Interfaith Families & Judaism

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Children and a Jewish/Christian home - possible to merge?

April 2007 I have a friend, raised Christian, who is seriously dating a Jewish man. They deeply love each other, and are considering marriage. One of the things she's grappling with is how they would raise their children in a home with two faiths.

This goes beyond having a Christmas tree and a menorah in December. She has a meaningful connection to her faith, finds comfort in it, but also respects and appreciates the traditions of Judaism. She wants to be able to talk about the traditions of both religions, celebrate meaningfully the major holidays for both, and participate in the traditions and rituals of both in a way that does not diminish or de-value the faith of either.

Has anyone out there been able to accomplish this kind of merging? Not just cultural merging, but spiritual. Any experiences, advice, places you think we could find more information would be helpful. Anon

Kehilla Community Synagogue has some great interfaith services.

You might want to check out the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco's Interfaith Connection Program ( They have ongoing groups and workshops on this topic. One workshop is titled ''Yours, Mine and Ours: Negotiating Interfaith/Intercultural Family Choices.'' Another is called ''Mixed Blessings: The Challenges of Raising Children in a Jewish-Christian Family'' -- and there are others. Linda

I wanted to weigh in. My husband is half Jewish (his father). His dad wasn't really into the spiritual part of Judaism. He went to Jewish school in his early year but was never fully confirmed and because his mother isn't Jewish, there are always those who will say ''he's not really Jewish.'' We got together right when I was re-exlporing my faith, Catholic. I'm a pretty liberal Catholic and at one point we were going to the Late Shabbat services in San Francisco, which I loved and I considered converting. I realized, tho, that it was easier to be a questioner in my own faith, found a Church that was more liberal and have been very happy there. My husband has no desire to become Catholic, but we agreed to baptize our kids. They will get instruction until First Communion. After that, they will decide if they want to be confirmed.

I have reconciled with my faith and am experiencing my journey and sharing it with my children. My husband's connection to his faith is very loose so we try and participate in the Jewish holidays to give our kids a connection.

If both are connected spiritually, as in your friend's case, it's tougher. I think, no matter what, it's best to choose one. There are some fundamental differences between Judaism and Christianity. Whatever you do, it must be honest and sincere or it will not mean anything to your children. I would recommend talking to an interfaith counselor in both faiths to help your decision. I hate to be sexist here, but all my friends who married someone from another faith have followed the faith of the mother. I'm not saying it has to be that way, but that is what I have as evidence, but in all cases, one faith predominates.

Good luck. It's not easy. anon

Secular Jew married to atheist wants ''religious'' framework for kids

April 2006 Secular Jewish mother married to atheist, wanting ''religious'' framework for kids

My husband has left it up to me and will support my decision as to how to give our kids (preschool age) a sense of their religious backgrounds. We both have the same set of ethics and principles etc., but I am struggling with wanting to give my kids a sense of their Jewish heritage in a supportive setting without the danger of any strong religious dogma. Are there any religious establishments out there that don't ram it down kids' throats? Do they get a balanced perspective that there are other faiths, and that no one religion is better than the next?

I want to do something but I am afraid of the traditional Sunday school approach, and don't want a new age thing either.

Any ideas? anon

I don't know if this might be what you seek, but in my opinion the First Unitarian Church of Oakland provides a great non-religious religious environment. It embraces all spiritual beliefs and provides a setting for respecting and sharing different peoples' approaches to praciting their ''faith.'' And, it is extremenly child/family friendly. I would highly recommend you explore it. It is located at 685 14th Street. Anon

I was raised by agnostic parents and converted to Judaism a few years ago; I'm married to a Reform Jew, and we're raising our kids Jewish, but with awareness and acceptance of many other religions, holidays, etc. We do this without going to any synagogue or church services.

Every Friday night we light candles, eat challah bread, and sing prayers. We have Passover and Hanukkah celebrations with friends, and build a sukkah in our backyard. We also go to Christmas parties, have Easter egg hunts, and join in other celebrations with friends and family.

