1. In what ways have your kids taken part in religious holidays/events with their non-Jewish family members?
My son’s grandfather and his wife celebrate Christmas. We have participated in non-religious Christmas dinners for all of the years of their lives. They have a Christmas tree every year, they decorate their house for Christmas, and they get lots of Christmas gifts to my sons. My ex’s extended family is largely Mormon and they live in very religious communities in Utah. We have spent some really nice time with this family for secular events, Mormon social events, and even funerals. In the religious Mormon community, even secular events involve prayer and references to Jesus. In this way, my sons have been exposed to a lot of different kinds of non-Jews and it has opened up a lot of interesting conversations.
2. Have your kids ever been confused about why certain relatives have a different religion and celebrate different holidays?
There was a certain age range somewhere between 4 and 5 I think where there were a bunch of questions and hysterical assumptions about who celebrates what and why. I don’t know that my ex and I were ever explicit all in one fell swoop, but we answered specific questions directly and in age-appropriate ways. When we were asked why people celebrated different holidays, we very directly said, in our family, we don’t celebrate Christmas because we are Jewish. Grandpa and grandma are not Jewish and they celebrate Christmas. My ex and I always made sure to broaden the conversation and introduce concepts such as the fact that not everyone in the world is Jewish, not everyone in the world is Christian, and that there are some people who are not Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas just as there are Jewish people who may choose to celebrate Christmas.
3. In what ways do you think having extended interfaith family has enriched your lives?
Our emphasis has always been on teaching both the specificity and uniqueness of being Jewish while placing it in an appropriate context for the country and the world at large. Namely, most people in the United States are not Jewish and I guess it’s kind of neat that my sons get to experience the complexity of differences in our nuclear family. The fact that I don’t live in a religious Jewish neighborhood is sometimes frustrating and I sometimes wish my sons had a community synagogue and large set of Jewish friends. However the reality of our lives places us in a secular community and in an environment where it is very clear that we are the minority. There have been a very interesting set of conversations to this extent, in age-appropriate terms, with my sons.
4. Is there a specific day/experience you can remember where this family set-up felt particularly complicated?
Ha! Is all of them an acceptable answer? Mormon funerals are very different from Jewish funerals and the two that we have attended as a family had some extra complications. I think what I remember most, however, is how my sons have been able to witness the common bond of family, community, grief, and love which, in our family, have to be what matter most.
“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. If you’re interested in participating, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Kveller Up Close.”