If you had planned to bring your Catholic girlfriend to the family seder (before all family seders were downsized), you may have some questions about what to do as your interfaith relationship becomes more serious. Some local interfaith families spoke about their personal experience of raising children in an interfaith home and shared their advice.
Designing The House
Michael and Jennifer Fox of Mount Washington addressed the elephant in the room after just a few dates.
“We first discussed what our religions mean to both of us, and what was important in terms of values, traditions, and beliefs for our children,” Michael Fox said. “Ultimately, a big decision for me was that my grandmother was a Holocaust survivor and fought
for me to be Jewish. I told Jen that because of this, it was important to further the Jewish religion and pass it along to more generations.”
Jennifer Fox expressed her affinity for family time associated with her holidays and traditions.
They chose to raise their kids Jewish but still celebrate all Catholic holidays with Jennifer Fox’s family. The children go to Hebrew school and will have b’nai mitzvahs, but they also attend church with Jennifer Fox’s family on holidays.
Similarly, Baltimore’s Emily Hermann, who is Jewish, brought up the discussion before her engagement to Victor Hermann, a Methodist. “We decided to raise our kids primarily Jewish, but we make sure they know they are half and half.”
Marc and Dena Shuster took a different approach. Dena Shuster was raised Italian Catholic before she married Marc Shuster and she converted. While they raise their kids Jewish, they still share her history with them.
“My wife has strong affection, not necessarily to the religious aspect of it, but the traditions,” Marc Shuster said. For example, for Christmas Eve, they cook the seven fishes traditional in Italian families.
“You can’t necessarily take away those memories and traditions,” said Shuster.
Laying The Bricks
The Fox children are just now starting to grasp religion and its meaning in their life. Their 7-year-old, Rory, is starting to ask questions.
“We tell Rory that while we are raising him to be Jewish, that he is also a part of mommy, who is not Jewish, and we embrace her religion and values as well,” explained Michael Fox. “He is excited that he gets to celebrate all holidays and be with family … regardless of religion. As we say in our family, it’s great to celebrate the good things in life.”
Rory is the only one of his siblings who is starting to understand the religious dynamics of the family. Fox said Rory is excited to share those experiences with school.
Jennifer Fox said the only real question that perplexes Rory is “Why is mommy not Jewish?” She said she explains to him that “everyone is different. We all bring different traits to our family, and we are most lucky that we get to celebrate all the things.”
Hermann agreed that her kids, 4 and 7, are too young to really have questions, but they attend Beth El Congregation preschool and celebrate holidays from both religions.
The support of the entire community helps. Jennifer Fox said she saw hesitation from the community at first, but both parents agreed that now everyone has embraced their interfaith family. Hermann also saw concern from the older members of her
family at first, but found that as the families merged, all was accepted.
Michael Fox said both their families have fun sharing the traditions.
“We always joke with my mother-in-law who loves Christmas, that she will always have my children with her for Christmas,” Fox said. “It is also very refreshing that many of our friends are in interfaith marriages and celebrate holidays together.”
Jennifer Fox immerses herself in the Jewish community, sending the children to a Jewish preschool, embracing traditions, and, of course, the food.
“It is reassuring to all of our children to see how excited their mother is about their
Jewish upbringing and culture,” said Fox.
The Fox family has faced its share of challenges, but it is comforting to have support of family and friends.
They recently joined a Conservative synagogue and were concerned about the reception of Jennifer’s background. However, they met with the rabbi early on and found it an easy conversation.
Decorating the House
When it’s time for festivities, the families tend to celebrate holidays from both religions.
“It’s very exciting for them to be able to celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah,” said Hermann.
“We have done well managing the holidays if they fall around the same time, making sure to spend time with each side of the family,” said Michael Fox.
“Our theory is the more celebrating the better,” said Jennifer Fox. “All of our extended families are happy as they never have to share us except on Thanksgiving.”
The Shusters also blend both cultures for a more colorful home on holidays.
“I do think it is important to address religion early on in a relationship,” Michael Fox said.
“I do know a few people who never wanted to discuss it, and next thing you know, kids came along and they had no decision as to how they were raising their child in terms of religion.”
He believes it is important to promote religion, tradition, culture, and values to your children, “so no matter what the decision is, it should be discussed early on.”
Part of being Jewish, he said, is accepting others and embracing those who wants to learn about the religion. “Religion in general today is not cut and dry and is very progressive. I am very fortunate to be part of a community that is open and accepting of my interfaith marriage.”
Shuster encourages sharing perspectives because “the kids are more well-rounded and not segregated. It gives them more of an open mind to think more,” he said. “It’s important to embrace where we all come from and make sure they understand it doesn’t need to be hidden in the closet, and it doesn’t need to be hidden.”
“This is the way of the future,” Jennifer Fox said.
Hermann noted that each family should make the decisions that are right for them. “The most important thing is that they are comfortable with their choices and how they want to bring up their children.”