The Interfaith Roots of Halloween

A year ago, I posted this essay just after Halloween. I don’t intend to start reposting, but I thought I would give my newer readers a chance to read these seasonal thoughts as the holiday approaches…

On Saturday night (Halloween), I was out late partying with people dressed variously as a dying newspaper, Facebook (the culprit), Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. On Sunday morning, I woke up, shook off my candy hangover, and went to celebrate All Saints and All Souls Days with our interfaith community.

Halloween is the quintessential interfaith holiday, with both pagan and Christian roots, and an enthusiastic following among Jews. When I was growing up, no one questioned that American Jews should celebrate Halloween. But then again, it was an era when many Jews celebrated secular Christmas.

More recently, fear of assimilation and a return to deeper Jewish practice triggered a lively debate on whether or not Jews should celebrate Halloween at all. As an interfaith family and community, our thirst for full educational disclosure drives us to explore the religious origins and meaning of the holiday, rather than staying on the secularized, commercial surface. And thinking about the history of this interfaith holiday, and even developing a specifically Jewish perspective on Halloween, enlivens and enriches the holiday, and imbues it with special resonance for interfaith families.

The Spiritual Leader of our interfaith community, Reverend Julia Jarvis, stood in front of the hundreds of members of our community on Sunday morning and explained the pagan origins of Halloween, and how a Roman Pope encouraged the incorporation of this pre-Christian festival into the Catholic calendar, and the distinctions between All Saints and All Souls Days. A Catholic member of our group, married to a Jew, recounted with wise humor how praying to Saint Gerard, patron saint of motherhood, gave her comfort and strength when she was facing infertility.

Next, our Spiritual Advisor, Rabbi Harold White, stepped up to give a Jewish perspective on All Souls and All Saints. He made the distinction between the Christian veneration of dead saints, and the mystical Jewish tradition of the 36 righteous people (Lamed Vav Tzadikim), akin to living Jewish saints, who walk the earth in each era. He also compared the restless souls of Halloween to the dybukkim of Jewish folklore: I imagine the Christian and Jewish spirits roaming together among the living, neither of them able to settle into their graves.

Then our folk band lead us in singing  Mi Sheberach, a prayer of healing, while community members placed rocks into a bowl in remembrance of their personal saints, or loved ones who struggle or are gone from us. This is a ritual our community adapted from Unitarian congregations, but by singing a traditional Hebrew prayer, we both comfort our Jewish members with a familiar song and help to create a connection in our children to Jewish practice.

So what did our interfaith community take away from our All Saints and All Souls gathering? The sizable contingent of adult atheists and secularists in our community enjoyed the cerebral and historical perspective. The practicing Catholics appreciated recognition of the spiritual side of these holidays, so often overshadowed by pumpkins and chocolate. Children heard an affectionate reflection on saints from a Catholic parent. They learned from our rabbi that this is a Christian holiday, but that Jews can have a respectful and appreciative perspective on it. And they learned about the Jewish tradition of the 36 righteous, and about dybbukim.

We mourned and provided comfort to each other as a community. And then, to emphasize the continuity of life even in the face of death, the band struck up a rowdy rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Community members leapt into the aisle and joined hands to dance in a line that wove around the room: it was a joyful interfaith hora, New Orleans style. My 12-year-old son darted from his place in the band and joined the dancers, playing a djembe strapped to his chest. I am betting that he will remember that there is more to Halloween than candy, and that he will feel in his bones that belonging to an interfaith community can be both a cerebral and ecstatic experience.

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Interfaith Families: Wrestling with Jesus

In my community of interfaith families, we do not avoid confronting and contemplating the concepts of Jesus that we hold, as Jews and Christians. In our Adult Group this morning, we wrestled with Jesus, and at times, with each other.

