Many of my friends come from interfaith families, and I’ve often discussed with them the challenges and rewards of growing up in homes with only one Jewish parent. We all had different “ratios,” if you will, of which religions we observed more. Some of my friends would alternate each Sunday between Hebrew school and church. Others, including me, only observed Judaism with the addition of Christmas. Growing up with interfaith parents provided a few challenges, like wondering what it means, if anything, that I am “half” Jewish. However, I view my interfaith family not as taking away, but rather contributing to, my identity. I love my family, and I’ve learned that being “half” Jewish does not diminish my value as a Jew.
My family’s Christmas Eve party dates back over 100 years. Two best friends from Sweden came to America and observed Christmas together in their new nation with traditions and recipes from home. Their families grew, but never grew apart, and still now we celebrate Christmas with games and food from Sweden. My mother grew up loving these amazing, lively parties. She was excited, after dating a “nice Jewish boy” for a while, to bring my father to Christmas dinner. He enjoyed the celebration, filled with lots of fish and meatballs. He couldn’t help but notice, however, the silliness of eating lox (Swedes call it gravlax) with no bagels or cream cheese. He continued to joke about this each Christmas Eve and, years later, he finally brought bagels and cream cheese for the group to enjoy. This delicious tradition continues today. In the middle of a traditional Christmas meal, we all enjoy bagels and lox together. To me, this represents the true meaning of an interfaith family: enjoying and blending our traditions, as best we can. I’ve dressed up as Santa on numerous occasions and it brings me true joy: not half joy. If the dates correlate, I leave Christmas Eve to light the Chanukkiah with my family, fulfilling this mitzvah with commitment. Instead of looking at what I might lose with one less Jewish parent, I see the experiences that I gain from both sides of my family. My enjoying Christmas doesn’t take away from my strong Jewish identity and love for the Jewish people.
It is important to me that the Jewish leadership in my community is accepting and open to families of multiple faiths and backgrounds. At my summer camp (OSRUI), or in my congregation, children from interfaith households are not minimized as “half Jewish.” In my Judaism, a child that is part of our community should be included as fully Jewish when they are with us. As our generation becomes the leaders of our people, let’s encourage respect and enthusiasm for all Jews—even if they enjoy their bagels best on Christmas.
Accompanying Photos: Audrey Honig
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