For Rabbi David Cohen, from Congregation Sinai in Fox Point, the composition of an interfaith family can be much more complex than one may initially think, which can impact how to approach the “December Dilemma.”
One of the most common definitions associated with interfaith partnerships are a partner from a Jewish background and a partner from a non-Jewish background. In reality, there’s a lot more variation.
According to Cohen, interfaith can apply to a marriage where one partner doesn’t really have any religion that they’re connected with. Interfaith can also apply to a marriage where both people identify as ‘Jewish’ but one is more committed to Jewish communal life than the other.
“So,” Rabbi Cohen says, “in certain respects, every couple is a mixed-faith couple.”
For families who are a mix of two different faith traditions, whether Jewish and Christian or some other definition of interfaith, the end of December can be a challenging time: especially for kids.
While the December holidays are not about competition, the ubiquity of Christmas in the commercial market is hard to ignore. “Christmas is such a juggernaut of a societal experience. Chanukah, in contrast, is such a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar. It is really comparing apples and oranges,” Cohen said. Jewish kids who more often see Santa or reindeer decorations, rather than dreidels or menorahs, may feel alienated.
Cohen’s advice is to give Jewish kids plenty of opportunities to feel proud about their own heritage. In his experience, parents who provide enough positive opportunities for Jewish engagement for kids can allow them to develop a sense of who they are.
He suggests encouraging kids to invite their non-Jewish friends or family over to celebrate Jewish holidays, so that they can share their faith traditions with others.
Through this example, or simply by making sure that Judaism plays a role in their kids’ lives, parents can enable their family to have a healthier religious interaction.
This month, we’re asking local rabbis about advice for interfaith families. For more on this series, see “Introduction: Counseling interfaith families.”