Years ago now, a member of our community, Lance Flitter, contributed an essay to the compilation Seeing Jesus Through Jewish Eyes, about how his interfaith marriage transformed his attitude towards Jesus. Like many other Jews, Lance admits that he did not think about Jesus very much until he married a Christian woman. He compared Christianity to the air: something pervasive, all around him, but rarely acknolwedged. After his intermarriage, he began exploring the historical Jesus, and came to appreciate him as a religious reformer who stood up for what he thought was right, as other Jewish prophets had done before him. Lance also discovered Jesus as a social egalitarian, willing to hang around with women, lepers, the outcasts of the time. As we continue to build our interfaith families community, without much support or acknowledgment from religious institutions, Lance notes that  “Jesus as a breaker of social barriers resonates with me in the context of an interfaith community.”

Longtime Adult Group leader Ian Spatz, also Jewish, then described his positive attitude toward a Jesus whom he sees as standing for inclusion. He noted, “To become a Christian, you don’t have to be part of a certain tribe, or be born from the right mother.” These issues of tribalism sit heavy on the hearts of many intermarried, interfaith and converted Jews. Another Jewish partner talked about what I think of as Jesus Envy: a sense that Jesus brought peace and inspired spirituality in a way that is inaccessible to Jews.

But then a Jewish woman admitted to being frightened in childhood by the idea of Jesus, of being uncomfortable with the idea of Jesus even now. Others nodded, finding her fear familiar. Lance pointed out that this fear is logical after two thousand years of some Christians labeling Jews as Christ-killers. A Jewish man said, “So much is done in the name of Jesus that is antithetical to his social justice teaching.”

A Catholic talked about growing up with the idea of Jesus as love, and being shocked to discover that Jesus could cause fear and discomfort in her partner, in others. A Protestant woman described growing up in the Bible Belt, where she experienced Jesus as a “weapon of exclusion” rather than inclusion, explaining, “I understand the fear, because I see how Jesus was used to exclude people who did not accept him as a savior.” A woman raised in Orthodox Judaism talked about being taught to believe that Jesus was a heretic, a false prophet, and that Christians were lazy for believing that Jesus died for their sins, rather than taking responsibility for their own sins. Sitting beside her Christian partner, she now calls this attitude “arrogant.”

Another woman raised as  a “Trinitarian” says she can no longer subscribe to the idea of Jesus as a personal savior, but that the historical Jesus is “what keeps me calling myself a Christian” and that the attempt by religious historians and theologians to understand what Jesus actually said and did, as opposed to the later evolution of Christian dogma, is potential common ground for Christians married to Jews. Another Jewish woman, married to a Catholic, concluded the discussion with these wise words:  “I don’t think we can or should smooth it all over.”

A similar conversation is taking place now all over America, in what I think of as small “i” interfaith dialogue. But here in capital “I” Interfaith Families, there is no retreating from this topic into separate corners at the end of the discussion. No matter how hard these conversations sometimes are, we must wrestle with them continuously, in order to create a healthy environment of mutual respect for our children. This does not mean we wish to solve or dissolve the differences, or erase the experiences we bring to our families as Christians and Jews. In raising children together, we share a common goal of presenting a Jesus who is not feared or forbidden, who preached on the subject of love, who inspires to this day. To do this, we do not need to aspire to or pretend to consistency within our families, or within our community, on the question of his divinity.

Successful Interfaith Marriage: Anne and Danny

When a family chooses a religious identity, each family member has a unique response based on background, expectations, and personality. Today, I post the thoughts of Anne Stewart, a long-time Sunday School teacher in our Interfaith Families Project (IFFP). Her husband, Danny Weiss, arrived at IFFP deeply sceptical, and quickly became Chair of the Board. Anne speaks to the benefits, and the drawbacks, of choosing the interfaith pathway for themselves, and for their two daughters, who are now 12 and 15 years old.

Religious Background

I was raised in a Vatican II-era Catholic Church in Pittsburgh in which social justice work in the community was the primary concern of the parish.  I went to Catholic school through the fifth grade, and to a Catholic women’s college.  My father was raised Protestant, and he did not attend church with us.  He did, however, go to a Catholic college, and was pretty comfortable with the traditions. My parents were married in the Catholic Church, but they had to stand “outside the altar” because my father was Protestant.  Both of my grandparents accepted that their children were marrying “outside the faith” in part because they were all in the same neighborhood/social class.

