Adopted and Part of an Interfaith Family

By Rebecca Yackley

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.

One 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.


About 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.