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Navigating an Interfaith Relationship

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When you don't have the same religion, how do you make it work? 

bride and groom

Single Mom Seeking: This past weekend marked the start of the seven-day Jewish holiday Sukkot, one of the most joyous holidays to celebrate the harvest festival.

With Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur behind us, we're deep into the Jewish holiday season now.

As someone who was raised in an interfaith family, I'm curious how other couples from different cultures handle the holidays. (I was brought up in Reform Judaism, which considers a person to be Jewish if either of her parents are Jewish -- my mother is not.)

If you read the stats, about half of American Jews intermarry these days. That's why I've turned to mom of two Francesca Segrè to find out how other families celebrate this time of year.

When I call Francesca, she's nursing her newborn son, Isaac. She and her husband, Bernard Chen, also have a two-year-old name Lilah.

I first heard about Francesca when I read her essay "Girl meets Goy" from The Modern Jewish Girl's Guide to Guilt (2005). It begins:

"I've laid down the law. I will only date Jewish men. I've laid down the law, many, many times. I tell myself that if I date a Jewish man, we'll share backgrounds, traditions, and beliefs, and, if we get married, we'll do our duty -- we'll procreate. Giving birth to baby Ezra and baby Shulamit will help ensure the continuation of Judaism. In short, to marry another Jew is fundamental to being a good Jew. So then why is it so hard?"

Everything changed when a former classmate from Brandeis University introduced her to Bernard Chen. But how could she date him? He wasn't Jewish -- his family was Taiwanese. (He was born and raised in Los Angeles.)

It turns out that he knew some Yiddish -- thanks to all of his Jewish friends -- and he loves to cook Jewish food. They had a very Jewish wedding, and says Francesca, "by the second date, we agreed that we'd raise our kids Jewish."

After having their first child, the couple took a "Parent and Me" class through the synagogue in Los Angeles, where they'd meet regularly "in someone's living room, eating bagels, and you talk about raising your kids Jewish. It was a very relaxed, non-judgmental atmosphere."

The recent holidays, however, "were an anomaly because I'm nursing a newborn, and I needed to give my son milk every few minutes, so we didn't go to synagogue," she adds. They celebrated the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur with friends.

In fact, their closest friends are a Jewish and Japanese couple. "It's so ordinary!" Francesca adds about raising biracial Jewish kids in southern California.

However, she adds that their lives are about to change big-time -- Bernard has accepted a job in Singapore and they're moving this fall. Francesca has been researching: "The Jewish community in Singapore consists of 200 people."

If you're Jewish and married to someone who's not, how are you raising your kids? (Or, vice versa?)

next: Two Sets of Twins Within Ten Months
7 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous October 10, 2009, 3:02 PM

that guy looks like harold ramis

Bruce Sallan October 10, 2009, 10:44 PM

I’m in my second inter-faith marriage so I guess you could say I’ve had some experience and maybe haven’t learned from it…lol. My first wife converted to Judaism but never really embraced it and “unconverted” when we divorced, becoming almost anti-semetic. My second wife is not Jewish and the issue of conversion was not an issue as she felt strongly about her faith (Christianity) and we weren’t going to have kids, so it wasn’t a concern more me. It would’ve been if we were going to have kids. It did become somewhat of an issue, however, when she wanted to bring a Xmas tree in the home after agreeing that we would only do Xmas at her parent’s home. But, last year she was sick and we couldn’t visit her folks. I relented and we had the tree. Frankly, it was difficult for me. I must say that it is yet another thing that can be a source of conflict. My boys were raised Jewish and have been seeped in it enough that who they are is clear to them and soon they’ll be old enough to make any choices they want for themselves. But, there’s no doubt sharing the same religion makes things easier. My favorite movie of all time is “And Now My Love,” the French movie from Claude LeLouch that has the audacity, only the french could have, of trying to show love at first sight by having the two destined for each other not meet until the very end. It works. Early on “the guy” learns from an older mentor that when he finds a woman who takes three lumps of sugar in her coffee, like he does, that he should marry her. Why? Because at least they’ll have one thing in common. I say shared religion is like that metaphor of three lumps of sugar- at least you have that one thing in common. That said, I love my wife and hope we get to celebrate many Xmas’ together, along with Sukkot (which we just finished and ate in our sukka most meals) and each Shabbat where she cooks a terrific meal accompanied by my home-made challah. Maybe the boys are getting the best of both worlds. We’ve also added a racial mix to the family, as she’s Chinese.

McbrideCarla18 June 18, 2010, 7:16 PM

Set your life time easier take the personal loans and all you need.

Nevada Kohr December 14, 2010, 7:38 PM

Let’s be unbiased it isn’t anything new , after reading this post I wasn’t the least bit surprised either.

Ten Tees January 8, 2011, 4:14 PM

Great article. Good to read. I’ve got one opinion to make about t-shirts.

3 peaks challenge March 7, 2011, 4:01 PM

A really good set of info which I will be certainly coming back to read again. Thanks very much to all those who contribute.

Alveo March 22, 2011, 2:27 PM

Very informative post. Thanks for taking the time to share your view with us.

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