Danny was raised in a culturally Jewish household that celebrated all the major Jewish holidays–Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah and Passover–at home, not in a temple.  They did not belong to a temple and  did not attend religious school.  They had a secular Christmas celebration during which they exchanged presents, but they did not have a tree. He grew up overhearing a lot of talk from one side of his family about “Goyem this…” and “Goyem that…”, which Danny interpreted as disparaging of non-Jews.

Interfaith Marriage

We became a couple in 1988 and married in 1992.  Our first serious discussion of religious identity as a couple came with the planning of the wedding.  I insisted that we be married under some greater authority than the State, but had no preference about a rabbi, priest, or both. When Danny and I first became a couple in 1988, Danny was living in the home of Reverend William Sloane Coffin, and his wife Randy. Bill Coffin was an old and close friend of Danny’s mom. It became obvious that the Weiss family, including Danny, would feel most comfortable with Bill doing the wedding.  In our first meeting with Bill, Danny asked that Bill not use the word “God” in our ceremony.  I strongly disagreed, as that was the point of having a person of the cloth. Bill was used to this sort of thing, and said. “Danny, my boy, you’ll get over it.”  Coffin was a hero to my liberal family, so that was an easy compromise.  To this day, I believe that the presence of Bill Coffin in Danny’s life played a pivotal role in my trusting that Danny would “come around” to being okay with religion in our lives.

Choosing a Religious Community

As a married couple, we went to a few masses at Georgetown and to our local church.  For me, they were too white and upper-class, so that was that.  We went to a service at one temple because Danny had a connection to a rabbi there and I went to check out another one.  I didn’t like the Reform synagogues—too much like Protestant churches, or something.  Danny did not really feel comfortable in a synagogue, anyway. I saw an ad in a paper for IFFP, and decided we would check it out.  When we got there, we saw our pediatrician, which gave us the feeling that it wasn’t “weird.”  I think Danny may have chatted with a kindred sceptic. It was Danny who felt comfortable.  I could be comfortable anywhere, so this was a big plus that he liked the guys he talked to there.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Choosing Both

The Benefits seem obvious—you live in a bigger world, you learn more, you understand more, you discuss/debate more.  All things we both like, that suit our personalities.

Drawbacks—what we are/do is really hard to explain; no helpful vocabulary (we are NOT Unitarian); we are a minority; our children are “different” from their observant Catholic or observant Jewish friends—there is no getting around this one—they have the burden of explaining; they get told things like:  You can’t be Jewish because your mother isn’t; You can’t take Communion (but they do); You don’t really know Hebrew, right?  In the end, telling someone you belong to an interfaith congregation is either a conversation starter or a conversation stopper.  On average, I would say that it is a conversation stopper if I am talking to someone who is Jewish.

Family Responses

My extended family is progressive/liberal thinking, so our choice has not been an issue.  I think the fact that my Irish Grandfather married a Hungarian and that my Catholic Mom married a Protestant were helpful in all of this. Danny is a special person—everyone loved him from Day 1, so that helped.  My extended family was thrilled to come to our older daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.  It has been an added benefit that Rabbi White is from Georgetown (a Jesuit university).

Danny’s family has had a harder time with Danny being in any religious community, particularly his mom, who was raised atheist. In recent years, Danny’s dad has thanked me for bringing Jewish learning into the family. It was very moving that Danny’s dad participated in our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah—he hired a tutor for himself to learn the Torah Reading. I believe strongly that without IFFP, Danny would not have found a comfortable place to develop a religious identity.

Identity of the Children

Our older daughter has stated that she is glad she can “count herself as Jewish” when she is with Jewish kids.  When asked why she feels she can, she says it is because she had the Bat Mitzvah. She hated IFFP, because of the touchy-feely nature of the program/gatherings. But she loved the Bat Mitzvah process she went through with a close friend from IFFP. She may have been better-off in a traditional Sunday school/church/synagogue setting—she is not a person who likes to stand out or be different.