Our kids know they are Jewish, yet embrace Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc.. On the Jewish holidays we pull out kids' books about them, and a general ''Children's Bible'' and read that holiday's story to them. We talk about Israel, and will talk about the Holocaust in more detail when they're older. They're young still (3 kids under 7) but already have a religious identity, and awareness of others' religions. We're pretty anti-established-religion, and on a tight budget...this is working out great for us so far.

We hope they'll be bat/bar mitzvahed in the future--maybe we'll join a synagogue; maybe we'll hire someone to study with them and have the ceremony in the backyard. Since Judaism is a home-based religion, we feel we have many options. Mazel Tov!

Have you thought about a Unitarian Universalist church? We've been members for years and particular appreciate it now that we are parents. From the UUA website ( ''With its historical roots in the Jewish and Christian traditions, Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion -- that is, a religion that keeps an open mind to the religious questions people have struggled with in all times and places. We believe that personal experience, conscience and reason should be the final authorities in religion, and that in the end religious authority lies not in a book or person or institution, but in ourselves. We are a ''non-creedal'' religion: we do not ask anyone to subscribe to a creed.''

Many interfaith families have found a place in a UU church, as have many others, like us, who discovered the Christian churches we grew up didn't speak to the adults we became. UU's seek truth and meaning in the texts and traditions of many religions, including Judaism, and offer a place and a community where you can forge your own spiritual path. For children, it offers not ''Sunday School,'' but ''Religious Education,'' oriented toward learning about religion and spirituality without indoctrination in a particular faith. The church is also strongly oriented to social justice work, and has a long history of putting faith into action dating back to abolition, and including the modern civil rights movement and the current drive for marriage equality.

We happily attend First Unitarian Church in downtown Oakland, which has a great intergenerational service and a strong music program (, but there are many others to choose from around the Bay Area (

Good luck with your search! Happy to be UU

You might find a Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregation right for you and your family. Religious education in UU churches helps children develop their own systems of belief and teaches them ethics and justice. Children are introduced to the values and beliefs of many religions (eastern and western) and taught to respect and gather wisdom from all. Most UUs started out Jewish, Catholic or Protestant. Some are still Christian or Jewish. Some are agnostics or atheists. Some believe in an earth- based spirituality. Some are Buddhists. Some are humanists. Some are theists. We all believe in the search for truth and a deeper meaning in life. It's a great place for children to learn to appreciate themselves and others -- and to find there are others around them with similar beliefs. I was raised in a very Reformed Temple and this has been a good fit for me. I belong to the UU church in Oakland ( There are many more UU congregations in the bay area. (You can find them at Good luck with your search. Lisa

I was raised a secular Jew. I joined a synagogue because, like you, I wanted to give my daughter a sense of her Jewish heritage. One of the primary reasons I chose Kehilla Community Synagogue ( was because it is a place where you can believe in God in whatever way is comfortable for you, including, not believing in God. It is absolutely a place where other faiths are respected. There are many interfaith families who are members. Here's a comment a friend made regarding my daughters Bat Mitzvah service -- ''I found the service to be a celebration of good living rather than instilling fear of the consequences of bad living...'' A Spiritual Jew

Also received 4 reviews of Tehiyah School

Non-practicing husband wants to learn more about his heritage

April 2004

I am an African-American mother about to give birth to a biracial child very soon. My partner is half Anglo and half Jewish. I am very knowledgable about and have strong ties to my family and ethnic heritage. However, my partner grew up in a situation where his Jewish heritage was ''not really discussed''. His mother's family immigrated here from Russia two generations ago. Unfortunately, his aunt, who was very knowledgable about their Jewish family's history, passed on before he had a chance to record anything (She was the last living relative from that side of the family!)

He would like to learn more about his Jewish heritage but is at a lost about how to exactly do that. We both think that it would be positive for our daughter to have a strong sense of the rich cultural heritage and traditions of both of our backgrounds. Any ideas or recommendations about what my partner can do to learn more about his Jewish heritage? He's not interested in converting per se...but we would welcome any advice concerning books or cultural centers that might help him reconnect to his lost roots! Thanks!

