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Interfaith SANDBOX

Interfaith Families in Greater MetroWest

What does it mean to be an interfaith* family?

There are many ways we might describe our families, and we want to be as inclusive as possible. We know that many households in Greater MetroWest have one or more members who are Jewish, as well as members who aren’t Jewish. Some may call this interfaith, multi-faith, multicultural.

The organization 18Doors is using the term Interfaith*, with the asterisk, defined as “intercultural, dual-faith, mixed heritage, Jew-ish, or however you describe yourself.”

At Jewish Federation, we’re made stronger by the participation of people of every age, ability, race, ethnicity, denomination, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and religious affiliation, and are committed to ensuring that all are able to engage in meaningful ways in our Jewish community.

 We invite you to review the resources below and join us at an upcoming event.

Meet Jean-Paul Le

Tell us about you and your family (partner, children, extended family). 
My husband, John, and I have been happily married as an intercultural and interfaith marriage since the beginning of the pandemic. We have great family support in New Jersey, New York and even as far as Israel. John works for a fertility pharmacy and I work in criminal court.

How would you describe your own and your family’s religious or cultural identity?   
My husband identifies as a spiritualist and I identify as an Asian/Hispanic Jew even though I was born to a Jewish Peruvian mother and Bhuddist Vietnamese father. My mother-in-law is Italian Catholic which adds an interesting dynamic to the holidays we celebrate.

How do you and your family celebrate and express your religious/cultural identity? 
My husband and I enjoy celebrating some of the major holidays such as Lunar New Year, Easter, Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, and Christmas. It’s a big to-do for our families and we get together and celebrate with each other. Religious differences do not deter from love, respect, familiarity, or celebrations.

Please share a significant experience that has shaped your family’s relationship to Jewish community or Judaism. 
My Jewish identity was greatly strengthened during a Birthright Israel trip, making Aliyah, then living in Israel for a few years. This allowed me to explore not only a religion but a culture more closely and more completely. After getting married, my husband and I participated in Honeymoon Israel, which allowed him to get some of the cultural experiences and joy that I was able to previously enjoy and it was a privilege and pleasure to not only relive those experiences but also share them with someone I love. We both had a great time and made lifelong friends through this experience.

If someone in your family is not Jewish, how do they identify? Do they participate in Jewish life? If so, how? 
My family is interesting in this regard. I’ve previously mentioned my mother, husband, and my in-laws… but my two sisters both identify as Jewish even though they do not actively practice, despite both having visited Israel many times between them. It’s an interesting thing to identify but not practice. What matters is that we all have strong Jewish values.

Meet Mary Fernandez

Tell us about you and your family (partner, children, extended family)
My husband, Adam Buchsbaum, and I have been married for 32 years.  When we were engaged, I agreed to raise our future children as Jews even though I didn’t understand what I was signing up for.  Luckily, I was a quick learner.  We raised our daughters, Elena and Shira, in a Jewish home and at Temple B’nai Or, an inclusive Reform community in Morristown. After 29 years of marriage, I decided to convert to Judaism.  The family joke is that I made a rash decision!

How would you describe your own and your family’s religious or cultural identity?
How I describe myself and our family has changed over time.  Early on, I described myself as a wife and mother in a Jewish family and our family-of-four as interfaith, even though we only practiced Judaism.  Today, I describe myself as a Jew-by-choice, our family of four as Just Jewish, and our extended family as multicultural. Our large Thanksgiving dinners and Pesach seders resemble a convening of the U.N… in a good way. We embrace and celebrate everyone who joins our family.

How do you and your family celebrate and express your religious/cultural identity?
Celebrating Shabbat together every week is the most meaningful and joyous expression of our religious identity.  When our daughters were young, I tried to learn about every Jewish holiday that was celebrated at home and involved food that I could make.  For Purim, I once attempted to bake hamantaschen, which sadly turned out like hockey pucks.  Ever since, I buy them at the bakery.  My ethnic heritage is Irish and Spanish.  Adam is an amazing chef and I am blessed with his homemade corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day and Spanish dishes all year long. Shira’s partner, Pharoah, is not Jewish yet they have agreed to have a Jewish home. Once on a Shabbat during Hanukkah, he asked which candles should be lit first.  I remembered pondering the same question and it made me smile.

Please share a significant experience that has shaped your family’s relationship to Jewish community or Judaism.
Conversion was the most significant experience for me.  After living in a Jewish family and community for almost three decades, I felt completely at ease and prepared and yet was surprised by how deeply I was moved, especially at the mikvah.

Each of us has a unique relationship to Judaism and Jewish peoplehood.  Only recently have I come to understand the myriad ways in which Jews relate to their Jewishness and to recognize and appreciate that diversity in our nuclear and extended family.

