1. How did you and your spouse meet?
Some mutual friends were road-tripping and made a stop in the Twin Cities, visiting both of us separately and introducing us in the process. But when we met, Mike was a week or two away from leaving on a months-long trip out of the country, so it wasn’t until a year later, when we ran into each other at a coffee shop, that we really started hanging out. That was in the summer of 2000; we’ll be married 11 years in August.
2. Are you raising your kid(s) with one religion, both religions, or somewhere in between?
We’re raising them Jewish, and we’re pretty intentional about having both parents, not just the Jewish parent, involved, so that the kids see Jewish life as a family thing, not just a “mom” thing. Mike might take Henry to a religious school program while I stay home with Miriam. He’s usually the one that reads them their PJ Library books before bed. We’re pretty clear that Mike’s not letting me raise Jewish kids, we’re doing it together.
3. Can you think of a particular day when it felt especially difficult to be an interfaith family?
When our son (our first kid) was tiny, the beginning of winter was always really stressful for me. I think I was keenly aware that I was changing the way Mike’s family did their holidays and I was pretty sensitive about the ways this might be seen as a burden. So, every year, when my in-laws would check in with me on, “When’s Hanukkah? How are we doing this? You want him to get Hanukkah presents? What about Christmas? How many days is Hanukkah?” I just got tense about it. I felt like, “How many times do we have to have this conversation before it feels important and real enough to remember it all?” Now, years later, I realize that my in-laws were genuinely trying to get things right, they knew it was important and real and that was why they kept asking–they didn’t want to mess anything up, but at the time, the whole thing was very fraught for me.
4. How do you feel about your family being labelled “interfaith”?
It’s correct. Because we’re raising Jewish kids and aren’t involved in any other faith traditions besides Jewish ones, we often think of ourselves as a Jewish family with non-Jewish members. Our extended family, Mike’s parents and siblings and their families, are a big part of our lives, and because of geography, Mike’s parents are more likely than my own to be present and engaged for more of the Jewish things our family does. But they’re not Jewish. They’re not just non-Jews, they’re practicing Catholics, and using the word “interfaith,” I think, acknowledges that. Their faith is as important to them as mine is to me.
5. What did you think would be an issue about being an interfaith family that really hasn’t been?
I was so worried about our kids being confused about being Jewish when so much of our family isn’t. And as it turns out, it’s not confusing to them at all. Well, not to the older one. The younger one is still confused about Grandma being trapped in the computer (FaceTime).
6. How did you choose your kids’ names?
Our oldest, Henry, is named for my Uncle Henry. He was my Grandma Elsie’s older brother, and they were very close. Naming our son for him seemed a good way to honor her. His middle name is Michael, after his dad. In Mike’s family, the oldest son gets his dad’s name as a middle name. I told Mike “Jews don’t do that!” and he gently suggested that this would be good practice for the myriad compromises we’d surely have to face as an interfaith couple raising Jewish kids. Point taken.
Our youngest, Miriam, is named for three people: my father, who was named Matthew, my cousin Merrie, and her namesake in the Torah. Her middle name is Freyda, for my maternal grandmother Florence, and because it’s Yiddish for joy. When she was born, we thought she’d be Miri, for short, and we called her that for a few weeks, but it didn’t stick. She’s very serious, very sturdy, and to us she is usually Miriam, but she prefers the nickname her daycare friends have given her: Mimi.
7. What’s your word of advice to other interfaith families?
Keep talking about things. Make plans, have big ideas for how you want things to go, but then be flexible. Things change, some things end up being more or less important than you thought they would. Bend so you don’t break.
“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.