There are many congregations in the Bay Area that would welcome your family - whether you want to join or not - to come to events, services, Torah study, etc. Our multi-racial family goes to Beth El, in Berkeley. While there aren't LOTS of multi- racial families, there are some and there are lots of inter- faith families, atheists and agnostics. We have a wide vaiety of programming for adults, all of which everyone is welcome to attend. You could call or drop by and get a schedule and our clergy is very open to talking to people who want to connect/reconnect with Judaism. Beth El is at Arch and Vine, in North Berkeley. The number is 848-3988. I'm sure you would find other great resources at a number of other congregations. And of course there's the Jewish Community Center, also in North Berkeley. Feel free to call or email if you'd like to talk more. Good luck! Amy

Congratulations on your upcoming baby! Congregation Beth El is having a class right now called Baby is a Blessing. It is on Tuesday's at 10 am. It explores many of the things you and your partner are interested in learning more about. By the time you read this there will be only one class left on May 4 but you might want to check it out. Rabbi Jane Litman is the Rabbi Educator at Beth El. She would be a good resource to find out more. The number there is 510-848-3988. I went through the same process and questioning when our daughter was born and we found Beth El to be a wonderful community and have since joined the congregation. Julie

There are many, many books about Jewish history and cultural heritage. I can recommend a few that are also fun to read. Yesterday; a memoir of a Russian Jewish Family by Miriam Shomer Zunser is a great read. It was written by a mother for her children, so that they would know something about their roots. I know it is in the library at UCB I'm not sure where else you can find it (out of print). Beyond The Pale by Elana Dykewoman is historical fiction about a Jewish woman who emmigrates from Russia at the turn of the 20th century. Fiction, but carefully researched and a fun read. I would also reccommend stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer. I think the JCC on Rose at Shattuck has many family programs and is not too religious. Best Wishes Tamar

There are lots of things your husband can do in the Bay Area to get better in touch with his Jewish roots. One thing he can do is visit the Judah L. Magnes Museum on Russell Street in Berkeley, near the Claremont. The Magnes is the third largest Jewish museum in the US and has an amazing collection of Judaica and Jewish art. Its exhibits are stimulating for Jews and non-Jews alike. There are even kid programs. Its website is

The Chabad house in Berkeley is a traditional Hasidic community but they do great children's programs. When your child is born, check them out. I took my daughters to a matzoh making demonstration once. The Traveling Jewish Theater performs at Julia Morgan theater and is a great acting group. There is also the Jewish Film Festival which has great movies by Jews, about Jews, and about issues affecting Jews. He could learn a lot about his heritage that way.

Lehrhaus Judaica has many classes, as does the Berkeley- Richmond Jewish Community Center. All those places have web sites, as does the East Bay Jewish Federation. The new Jewish Community Center in San Francisco has music recitals, plays, kids programs, etc.

As you see, there are many programs that are not centered on synagogues and religious life. Frances

I would suggest checking out Lehrhaus Judaica which is the adult school for Jewish studies. They are located in Berkeley but they offer courses throughout the Bay Area. ( They have a class titled: ''Essentials of Judaism: A Beginner's Basics Course'' that offers both Jews and non-Jews an opportunity to enrich their basic knowledge of Judaism and is open to all. Another source is the Community Rabbi Program. This program ''helps Jews find their spiritual roots within the Greater East Bay Jewish community, through pastoral care, spiritual counseling, and community connections.'' Community Rabbi of the Greater East Bay Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay 300 Grand Avenue, Oakland, CA 94610 (510) 839-2900 x212 Helena

