In what ways do you think having extended interfaith family has enriched your lives?
I’ve written about this a bunch before, and my feelings haven’t changed. My mother, who converted to Judaism, honored her non-Jewish mother by making sure she was never alone to celebrate her holidays. This meant she and my dad often packed up our family of five and shuttled us to the bowels of Italian Brooklyn for Christmas Eve and Easter dinner. Sometimes when holidays overlapped, we’d bring our matzah or our menorahs with us. My parents worked hard to make sure we knew who we were, and that meant not just knowing that we were Jews, but also knowing that we were, as the Talmud teaches, “the compassionate children of compassionate parents.” They were confident in their Judaism and instilled that confidence in us. There is no such thing as mutually exclusive in this situation; you can be religiously committed and not alienate family members who have made different choices. Sure, it’s hard work and it’s often confusing and complicated, but if you want to make it work, you can. In my family, love came before difference.
Is there a specific day/experience you can remember where this family set-up felt particularly complicated?
My sister is married to a man who is Greek Orthodox. This year, my girls’ birthday fell on the second to last day of Passover, which was also Easter and Greek Easter. My kids had a kosher for Passover birthday party at our house, and their cousins were all there. Some had to leave early for holiday celebrations elsewhere and some had to leave early for soccer games and it was as complicated as any other day, but even more so because of the no-bread thing. Which is to say, bringing together family members is raucous and sometimes stressful and often fun and comforting, but always complicated.
How does having a sibling who is intermarried affect your relationship with her and her family?
I have learned so much from my sister, watching her navigate the complicated terrain of intermarriage. I’m not talking about how to juggle the ritual aspects–I’m talking about watching her compromise, negotiate, stay calm, and focus on what matters–the strength of our relationship to each other and the love that exists between our kids and their cousins. Differences like this are hard, and I know down the road there will be questions from my children that won’t be easy to answer. But if we stay committed to being open and respectful and loving, then these differences, religious, cultural, and otherwise, can be educational and enriching. I know I am a more empathetic person for having known and intimately encountered religious and cultural difference when I was a child. What a great gift that would be to give to my own kids, too.
“Up Close” is a photo and interview series on Kveller aiming to put a face on the interfaith conversation. We’ll be highlighting interfaith families and hearing their stories all month.