Our younger daughter is a more naturally spiritual soul.  She does not mind IFFP, and sees herself as both. However, the rituals that you get in a Mass, or maybe even in an Orthodox Jewish service, are probably something that she would like more. She would have liked to know more about angels, mystery, etc. She loves to go to Mass with my Pittsburgh family—the candles, the smells… It concerns me how quick she likes to say that Jesus did not really rise from the dead.  I have to coach her about being more sensitive about this topic. I believe both my children are missing a sense of wonder, mystery, overall “Godness” that I had growing up in the Catholic Church.  This is a loss, and they may get it on their own someday, but I think it is harder as an adult.

The Secrets of Successful Interfaith Marriage

I hear a lot of people say that the way interfaith marriage works is through acceptance.  In our marriage, I would say that each of us has embraced the other’s traditions.  I mean really enjoyed them, learned about them, got excited about them, looked forward to them and then shared them.   I have loved all the cooking I’ve done for Jewish holidays—and inviting people who may have never celebrated them.  My mother’s 70th birthday was over Passover—we had a formal Passover dinner as part of the weekend celebration.  Danny loves to go to the Christmas Eve Service, the tree, the crèche, all of it.  So I think the “secret” is that you remember why you married the person—to expand your life, to make your world bigger. That has given us the rich opportunity to learn more about the religious traditions we grew up with, and then learn about each other’s, and then create more traditions together. Danny and I and our children have a more spiritually fulfilling life as a result.

 

Susan Katz Miller is the author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, from Beacon Press. She works as an interfaith families consultant, speaker, and coach. Follow her on twitter @susankatzmiller.

 

Chilean miners, the Interfaith Spouse as Holy Other, Buber’s “I and Thou,” and Cats

As we watched the Chilean miners emerge last night, one by one, from their nifty rescue capsule, the camera captured one miner testifying about his faith in God. My thirteen-year-old son stunned me by commenting, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”

I do not know where he picked up this aphorism (or how he knows about foxholes), but I was interested to see the philosophical gears turning. Part of the Jewish identity I cling to, and one of the aspects I want to impart to my interfaith children, is the lifelong love of questioning and wrestling with the concept of God.

That questioning and wrestling is a constant theme in our interfaith families community, where we are lucky to have Rabbi Harold White as one of our two Spiritual Directors. Rabbi White tells engaging personal stories steeped in intellect and mysticism, and he constantly challenges the members of our community, both young and old, to wrestle with theology. My son listens closely when the Rabbi speaks.

Just last week, Rabbi White led us in a discussion of Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. Buber, who was born in Vienna and fled Europe for the Holy Land, lectured in his later years at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, a headquarters of progressive Christian thinking. During this same period, in the 1950s, Harold White was studying to become a rabbi at Jewish Theological Seminary, in the same neighborhood. “Morningside Heights, on the Upper West Side, was called the American Acropolis” because of the density of great teachers and thinkers there, recalls Rabbi White. He had the privilege of studying with many of them: Buber, but also Abraham Joshua Heschel, Paul Tillich, and others.

Buber lectured at the Christian seminary, and his influence, the rabbi noted, was perhaps greater on Christian theologians. His stance in favor of a single bi-national Israeli state embracing both Arabs and Jews created controversy in his own tribe, as did his openness to thinking about and writing about Jesus the Jew. (He wrote: “I do not believe in Jesus but I believe with him.”) Buber was an early proponent of interfaith dialogue, and his house in Germany now serves as a center for the International Council of Christians and Jews.

But Buber’s greatest contribution to religious thinking is the idea of the “I-Thou” relationship, a personal relationship the individual has with God, but also with fellow beings, with the “holy other.”  He described “I-Thou” meetings as “strange, lyric and dramatic episodes, seductive and magical, but tearing us away to dangerous extremes. . .shattering security.” Rabbi White has very eloquently cited his understanding of Buber in his own decision to perform interfaith marriages. (It is interesting to read the recent explanation by Rabbi James Ponet, who co-officiated at the wedding of Chelsea Cinton and Marc Mezvinsky, of how he came to make the same decision.)

