When I met and fell in love with my Catholic husband, I knew my Jewish family would be grief-stricken. Both my parents were born in Europe during the Holocaust, and while I’m not a strict observer, my faith had always been—and remains to this day—an integral part of who I am. It was always a foregone conclusion that my sisters and I would marry within the faith.
But my then boyfriend brought me the kind of joy I never thought I would experience. Our romance played out like a 90s-era Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks film. We knew early on that we would need to tackle some very heavy issues—issues that perhaps could have torn apart even Ryan and Hanks!
The big question, one that no couple should have to broach after a few dates, came up very early: how would we raise our children? We’d only just started dating but we knew we’ve have to have discussions, make decisions, reach consensus, and feel confident in our plans before we’d present ourselves as a couple to anyone in my family.
We’ve been married for fourteen incredible years now, and we have four beautiful, spiritual children. The decisions we made eighteen years ago shaped roadmap we follow. Each family’s situation is unique, but I imagine many interfaith couples can learn from our experience.
God made so many different kinds of people. Why would he allow only one way to serve him?
Choose a side
It was of vital importance to my husband and me that our children have religion in their lives. While I’d loved the family-oriented traditions of my youth, I’d always wanted more knowledge and structure. I knew that I wanted more direction for my kids than I’d had.
My husband, a devout Catholic, also wanted to pass on cherished traditions. After lengthy spirited and emotional conversations, we agreed that my husband had a greater breadth of knowledge and a greater sense of religious duty than I did. We reasoned that if we were to choose one religion to formally practice in our home, it would be Catholicism. We also agreed to teach our children everything we could about my (and their) Jewish faith by continuing all of my family’s traditions.
Did you know that Jesus was Jewish, and that his Last Supper was a Passover Seder? My kids do. We’ve made a point of showcasing how similar our religions can be.
Both Judaism and Catholicism follow the Ten Commandments. Both prescribe specific methods to atone for sins. One of my family’s traditions involved throwing our sins (in the form of bread) into the sea prior to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) to atone for wrongs throughout the year. My husband and I maintain this tradition with our children. When we walk to our neighborhood lake to cast our sins into the water, at least one of my children will be inspired to speak of the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation, which involves confessing one’s sins to seek forgiveness from God.
Let your traditions cross over and serve as a learning experience for both you and your children. Embrace the similarities.
Make your own traditions
We all have treasured childhood memories of holiday celebrations. Now that you have your own family, you can forge your own traditions and create lasting memories. Family ate seven varieties of fish every Christmas Eve but your kids don’t like fish? Make paella, a dish that incorporates seafood, chicken, and sausage. Having a Passover Seder but no one can read Hebrew? Have fun with the phonetic guides in the Haggadah, or take turns reading the English passages—you might learn something new. In short, you don’t have to do things exactly as they were done when you were growing up to ensure your holidays are special and meaningful.
Answer questions honestly
Small children will enjoy whatever religious ceremonies, traditions and teachings to which they are exposed. As they get older, they often have questions. Tough questions. Why doesn’t Mommy believe in Jesus? Why didn’t Daddy have a bar mitzvah if Jesus did? Don’t dance around these sincere moments of wonder. Answer your children openly and honestly and in age appropriate ways.
Mommy believes Jesus lived and was an amazingly kind and smart leader; she just isn’t sure that he was the son of God. Daddy didn’t have a bar mitzvah because when Christianity was born, Catholic people followed a new religion. It might seem like a lot to take in, but by engaging honestly, your children will be able to form their own conclusions. One day they’ll forge their own traditions.
Do what works for you
You and your spouse have to find the balance that works for you. Sometimes it’s best for a couple to choose only one religion to honor and practice. Other couples might find it easier to celebrate multiple holidays but not follow either religion in a structured way.
It’s all good. If it works for you and your spouse, and if you are both truly happy with the path you choose, your children will find joy in your family’s traditions. Don’t let anyone else tell you what is best for you and your family.