With Rosh Hashanah beginning on the evening of September 16th, and Yom Kippur on the evening of September 25th, autumn sends many interfaith families on a search for a spiritual home. Some of us find shelter in Unitarian-Universalist communities, some of us find a good match in Baha’i or Buddhist practice. For those who want to give their children specific Jewish education and identity, two different options now exist in many places. Jewish communities have become more inclusive and welcoming to interfaith families. And at the same time, independent and intentional interfaith communities for families practicing and teaching both Judaism and Christianity are growing.
Many Jewish communities are beginning to understand that some interfaith families will have Christmas trees, will celebrate Christian holidays with extended family, will, on some level, always be interfaith families, even if the non-Jewish spouse agrees to raise Jewish children. Jewish religious educators and clergy have set up new programs to serve these families, and have become more skilled in creating warm and appreciative pathways for interfaith families choosing membership in Jewish communities.
What you will not find in these Jewish interfaith family programs is the support and advice of Christian clergy, or education in Christianity for your children. Intentional, independent interfaith communities began to grow in many cities across the country in the 1980s, fueled by a desire to provide literacy in both Judaism and Christianity for children, and spiritual support for both spouses.
As the High Holy Days approach, I wanted to provide a single post with links to the major independent interfaith family communities supporting families in celebrating both religions.The High Holy Day services these organizations provide, or the Jewish services they attend as a group, are not a mixture of the two religions. They are traditional services, chosen or designed to be as welcoming and inclusive as possible, and celebrated by interfaith families together as a group that shares profound respect for both religions.
In New York, intermarried couples first designed their own High Holy Day services led by interfaith families in the 1980s, and those services continue today. Now, families from the Interfaith Community chapters in Manhattan, Long Island, Westchester, Orange/Bergen/Rockland Counties, Danbury, Connecticut, and Boston gather to celebrate together both in their own events, and with local Jewish communities.
In Chicago, Jewish and Catholic families have been teaching children both religions since 1993. In downtown Chicago, families from the Interfaith Family School and the Jewish Catholic Couples Dialogue Group, and suburban interfaith families from the Interfaith Union, gather together at local synagogues for the High Holy Days.
And in Washington DC, my own community, the Interfaith Families Project, now provides a complete set of traditional, progressive High Holy Day services specifically designed by and geared towards interfaith families, led by Rabbi Harold White, the retired chaplain of Georgetown University. Families from our community have also launched a new interfaith community in the Philadelphia area.
Each fall provides a new chance to connect with other interfaith families, to begin religious education for your children, to discover or rediscover the beauty of the Jewish holidays that coincide with the new school year. As the days grow shorter, return, renew, rejoice in the many options for interfaith families.