1. In what ways have your kids taken part in religious holidays/events with their non-Jewish family members?
I converted, so my parents (my children’s grandparents) are not Jewish. My husband was raised by his Jewish mother, z”l. His father is not Jewish and is married to a wonderful woman who just happens to be a Methodist minister. My children have celebrated Christmas with both of our extended families. We are Jewish and raise our children in a Jewish home, but that does not take away from celebrating our extended family’s faith and traditions with them at their house. If Hanukkah and Christmas overlap, our families have always been very respectful and wrapped all of my kids’ gifts in Hanukkah paper. My boys more than anything love the lights and the tree. They know we are celebrating a holiday that is not ours, similarly to our extended family joining us for Passover or Hanukkah.
2. Have your kids ever been confused about why certain relatives have a different religion and celebrate different holidays?
My 4-year-old loves Judaism and doesn’t understand why everyone isn’t Jewish. He knows that many of his friends and family are not Jewish, but he wants them to be the same as him. I spend a lot of time explaining that everyone is different in so many ways, that’s what makes us special that we can share these differences with each other. If we were all the same–same political party, same religion, same favorite books, same favorite foods–life would be boring and we wouldn’t learn and grow from one another.
3. In what ways do you think having extended interfaith family has enriched your lives?
I grew up knowing nothing about Judaism, or any other faith for that matter. I like that my children have people close to them that have other religious beliefs. I actually feel like it strengthens their Judaism by inviting family into our home to share it. I also believe it shows my kids that people are people regardless of their beliefs. That love, kindness, compassion, generosity are common threads amongst all people and faiths. It also helps me show them tiny bits of what my childhood was like. Often times because I am a convert I feel like I need to bury or forget my Lutheran childhood in order to be a “good Jew” or to firmly establish a Jewish home. But acknowledging and honoring my past by continuing to share traditions with my extended family, like eating Julekaka (Norwegian Christmas Bread) on Christmas morning, helps my extended family to feel included and allows my children a taste of my childhood.
4. Is there a specific day/experience you can remember where this family set-up felt particularly complicated?
Making our children feel welcomed into the Jewish community is always particularly hard because the people closest to us, the people closest to our children, are not Jewish. Most recently, at our daughter’s naming, our rabbi felt strongly that we designate a Jewish k’vatter, or pair a non-Jewish godparent with a Jewish one, like a Jewish grandparent to carry the baby. We don’t have a living Jewish grandparent and my daughter’s godparents are people who have been in our lives for many, many years but don’t happen to be Jewish. Choosing someone just because they are Jewish wasn’t a priority for us. As a result, I carried my daughter into the room. I’m not going to lie, the rules and expectations that someone would need to be Jewish in order to stand and pledge their love and dedication to my daughter was a little disheartening. Our daughter is named after her paternal grandmother, z”l, and I know more than anything my husband wished she could have been there to carry her granddaughter into the room, but there were three other grandparents standing there to celebrate and love her just as fiercely.
“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.