By Beth Land Hecht, LCSW-C
When it comes to religion, intermarriage is a topic of interest that pops up rather frequently. Intermarriage has been impacting the American Jewish family for a very long time. While the rate has been rising over the last half century, the most recent survey, the 2013 report from the Pew Research Center, puts the rate of interfaith marriages at 58%. That means interfaith families are now the norm in the United States and the majority of Jewish families have at least one member of a different faith.
Like all families, interfaith ones have their share of challenges, often connected to holiday celebrations. The struggle of how to handle Chanukah and Christmas, also known at the December Dilemma, can sometimes be magnified by pressure, real or perceived, from parents and grandparents. It is understandable that grandparents want to spend special holiday time with their grandchildren. It is also understandable that grandparents want to share their religious identity and family traditions with their grandchildren. Therefore, it is important for interfaith couples to communicate their choices and comfort level to their parents to prevent stress and unpleasantness.
So how can families be inclusive and supportive of everyone while at the same time upholding and maintaining religious identity?
- Decide early on. Encourage interfaith couples to discuss and come to a decision as soon as possible (ideally prior to marriage and children) regarding how to raise the kids. This decision will most likely involve compromise.
- Be flexible. Life is full of planned and unplanned twists and turns and one can never anticipate what the future will bring. Having children, careers, moves, illness, and death are all part of life and yet, for interfaith couples, these life cycle events may involve more challenges and decisions. Keep the lines of communication open.
- Show sensitivity and respect for all faiths and traditions. Start a family tradition by modeling good behavior. Learning about and showing respect for all religions will be essential in order to maintain strong, loving relationships with extended family members.
- Recognize that education, anticipation and preparation are essential. If the decision is made to have a Jewish home, both parents need to learn and be knowledgeable about Judaism in order to create and transmit those traditions and values to their children. Locally, the Introduction to Judaism course taught by the Baltimore Board of Rabbis is an excellent adult education opportunity for interfaith couples as well as those who are converting to Judaism.
Connecting to a supportive community for the family is very important. Baltimore has wonderful clergy and congregations who are welcoming and inclusive of interfaith families. Take advantage of the excellent community resources, such as Baltimore Interfaith Families, which provides many programs for couples, parents and grandparents. JCS and the JCC will be presenting a special workshop for grandparents: Connect with Your Interfaith Family on November 16th at 7:00 pm. Click here for more information or call 410-466-9200.
By Beth Land Hecht, LCSW-C, Senior Manager, JCS Community Engagement
JCS provides a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. We offer guidance and support when you are seeking solutions for emotional well-being, aging and caregiving, parenting, job seeking, employers and businesses, achieving financial stability, living with special needs, and preventing risky behaviors. To learn more, please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.