A Study of the Experiences and Opinions of Adults Raised in Interfaith Families
How it got started and the goals:
I, Dawn Kepler, have been working with interfaith couples for more than 20 years. As time has passed I have worked with more and more of the individuals who grew up in the families of those couples. A few years ago I had a young woman from an interfaith family in my office in tears telling me that she “always had a breakdown” around the High Holidays because of how divided her family was. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me and I contacted my friend, Dr. Bruce Phillips, a Jewish sociologist and expert on interfaith marriage in the Jewish community. I asked him WHERE IS THE RESEARCH so that we can start doing a better job and not hurting our children!? He said, “There is none. We should do it.”
What we want to develop with the information collected is experiential data to help interfaith parents better understand the implications and likely outcomes of the choices they make in their homes. What is the impact of raising a child with two religions, some religion, some holidays, some Hebrew school. How do our children feel about celebrating Christmas or Easter? How do they feel attached or unattached from their two sets of grandparents? Additionally, we want to create a vision of how the Jewish community can best support children from interfaith homes in exploring or expanding their Jewish heritage. We want to develop a culture of listening to our children. There are truthful and kind ways of imparting Jewish learning that they may not have gotten. Let’s not give fake information or give good information in an unkind way.
Second, we want to develop a menu of ways that adults from interfaith families can develop, strengthen, affirm (which ever is right for the individual) their Jewish identity (if they are choosing to be Jewish).
Some examples of what we’ve heard are, a man who is halachically Jewish (mother is a Jew) told us about how awful he felt about loving Christmas. What are the strategies for helping him to have his love of Christmas and not feel that it invalidates him?
A patralineal man raised with no religious observance took on Jewish behaviors as a young adult. But it was his marriage under a chuppah by his rabbi that made him feel “really Jewish”.
A biracial woman who is halachically Jewish said that her Asian looks constantly made her the target of questions about her identity. She said it would have been much better for her if her white mother had even acknowledged her racial difference. Luckily her father did. But wouldn’t it have been nice if the mother could have affirmed her daughter?
Right now couples are basically alone in navigating how to raise their children. Jewish institutions are shooting in the dark when working to welcome, educate or integrate the adults from interfaith families who do not feel that they really belong. So many details, so little information. Bruce and I would like to change that.
Each participant is interviewed for about 1 to 1.5 hours, longer if you have a lot to say. We like to do the interviews in person, but if you don’t live in the Bay Area or Los Angeles we can do them via Skype. The interview is transcribed by Dr. Phillips’ assistant so that it can be formatted for data extraction. It is entirely confidential. If you are interested in sharing your own story you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org