Choose Wisely: One Family’s Approach to the Topic of Interfaith Dating

By Mark Sokoll


After living in Israel for almost a decade during the seventies and eighties, we returned to the United States to make a life for ourselves and for our children. We had believed that the greatest guarantee of a Jewish life and future for us was living in the Jewish state. However, because of personal and family reasons we decided to return. As John Lennon says, “Life is what happens when you are making other plans.”

Four years later Mark was strolling through Paine Furniture in Natick, Massachusetts, not often considered a bastion of spiritual questioning, but nevertheless the place in which our five-year-old daughter asked the following question as they rounded the corner from oriental rugs to bedroom sets: “Daddy, is there more than one God?” Mark responded, “We believe there is only one God.” She was not quite done. She then asked, “Well, if there is only one God, how come there are people who have Hanukkah and people who have Christmas?” Mark answered, “Because even though there is only one God, people have different ways of trying to talk to God.” For her the conversation was over. For us as parents the encounter was the first of many defining moments where our strong Jewish sense of identity and particularism was tested against the universalism and multiculturalism that we embrace as proud Americans.

Over the ten years since the Paine Furniture “watershed,” we have been faced with many choices regarding who we are as Jews and how that gets communicated to our children. The issue of interfaith dating is not and should never be viewed in isolation. It must be understood in the context of all those choices we make and continue to wrestle with as Jewish parents. What follows is a list of the choices we have made, in no particular order, that seem relevant.

We live in a city where a significant percentage of the population is Jewish, in a metropolitan area with a sizable Jewish population. Our children attended Jewish preschool, Jewish day camps and JCC overnight camp. They attend public school. During their elementary school years Marjorie took an active role as co-president of the PTO. She worked with a close friend and devoted Muslim to create and encourage an atmosphere of respect and celebration of differences in the school community. Our children’s formal Jewish education includes three-day-a-week supplementary religious school and Prozdor, a Jewish high school program. Both children celebrated their Bar and Bat Mitzvah (when someone assumes the privileges and responsibilities of an adult member of the Jewish community) in the synagogue where their father serves as rabbi.

We took a family trip to Israel, and our daughter participated in a summer program in Israel last year. Shabbat (the Sabbath) and holidays are celebrated in our home in a flexible and non-traditional way. Friday night candle lighting and blessings, which sometimes include friends from different faith traditions, might be followed by a trip to the movies with friends. We speak openly about the importance of faith, ethical behavior and belief in God.

The only thing that we are sure about in this life of unending choice, is that these choices belong to us. Where they will lead is beyond our control.

Ultimately, our children choose whom they will date. Children watch how we act while listening to what we say. Sometimes they find inconsistencies as they test their own values in formation. We have tried to provide our children with a love of being Jewish, while at the same time attempting to instill in them an openness and respect for all people created in God’s image. We know that they have a strong and positive sense of their Jewish identity. We hope and pray that this will sustain them throughout their lives. The choices we have made in creating a Jewish home have been ours. Whom they choose to date is their choice, not ours.


About Mark Sokoll

Mark Sokoll is president of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston and rabbi of Temple B'nai Israel in Revere, Mass. He also is co-chairman, Board of Directors, The Lenny Fund. Marjorie Sokoll is director of Jewish Healing Connections at Jewish Family & Children's Service. Marjorie and Mark have been married for almost 21 years and are the parents of Talya, fifteen and a half, David, fourteen, and Garcia, the wonder dog. They live in Newton, Mass.