Anyway, I was not entirely surprised to learn that Buber had married Paula Winkler, a woman of German Caholic background. She converted, but according to Rabbi White, she did so only years into their relationship, before having children (presumably so that the children would be considered Jewish). Buber was notoriously uncomfortable with answering questions from the press about his personal life. But when I asked Rabbi White whether he thought Buber’s intermarriage influenced his development of the “I-Thou” concept, he replied, “Of course!”

But Rabbi White (a great cat-fancier himself) pointed out that Buber also used as an example of the “I-Thou” relationship the deep and wordless communication he shared with his cat, who would sit on Buber’s round stomach, purring.  Of course, fully embracing a human being, a being who will talk back and who brings their own spiritual baggage, no matter what their religion, is significantly more complicated than communing with a cat.

My Big, Fat Interfaith Wedding

I got married 23 years ago today. Okay, so our wedding wasn’t really big or fat. It was a relatively modest affair, in a tent in my backyard, organized in a matter of weeks. But it was a joyous occasion for us, and for the extended family on all sides: Reform Jews, Episcopalians and Congregationalists, Catholics who married in and became Protestants, and at least one Protestant who now attends a mosque. We had been dating on and off for 12 years, and any hesitation our parents felt about our intermarriage was outweighed by relief that we were finally getting off the fence. Anyway, the fact that my own parents had been happily intermarried for a quarter of a century by then, tended to mute any concern about religious differences.

When we decided on a rabbi and a minister to co-officiate at our ceremony, we signaled to our friends and family that we were going to respect and draw on both family religions. In 1987, there was no such thing as a community for interfaith families. The interfaith movement was actually born that same year, when a group of families in New York City set up an interfaith afterschool program for their children at the private Trinity School. By almost incredible coincidence, the minister closest to us and the one we chose to co-officiate, my husband’s wonderful first cousin, the Reverend Rick Spalding, co-taught with a rabbi in that interfaith afterschool program.

Both because of his immersion in the interfaith culture of New York, and his family ties to us, Reverend Rick gave a warm and personal reflection at our wedding, casting our interfaithness in a most positive light. For a rabbi, we had to scrounge around a bit, after the rabbi at my temple refused to officiate. Finding a rabbi who would perform an interfaith marriage seemed to require my parents to make sotto voce inquiries, as if seeking a connection for some sort of illicit trade. I was grateful when they found Rabbi Benjamin Rudavsky, a brave and controversial rabbi who understood early on that rejecting interfaith couples is not good for the Jews. For me, the balance of the family warmth provided by Reverend Rick, and the ancient Jewish rituals and language provided by the rabbi, seemed fitting and right.

Although we met with both the Rabbi and the Reverend to plan our interfaith wedding service, we did not really have a plan for raising our children. In fact we were not ready for children yet at all, and we waited seven years before having our first child. But the idea that Rick was teaching those interfaith kids in New York certainly planted a seed of possibility in our minds.

Just three days after marrying, we set off to spend three years in Africa, and later spent three more years in Brazil. Ten years went by before we found ourselves settling back in the US with an infant and a toddler, and looking to establish a coherent religious identity for our family. In the meantime, the idea of an interfaith community had spread from New York to Washington, and as fate would have it, we settled right in the suburb where the DC interfaith group was beginning to take off. The rest, as they say, is history chronicled on this blog.

Today, I celebrate our 23 years as an accomplishment: a journey of passion and adventure, but also of hard work and compromises. Disagreements? There have been many. But I can say, with total honesty, that we have never had a disagreement about religious practice or theology, or how to raise our children as spiritual beings. We have found our interfaith community to be a font of inspiration, emotional support, and intellectual stimulation. And the essential interfaithness of our marriage has inspired creativity and heightened our mindfulness of family rituals and shared values.

