While eagerly awaiting the arrival of my daughter, I spent many nights trying to research raising an interfaith child. Usual first-time mom worries about development, discipline and health — weren’t as prevalent for me: I’m an early childhood educator with years of experience, and my husband is a registered nurse. As an interfaith couple, we had already reached a beautiful balance in our marriage when it came to religion and our differing upbringings. I was optimistic we would be able to figure out parenthood together.
I found tips online about integrating Christmas and Hanukkah, what to make for Easter when ham is off the menu and how to divide life events between church and synagogue. The problem? My husband is Muslim. I found a glaring lack of information, suggestions and, most importantly, success stories.
As my husband and I recently wrapped up our first year as parents, I recognized that we have learned an incredible amount. We also appreciated that our experience was quite different from other “typical” American interfaith families who identify as Jewish and Christian.
We have become creative about integrating both of our identities. I consider myself a cultural Jew whose family immigrated from Russia, while my husband is a practicing Muslim who is originally from Morocco. One big difference between our interfaith family and others is that there is a language component —not only from a religious standpoint, but also so that our daughter can communicate with her paternal side of the family. My husband speaks to her in his native Darija (Moroccan Arabic) as much as possible because it’s our hope that she’ll be, at minimum, bilingual.
It was critical to us that our daughter understand each side of our family by being exposed to both languages and faiths. We have books that talk about Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah and Purim; we also have books about Ramadan and books written in Arabic. In her nursery, we have decals of our daughter’s name over her crib in both English and Arabic.
When our daughter was born, I wanted to have a naming ceremony for her. My husband wanted to have a sebouh, which is a traditional party a week after a baby is born that typically replaces a baby shower. As exhausted first-time parents, we knew we couldn’t handle having people over twice in those early weeks and months. So we got creative, postponed the sebouh by a few weeks and combined the two! We had a beautiful celebration of friends and family where we read prayers and sayings from a DIY Jewish naming ceremony I found online, dressed in traditional Moroccan clothes and enjoyed a day celebrating the newest addition to both of our families.
On the other hand, some topics aren’t so easily solved and end up in a draw. When this happens, our decision has usually been to take plans A and B off the table and find a plan C.
For example, when discussing sending our kids to preschool, I originally suggested looking at the local JCC or synagogue. After all, I spent many years at my local Jewish preschool, where I learned that we paint wearing shmattes and shmear on the cream cheese for breakfast.
This didn’t feel comfortable to my husband. At first, I was taken aback because I couldn’t understand what the problem could be. Then I realized that there is a preschool at our local mosque that looked just as nice as the one I was pushing. Immediately I empathized with my husband, because I was just as wary. Our decision became that when we do send our children to school, including preschool, we will choose one of the many amazing places without a religious affiliation.
The biggest obstacle in splitting parental duties so far came during Ramadan. I have always been in awe of the faith and self-control my husband shows during the holy month. As new parents, we had to talk about how his help would be modified during those long days when he couldn’t eat or drink until sundown. For us, that looked like him helping more at bedtime, doing chores late at night and being less involved in the early morning and daytime activities on his days off from work. It was rough at times, but I adjusted and kept reminding myself it was temporary. The key was to talk about it beforehand and decide what felt fair to both of us, so I didn’t end up feeling resentful.
From the sebouh to learning Arabic to naming ceremonies to Purim, we’ve been able to find a familiar ease in compromise while raising our child. Many friends and family members ask us: Is it possible to happily raise a baby in both Jewish and Muslim faiths? My answer is: Yes, if you’re willing to put the work in.
Do we have it all figured out? Heck no. I don’t know what we’ll do when she’s old enough to attend Hebrew school or fast for Ramadan. But I do know that we will continue communicating and planning together. We’re very proud of the interfaith family we’re building that’s rooted in love and understanding.