Up Close: Sarah & Carl Chen – Kveller
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Up Close: Sarah & Carl Chen

Are you raising your kid(s) with one religion, both religions, or somewhere in between?

When deciding what religion we would raise our children, we struck a funny bargain. It was never up for negotiation for Sarah not to raise Jewish children, but Carl’s heritage mattered, too. As a proud Michigander, Carl grew up with tons of ethnic and religious diversity. He consented as a non-Jew to fully participate in raising Jewish children as long as: 1. They referred to carbonated beverages as “pop” (not soda) and 2. Cheered for the Red Wings, his favorite hockey team. So far, no problems with either end of the bargain!

How do you feel about your family being labeled “interfaith”?

I don’t mind labeling our family as “interfaith.” I think it can be especially useful when we’re engaging with synagogues since it alerts everyone to Carl’s non-Jewish preferences, because otherwise you’d never know. He can sport a yarmulke and recite transliterated Hebrew with the best of them! As far as church settings, or his Chinese heritage, the interfaith label works in reverse. I was a product of an interfaith marriage–Mom Jewish, Dad Episcopalian–and my Jewish identity is strong and intact. I don’t see why it should be otherwise for my children.

Different faiths have different naming traditions. How did you choose your kids’ names? 

We chose our son’s name for no one in particular. Incidentally, it was the same street name he was “made” on, and he was also born on the same Catholic Saints’ Name Day, so it seems he was destined! Our daughter was named for a dear family friend with no daughters or grandchildren (yet) who was like an aunt to me growing up. Her middle name comes from a US Air Force veteran killed in combat during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. She was a friend and classmate of Carl’s, and she was not only the first female US Air Force Academy alumna killed in combat, but Jewish as well.

What’s your word of advice to other interfaith families?

My advice? Faith is an ongoing process. So don’t let your “big decisions” be ones that you don’t revisit from time to time. I hope my husband and I enjoy a lifetime of spiritual connection, and I hope you do too. Things change. I never wanted faith to be a point of contention. So we constantly have conversations to make sure what we’re doing makes us both feel positive, comfortable, and fulfilled.

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 info@kveller.com with the subject line “Kveller Up Close.”

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