As the Jewish half of our relationship I am responsible for building the Jewish foundation of our home. My partner Mandi is completely on board but she doesn't have the experience or knowledge base to know where to start. She grew up in a Catholic family, and now embraces a deep sense of spirituality and belief in God, but does not practice a religion. Since I grew up in a Reform Jewish household, we are clearly an interfaith family, right? Mandi and I recently completed an online course on raising Jewish children in an interfaith family, which got me thinking about a lot of things like prayer and God and synagogues. The most surprising thought, however, was that we are not actually an interfaith family.
The class came at a crazy busy time for Mandi's work schedule and subsequently the rest of us, but this was also as good a time as any because life's not going to get any slower. I don't want to wake up one day with 12 year olds thinking "oh shit they don't even know what a bat mitzvah is." Now that our daughters are two, I'm starting to see just how speedy time can be. Our schedule is busy without even trying. Weeks flow together and already it is May and I still have things on my to do list from January (apparently not such important things). It's going to take a conscious effort to incorporate Jewish elements into our lives.
Going into the class I didn't have too many expectations beyond starting some conversations between Mandi and I about how we want to incorporate Jewish tradition in our family's life. Up until the class we read some Jewish books from the PJ Library, made certain foods for their corresponding holidays, and had some holiday celebrations with family and friends. The Passover highlights this year were Violet's and Autumn's enthusiastic clapping along to Dayeinu and then singing it on repeat for the entire week. So we're not starting completely from scratch; there's already some hamentashen in the oven.
Taking an online course has its pros and cons.
Pro: Scanning the discussion board at your kitchen counter while fixing dinner as two toddlers chase each other around the table, stopping each time around to make their dinner requests for mushrooms, olives, and ice cream cones.
Con: Not always finding time to go online, read the material, and contribute to the discussion.
Pro: Bringing together families from all over the Chicago area since there's no meeting location.
Con: Not really getting to know the other participants.
Even though we didn't get to meet everyone in person, reading other people's comments was my favorite part of the class. Hearing their questions and thoughts about God and Jewish services and prayers put all of those things in a new light. I was inspired by how other parents are so thoughtfully and intentionally incorporating religion into their families' lives. Reading how some families are working to celebrate the non-Jewish parent's favorite traditions (Christmas, Easter, Sunday services) made me realize that we don't have those same challenges in our house, not exactly.
We do celebrate Christmas in a secular way with Mandi's family – spending time together, exchanging gifts. But I also grew up celebrating Christmas with extended family this way. My mom converted to Judaism and Christmas was a good time to spend with her entire family. I love Christmas because of the quality family time we get to spend with so many people we love. So what does that make us – a second generation interfaith family? Even though I was raised in a Jewish home? Maybe it's more like something once removed, a second cousin sort of interfaith.
Despite our different cultural and I suppose ethnic backgrounds, Mandi and I are on the same page when it comes to embracing God, spirituality, and Judaism as the religion and culture of our family. Having the girls grow up with a sense of belonging to the Jewish community and its history is a priority for both of us. Mandi is perhaps even more committed than me, proclaiming on a regular basis that she doesn't want to be a culture killer. She reminds me to teach her as well as the girls so that she can be an active parent in their Jewish education.
Since I don't see us as practicing different faiths, the term interfaith family just doesn't fit right, a pair of jeans that doesn't hug in the right places. Inter-cultural has a snugger fit. We have different cultural backgrounds and upbringings that we're trying to incorporate into our family.
That online course got me thinking about a lot and gave us many great ideas for incorporating something Jewish into our everyday lives. I've got Jewish preschools on my list of possibilities for next year and the girls are learning to sing Hamotzi before dinner and the Shema before bed. Synagogue shopping will commence soon.
I wish I could post an ad: inter-something family with two moms and twin two-year-olds seeks a synagogue with nice people, inspiring leadership and gluten-free challah. I haven't found a place to submit that yet, so in the meantime we'll just start at home and check out some family services in the neighborhood.