I last wrote about an event at our local JCC where we discussed the state of interfaith families in the Jewish community. Which was eye opening and all around a great night. It actually helped us to create a new interfaith group.
After that night I had one on one meetings with leaders of the Jewish community. We talked about the ways to get interfaith couples and families involved and how to make the community more welcoming.
From those I learned of some other great resources in the community. Our Federation is part of the “Brunch Bunch”: a group of local Jewish and Muslim people who started six years ago meeting for brunch as a way to get to know each other better. Over the years they’ve had hard conversations about the state of Jewish-Muslim affairs, attended life cycle event and have become genuine close friends. This year a group of them are all traveling to Israel together.
The same could be done for a group of interfaith families too. So last week a group of four families sat down at a Panera Bread to talk.
All of the couples there were at different points in our lives. Two have a child who made his bar mitzvah; the photos were proudly displayed on his grandparents’ 2017 Christmas card. Another has five children ranging from four months to approaching Bat Mitzvah age. And J and I don’t have children yet. It was great for us to hear about how they were raising their children, discussions they have with them, and how they made the decision to raise them Jewish.
The original premise of the talk was to discuss how the holidays were this year for us. December is like an overblown version of the rest of interfaith life and it’s a time that really puts your “other-ness” on display.
What was interesting was how different we all do interfaith living even though we’ve all chosen to lead Jewish lives. J and I have evolved from not having a Christmas tree to having one. One couple did the reverse and now couldn’t imagine having one now. As one put it “I used to freak out if there was Christmas wrapping paper from my in-laws. But now, that’s not an issue for me.”
But the conversation was a lot more than that holidays and kids. For my fellow Irish Catholic at the table we discussed struggling to understand why it was so important our children be raised Jewish with a partner who didn’t practice the religion. It can be a hard thing for someone who comes from a background where identity is based on participation to embrace the mindset of being Jewish stretching beyond the shul.
For me, what was most meaningful was to hear J speak. For us, our interfaith-ness is a big part of our marriage. It isn’t a defining thing for us as a couple, but it is a major part of us. Because most of his family has married Jews there’s nobody for him to really talk to about this.
Sometimes I think, in particular Jewish interfaith work, takes a lot of focus away from the non-Jewish partner. The focus often become changing the non-Jewish partner to fit in the Jewish circle. So it was enlightening to hear how people were preserving their other roots through their children’s names or keeping traditions. But I think the group was more meaningful to J. It is now a place to talk about his feelings and help navigate this path and see that we are doing ok.