I received this question sent to my Mixed and Matched column.
This isn’t a common question, but it is not unheard of either. Sometimes the adult child of an interfaith couple wants to feel they are part of both their parents and they want others to reflect their choice.
My father is my Jewish parent. I was raised with Hanukkah, Christmas, Easter and usually we had a Seder. Neither of my parents cared about religion and they never told me I was any religion. I want to call myself Christian AND Jewish and be recognized as such by my Jewish friends. But I can’t get them to use that phrase. What can I do to change them?
Dear Half and Half,
My mother, an attorney, used to say, “You can call yourself Mickey Mouse as long as you pay your bills.” In other words, you have the right to call yourself whatever you like. The trouble comes when others don’t go along with you. In this case, it isn’t just that your friends don’t believe that you are both Christian and Jewish, it’s most likely that they don’t believe in the concept of being both, period.
What you want is for your friends to believe in an identity called, “Christian and Jewish,” and then apply it to you.
I suggest you make a list of what makes you “Christian and Jewish.” Is it simply because your parents are those two identities? Or do you practice particular Christian and Jewish rituals that you see as imbuing you with both religious identities? What are your theological beliefs? Do you see Jesus as divine? Have you studied the religious teachings of either faith? Do you agree with one or the other’s theology? Or do you see your identity as cultural because you are observing holidays from both traditions?
I’m suggesting you make this list so that you can be clear in your own mind as to what creates and sustains the identity you want to claim.
H&H, annoying as it can be, there are times when we can’t change the beliefs of others. You could certainly talk with your friends about your differences. Perhaps the conversation would be enlightening for all of you. But please remember that, just as you have a right to believe in a particular identity, your friends have the right to not believe in it. It is terribly hard when we have core belief differences from those we love and respect. You are touching on a central issue that comes up for interfaith couples – really wanting to be in agreement with the people who are important to us. From what you describe, neither of your parents cared deeply about their religion. So you have grown up in a home that did not put an emphasis on religion or religious/cultural identity. You are now coming into contact with people who have a greater attachment to religious identity.
For Jews, who are constantly worried about dwindling numbers and assimilation into the dominant culture, it is unlikely you will find many Jews who accept your self description.
You must ask yourself, can I just be happy in my own head; can I be content with my personal conviction that I am half and half? If yes, then you’re good to go.
If not, are you seeking the affirmation that comes from being accepted by a community? You have a much better chance of being seen as half and half in a Christian community that in a Jewish one. Since Judaism is typically seen as the parent of Christianity by many Christians a number of churches will be comfortable with your self description. They are likely to say something about Jesus being Jewish.
However, Christianity for many centuries and in many places today, sees itself as updating or replacing Judaism. It is the New Testament, come to replace the “Old Testament,” the Hebrew scriptures. So Jews are likely to be sensitive to your statement that you are both. You will be asked essentially to, pick a team.
To join any group of people means compromise. If you want to be a citizen who can legally drive a car, you have to abide by the rules of the road. If you want to pick Judaism and be part of a synagogue or other Jewish communal institution you will have to compromise. There are a few very liberal synagogues where you could get by but you are likely to be challenged by someone, Jewish or Christian, when you claim to be half and half in a Jewish environment. You could consider being just Jewish or just Christian.
Only you can determine which will be most satisfying to you. Feel free to call me. We can go over your list. Maybe there are some answers there.