 

If someone in your family is not Jewish, how do they identify? Do they participate in Jewish life? If so, how?
Vis a vis religious and cultural identities, our extended family is wildly diverse. We have Jews who practice Judaism and are engaged in Jewish community and Jews who are not; parents who are children of interfaith parents and are raising their own children as Jews, and those who are not; partners of Jews who participate actively in Jewish life, some who do not, and some who practice their own faith.  Our extended family always shows up for each other, no matter the life cycle ritual or holiday, Jewish or not.  I think our efforts to remain united despite diverse origins and perspectives increases our empathy for and acceptance of each other and, hopefully, others whom we encounter in the world.

Meet Michel Ovalle

Tell us about you and your family (partner, children, extended family)
My name is Michel and my husband Oren and I are proudly raising our girls in a home where we strongly value both of our cultures. Oren has a Jewish background with strong ties to Israel through his family and grew up immersed in both the religious and cultural aspects of Judaism. I’m originally from the Dominican Republic and have a very a racially diverse background. My ethnicity and culture is a big part of who I am and it’s important to us that our children are exposed to it and also feel identified with that part of their history.

How would you describe your own and your family’s religious or cultural identity? 
We are very proud to be a multicultural Jewish household.  We have forged our own identity while taking different parts of our upbringing, making new traditions and melding our cultures.

How do you and your family celebrate and express your religious/cultural identity?
As a family, we prioritize celebrating both our religious and cultural identities in our day to day life. Our children are exposed to their Jewish ancestry while at their Early Childhood Center and at home we also incorporate their Dominican heritage by infusing Spanish language, music and food into their day.

Please share a significant experience that has shaped your family’s relationship to Jewish community or Judaism.
The aftermath of October 7 was a major turning point in our lives and increased our sense of urgency when it came to building a stronger Jewish community. It became imperative for us as parents to educate ourselves more and to find others who share our values. We were reminded of Judaism’s focus on family, traditions, community and the desire to leave the world better than we entered it.

If someone in your family is not Jewish, how do they identify? Do they participate in Jewish life? If so, how?
I was born into a Roman Catholic family and most of them today still practice some form of Christianity. We are beyond grateful that they have always been open to participating in Jewish life whether it is by coming to celebrate Jewish holidays at our home or attending Shabbats at our children’s ECC.

Additional Resources:

 

 

Resources for Families:

Looking for a Jewish summer camp for your child? Many Jewish camps joyfully welcome and support interfaith campers and families. Learn more

Children’s books for interfaith families: 

Are you looking for a book featuring a family just like yours? The PJ Library books in this list feature interfaith families, friendships, diverse families, and cross-cultural connections.

Antlers With Candles by Chris Barash
Recommended for ages 3 to 4
Everything looks new when seen from a child’s perspective, including menorahs, dreidels, and latkes. But family togetherness is something everyone understands.

Fridays Are Special by Chris Barash
Recommended for ages 3 to 4
Follow along with a little boy as he celebrates Shabbat with his large, diverse, family.

Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup by Pamela Mayer
Recommended for ages 6 to 7
Sophie has two Grandmas from two different cultures, and they each make their own kind of chicken soup — and each soup is delicious! The more Sophie learns about those soups, the more she realizes how similar they actually are — on many levels.

Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas by Pamela Ehrenberg
Recommended for ages 5 to 7
Instead of latkes, this family celebrates Hanukkah with tasty Indian dosas.

Nonna’s Hanukkah Surprise by Karen Fisman
Recommended for ages 6 to 8
Rachel’s Italian grandma, Nonna, doesn’t celebrate Hanukkah, so Rachel plans to bring Hanukkah to her house. When her plans go awry, Nonna makes it all okay.

The Truth About My Bat Mitzvah by Nora Raleigh Baskin
Recommended for ages 9 to 11
When her beloved grandmother, Nana, dies and leaves her a Star of David necklace, Caroline becomes curious about her Jewish identity. She thinks she might want a Bat Mitzvah like her best friend Rachel, but what is a Bat Mitzvah anyway, and what will her non-Jewish dad think?

The Whole Story of Half A Girl by Veera Hiranandani
Recommended for ages 10 and up
Sixth grader, Sonia Nadhamuni, is half-Jewish and half-South Asian. When her father loses his job, she is forced to switch from a private, alternative school that she loves, to the local public school. Sonia struggles to understand herself and her Jewish identity, particularly in her relationships with Alisha (an African American aspiring writer) and Kate (a popular cheerleader).

 

Did you know?

Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ is planning a Honeymoon Israel trip in December?  

Honeymoon Israel provides immersive trips to Israel for locally based cohorts of couples that have at least one Jewish partner, but of all cultural, racial, religious, gender, and sexual identities.

Learn more

Numbers, Facts, and Trends Shaping Our World

According to a report by the Pew Research Center in 2021, about two-thirds of U.S. Jewish adults are either married (59%) or living with a partner (7%). Among those who are married, many have spouses who are not Jewish. Fully 42% of all currently married Jewish respondents indicate they have a non-Jewish spouse. Among those who have gotten married since 2010, 61% are intermarried.