 

Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family by Susan Katz Miller, available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.

Successful Interfaith Marriage: Marci and Rich

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 and Rich Shegogue met doing musical theater in college. In our interfaith families community (IFFP), they are active volunteers, infusing our program with music. Marci fronts the band during our weekly Gatherings, when we sing songs and reflect together, and she usually leads us in the Hamotzi (the Hebrew blessing over bread) before we break for bagels and cream cheese. Rich is known for his gorgeous tenor voice, and he frequently leads us in chanting the Lord’s Prayer, or performs a selection from Godspell. During Sunday School, Marci and Rich visit our interfaith classrooms with their guitars, teaching songs from both traditions.

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.

100 Essays: Interfaith Children, Interfaith Parents, Interfaith Families

I have now posted 100 essays on this blog: essays on interfaith identity, interfaith community, interfaith parenting, interfaith marriage. And yes, these are essays, not just “blogposts.” For 25 years, I wrote for Newsweek, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, New Scientist…and now I write for this blog. So I defend my online work as writing, while also claiming the blogger title.

Early on, I decided to buck the conventional wisdom that blog-readers do not want to read more than a paragraph or two. As much as I like to “drive traffic” to my blog, my primary goal here is to create a body of reflections on interfaith life, and to provide hope and encouragement to interfaith couples who continue to wrestle with distressed relatives, with misinformed or disapproving clergy, with the constant refrain of “you have to choose one.” To explain our complex and controversial approach to “doing both,” to provide detail and humor and depth, requires a longer essay format. So thank you for staying with me, and not clicking away after 200 words. The community connected through this blog continues to grow, and to spread geographically, so I do not think I overestimated your attention span.

While writing these hundred essays, I have witnessed a sort of coming-of-age for the idea of a more fluid and flexible interfaith identity. The election of our biracial President, a man raised in multiple cultures in two countries, exposed to multiple religions, brought widespread public attention to the idea of our shared hybrid future. The high-profile interfaith marriage of Chelsea Cinton marked another great “coming out” moment for interfaith couples. Meanwhile, surveys have been uncovering what many of us in interfaith families have known all along: that people will define their own spirituality, choose the rituals that still have meaning for them, and switch religious affiliations as adults. And, finally, prominent rabbis have begun to speak out about the need to accept the fact that some interfaith families are going to choose to educate their children about both religions, and they have even begun to imply that this might not be the end of the world, or even the end of the Jews.

The idea of a “half-Jewish” identity is now so de rigeur in the Jewish community that even those who are not half-Jewish are trying to ride the wave: I was amazed and amused recently to read the title of a one-man show currently touring Jewish community centers and theater festivals: “Elon Gold: Half Jewish, Half Very Jewish.” Gold was raised Orthodox, went to Jewish day school, keeps Kosher and doesn’t perform on the Sabbath. This comedian is 100% Jewish, almost any way you want to define it. But he’s riffing on the fact that it’s a half-Jewish zeitgeist out there right now. And he’s probably trying to appeal to all the Jews with interfaith marriages in their families, which is just about all of them, as Jewish intermarriage has reached 80% in some cities.

Meanwhile, Krista Tippett, the host of the most influential religion show on public radio, is changing the name of her program from “Speaking of Faith” to “On Being.” I like to think she’s been reading this blog. But the truth is that both of us have been charting the shift away from religious doctrines and institutions, and toward independent spiritual practices and communities. Tippett’s canvas is broad, all-encompassing, wide-ranging, while I continue to try to chart the untold story of one category of star-crossed interfaith lovers, lovers often forced to defy their families, their institutions, their tribal rules.

So far, publishers have had trouble understanding how to market a book on “being both.” They fret, “It doesn’t fit into any of our categories.” The irony, of course, is that not fitting into those little boxes is precisely the topic at hand. At some point, publishers will understand who we are, understand “being both.” Whether or not you are in an interfaith family yourself, all of you who follow this blog understand that if we venture out of our boxes to dance and converse and study together, the world will be a better place.