so expect them to change” (Hauser) and “Conflict is always an invitation to growing” (Kula).

In today’s New York Times, I was quoted in Julie Scelfo’s A Holiday Medley, Off Key. The article looks at the push-and-pull of holiday celebrations in interfaith couples, paying particular attention to ways in which the holidays can become a competition between partners.

Our December Holidays survey was also cited in a story in the (Long Beach, Calif.) Press-Telegram that focused more on couples who try to blend the holidays. Barbara Correa’s piece adds a new term to the “Chrismukkah/Hanuklaus/Chrismawanaakah” lexicon: the “Challadays.” (Which is kind of cute, although I’m not sure what challah has to do with Hanukkah–unless it’s fried.)

Meanwhile, the San Francisco Chronicle has two wonderful first-person takes on Christmas and Hanukkah. In A Jewish Look at Christmas: A convert appreciates it even more now, Jannie M. Dresser talks about growing up as a Christian in an alcoholic family:

My parents struggled to rise above their problems at Christmastime, but seasonal festivities meant extra opportunities for my father to drink and additional financial pressures on my mother. Christmas frequently erupted into feverish crescendos that rivaled those in Handel’s “Messiah.”

But since she converted to Judaism 20 years ago, she has been able to appreciate Christmas without the dysfunctional family baggage. Now Christmas is not a time of “foreboding and hopelessness” but an opportunity to perform a “mitzvah” “help[ing] others celebrate their season of joy.”

The other piece is by the daughter of a an Irish Catholic mom and a Jewish dad. For Sarah Adler, childhood was a mix of Quaker camp, Unitarian Sunday school and non-religious celebrations of Jewish holidays. “Basically we ate a lot, but no one pulled out a prayer book,” she says. But now that she lives in the Haight neighborhood of San Francisco, where any kind of personal expression goes, she has begun to embrace her Jewishness, through one of her passions: cooking. Her Hanukkah party will include latkes made from hand-grated potatoes, Venetian tea cookies and applesauce made “from a mixture of Napa varietals gathered during outings this fall.”

3 thoughts on “IFF in the NY Times”

  • Ron, what a beautiful posting and thank you for the story about your family traditions and your wife’s commitment to your children’s Judaism, while she honors her own religion and that of her family of origin. It seems to be that the less we fear the traditions and religious expression of all the members of our household, the more our connection to Judaism is out of a love of it, rather than a fear of loosing it. Children recognize the distinction. When something we do is meaningful, they stand a chance of connecting with it. And honoring family and family traditions, from both parent’s history, sets up kids to see the value in family as well as in the traditions. It helps foster respect for others and allows them to grow with a wider vision than they might otherwise develop. And what value is there in Judaism if it is not to teach respect and connection to family and the wider world.

  • Thanks for your great comment, Ron. I wasn’t saying that Jews with Christmas trees should feel like they’re “going to the other side,” only that many do. Personally, I don’t have a problem with it, and I think the many anecdotes and surveys on our site show that you can have a strong Jewish home and still have a Christmas tree–as you do.

  • Thanks for all the good work of the IFF. I am one of the intermarried couples also in today’s NYT piece, and I guess I don’t agree that having a tree means that you have “gone over to the other side” — but I understand where that sentiment is coming from. We have three lovely Jewish children, two have already celebrated b’nai mitzvah (and a third getting ready for his next year), who have no doubt about their faith, who get great support in that from their Catholic mother, and who attend religious school and are well educated about their Judaism. We have a tree to celebrate the holiday with their mother — and because, as the oldest child in her family, my wife is expected to host the Christmas celebration for her entire family. I consider myself a good Jewish father who is raising Jewish children with the great support of a non-Jewish mother who puts on a wonderful Seder at Passover, helps build our Sukkah in the fall, fasts with us on Yom Kippur, and got our kids dressed up in costumes for Purim when they were younger. Out of respect to her background and her family, we have a tree — a compromise, for sure, but not quite a defection 🙂

    Again, thanks for the work and leadership of the IFF in helping families like ours be part of the Jewish community!

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