A year ago I wrote about the love story of my interfaith parents, and this became one of the most popular essays on this site. People are searching for details on successful interfaith marriages, and I know hundreds of these success stories. So this week, I start an occasional series of portraits of happy interfaith couples.
Marci, what is your religious background? What is Rich’s background?
I was raised in Conservative Judaism, my husband was raised Catholic. My husband considers himself more “Interfaith” now.
How long have you been married, and how old are your children?
We have known each other for 25 years, been married for 18 years, and have two daughters, 13 and 9. We attended seminars on Interfaith marriage and read many books, once we decided to marry.
Did you discuss or try out other religious pathways as a couple before joining a community of interfaith families?
We had decided from the beginning that we wanted to have an Interfaith home, but weren’t really sure what that meant in reality. We thought about joining a synagogue, but couldn’t afford the dues. When the synagogue in our community said that we couldn’t have the privelege of naming our daughter there if we were not members, we looked elsewhere… and found IFFP.
How and why did you settle on joining an interfaith community?
We wanted a place where both of us felt comfortable in our beliefs… where neither one of us would be a minority, and where our children would be able to learn equally about both Christianity and Judaism without a bias toward one or the other. We also wanted to meet other families for purposes of finding out how other interfaith families handle the basics: holidays, in-laws, questions, life events, etc. We wanted to find a place where we could belong… because neither the churches nor the synagogues we visited felt like home to us.
We found IFFP through information in the back of an interfaith marriage guidebook, but waited a year until we called and talked for a long time to Sue Katz Miller who invited us to visit and see for ourselves. The first gathering we came to was the opening gathering of the year… Sept, 2001, the weekend after the 9/11 attacks… in the courtyard of a local middle school. While standing outside, with people we had yet to meet, we instantly felt the kinship and support of a community, and we joined that day.
What do you see as the benefits and drawbacks of the interfaith pathway for your family?
Benefits: A much more well-rounded education in religion than we would ever get anywhere else. Deeper meanings, debates and conversations about the similarities and differences. A better sense of common ground. Increased tolerance of others’ spiritual choices. Kids who have a sense of belonging… not feeling like something is wrong with them if they aren’t one or the other. Always being challenged to look deeper, understand better, be patient, and think out of the box!
Drawbacks: Having people say “that doesn’t work,” or “your kids will be all confused,” or “you know you’ll have to choose at some point,” and having to take the time to educate them (well, maybe that’s a benefit in disguise though). Not having the intense connection to one faith when it comes to celebrating with extended family.
How have your extended families reacted to your interfaith relationship and your choice of an interfaith community?
I think both sets of parents grew to accept and embrace the interfaith-ness of our family. We had to remember that it was a choice that WE made for ourselves, and that we had had time to grow and commit to it. They had to learn from experience how we dealt with our religions within our home before they could fully accept that we weren’t watering anything down, and that we kept important traditions. To have our mothers making latkes together while the dads played a spirited game of dreidel… and then the next week all singing Christmas carols together around the piano… priceless!
How do you feel about the formation of your childrens’ religious identities, so far?
They seem to have a good handle on their religious identities so far. We talk a lot about beliefs when they come up, and find that we can have some great conversations and debates. We celebrate all major holidays, and some minor ones too, in our home with great spirit and fullness. Our feeling is that, as long as they keep asking questions and feel free to discuss, interpret and explore all concepts of religion, then we are on the right track. We can only hope though, that we give them a good foundation on which to build their own beliefs and ideals.
What do you think are the secrets to your successful interfaith marriage?
Communication, trust, willingness to make compromises, being able to talk about difficult subjects, being willing to create new traditions that have meaning to our family, courage to forge through uncharted territory and challenge old ways of thinking, and being honest and respectful about our comfort levels when it comes to religion. For instance, having a Christmas tree was a big deal to my husband, but was initially uncomfortable for me. We compromised on a table-top tree that we bring home on December 20th every year. We know where each other’s limits are, and we respect them, but discuss them as well.
Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family by Susan Katz Miller, available now in hardcover, paperback, and eBook from Beacon Press.