1. Are you raising your kid(s) with one religion, both religions, or somewhere in between?
We are a Jewish family that has a Catholic dad and we are proud of that distinction. Our children like to ask a lot of questions to get clarity around who is Jewish in our family and who is Catholic. We make it very clear that to us being a loving family means celebrating and supporting one another–like helping our Catholic family celebrate the holidays that are important to them. Much like attending a friend’s birthday, our kids aren’t confused about joining in on celebrations of a different faith tradition. We all can attend birthday parties without being confused that the celebration is not yours–and we also know that we as guests are often an important element that makes the celebration meaningful.
Although we live in Kansas, because I am a Jewish community professional, a lot of our life looks Jewish, is surrounded by Jewish community and friends and is full of Jewish culture. We spend more waking hours at the Jewish community campus than at our actual home. The kids have a strong Jewish identity and an even stronger sense that there are all sorts of people in our family and our community and we value each of them for those differences.
For a guy that attended Catholic school all the way through college, Brian is fully bound up with the Jewish community and at the same time, he has no plans to convert. He likes being a Catholic dad with Jewish children and family. He helps to plan the congregational Purim carnival, served on the Associate Board for our Jewish retirement community, wakes up early to drive religious school carpool, gave blood at Mitzvah Day and recently traveled on a Jewish Federation Leadership Mission to Israel. We like to be an example that interfaith families can still raise Jewishly engaged children. Our children get the idea that it is not only Jews that can live a Jewish life, sustain Jewish heritage, and exemplify Jewish values. Those people that love us are also deeply connected to the Jewish people and will help us to flourish as a community with their commitment.
2. How do you feel about your family being labeled “interfaith”?
Being an interfaith family is a label that we wear proudly. A majority of families with young children in our community have one parent that is Jewish and one parent of another faith. Our identity feels pretty normative–although special. As the Outreach and Engagement Coordinator with the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, being an interfaith family helps me connect with others, hear what their needs are and work in partnership with them to shape and create a more welcoming and inclusive community for all sorts of people who have been previously marginalized from the Jewish mainstream or who are looking to find new meaning and relevance.
3. Can you think of a particular day when it felt especially difficult to be an interfaith family?
We won’t lie. There have been a few days in particular when it felt especially difficult to navigate life because we are an interfaith family. Certain life cycle events such as decisions around our wedding ceremony or the rituals after the birth of our children were surrounded with a lot of tough conversations. Those moments were challenging for us because when we crossed a particular bridge for the first time together things didn’t feel the way we imagined they would feel; choices were a lot less comfortable for us when things went from conversations and hypotheticals to real life. In the end, we listened to each other, came from a place of deep love and respect and arrived on the other side with a decision we both felt good about. There have been many other challenges far more difficult for us to navigate than a difference of faith. Our different views on parenting, spending verses saving, and the differences in culture from Midwest to East Coast have been far more divisive for us. Five years ago, after our son was born, I felt a need to move from New Jersey, where we met and were living at the time, back to my home in Kansas City. Brian really didn’t want to move. One of the truest things that Brian shared with me and that I often share with others to put things in perspective was: “I knew from our second date that we were going to have a Jewish family, but you never said anything about Kansas City!”
4. How did you choose your kids’ names?
Sadly, both Brian and I lost a parent prior to the birth of our children and we both gravitated toward the Ashkenazi Jewish custom of naming a child after a relative who has passed away. It resonated with us to use a name to honor our parents, to keep their names and their memories alive. This was an articulation of the values and characteristics we hoped to imbue our children with, full of hopes of what they would become and a nod to the people that came before them. Michael Gus Furey is named after my father Michael and the G in his middle name represents Brian’s mother, Glynis. We gave our daughter Emma the middle name of Clair, which was Glynis’ maiden name. We all have the last name Furey, a common Irish last name. I like consciously changing the landscape of the Jewish last names people might expect to come across–another indication of the changing tapestry and reality of the Jewish community.
“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.