I'm sure you will get a ton of advice from the large and welcoming Jewish community here in Berkeley. I just thought I would give a non-Jewish perspective. I was raised Christian and now just consider myself ''spiritual'', but not necessarily religious. I am drawn to and intrigued by study of different religious beliefs. My next-door Neighbor is a long-time Jewish educator who used to teach at Beth El in Berkeley on Vine Street. I recently (Saturday last) attended a Bar Mitzvah at Beth El and found the Cantor and the Rabbi both to be splendidly friendly and welcoming people, as much interested in teaching about Judaism as I was in hearing what they had to say. Therefore, from my own experience as a Goya (Non-Jewish girl) (probably spelled wrong?) asking about Judaism at Beth El, I can highly recommend doing the same. Even if you, like me, pick and choose what you do and do not believe, Judaism has a wonderful history and heritage and is very fascinating to learn about. Karin

Hi! There is a wonderful interfaith newsletter that provides lots of resources. Here is the info: It is a joint project of Building Jewish Bridges in Oakland and The Interfaith Connection in San Francisco. If you have friends who would like to subscribe, have them send an email to dawn[AT] mailto:dawn[AT] with the subject line ''subscribe-interfaith. Nancy

Well...this may be more than you are interested in, but have you thought about joining a temple? Temple Sinai, in Oakland, is very welcoming to mixed-faith families and there are several other biracial families with very young children there as well. They offer adult education classes as well as Tot Shabbat, a nice way to get your toddlers involved in some of the rituals. The temple offers a sliding scale as well if membership fees are an issue. I was dubious about joining a temple but I have felt really at home in this community. Getting in touch with roots

Wow, there are so many answers. There are tons of good books on Judiasm covering all aspects. For your situation I'd recommend The New Jewish Baby Book by Anita Diamant and Jewish Literacy by Joseph Telushkin. Both are at Berkeley Public Libary. For other suggestions, check out the outstanding list, organized by topic (spirituality, history, holidays, cooksbooks, philosophy, etc.) at Or visit Afikomen (the Jewish bookstore in Berkeley, 510-655-1977) and ask any of the knowledgable salespeople for recommendations. A second suggestion is an Introduction to Judiasm class. These are offered at Lehrhaus (, 510-845-6420) and occassionally some synagogues. I wasn't impressed with the class I took a few years ago, but chances are your instructor(s) will be better. David, Berkeley

I took a wonderful survey course on Judaism taught at the Lehrhaus Judaica in Berkeley. There were Jews and non-Jews in the class, including several people who were considering converting. I also took a beginning Hebrew class there. They have lots of classes and great teachers, in my experience. Here's their website:

I recommend attending a festival in Berkeley celebrating multi- cultural and multi-racial Jewish families on Sunday, May 23rd 1- 4 pm. Multicultural Shavuot Festival Join Black, Asian, Latino, and mixed-race Jews to celebrate Shavuot (the celebration of the giving of the Torah) and the inclusiveness of Judaism. Activities for all ages including: food, workshops, crafts, book fair, music and dancing. FREE: Open to the public
BRJCC 1414 Walnut ST Berkeley,CA For information call: (510) 848-0237x112or IJCR 415.386.2604

I just remembered this announcement: A group of 16 congregations/synagogues in the SF Bay area are offering a three-session workshop for those who are curious about Jewish rituals and traditions that welcome a new child. Attendees will create a customized baby blessing, learn about birth ceremonies for girls and boys, and Jewish naming traditions. This program invites all that are interested: Jewish, intermarried, single or couples, gay or straight especially those who are not yet in a synagogue community. Call Project Welcome to register: 415 392 7080 x 16 or 18. Workshops will be June 9, 16, & 23-7:00 pm-9:00 pm. David, Berkeley

Not Jewish but husband is; want more spirituality in my children's lives January 2003

Hi, I looked on the website but couldn't find an answer for this particular question. I am not Jewish and my husband is. We celebrate Hanukah and Passover with my husband's family (I actually hosted my first Seder last year!) I want my girls to have more of a connection with Judaism, however, my husband isn't very concerned about this. He wants them raised with a knowledge of the religion, but since it's not my religion, how are they going to get this knowledge? I guess what I'm trying to say is I want more spirituality in my and my children's lives and I'm willing to get that from Judaism but I don't know where to begin. What is the best way to go about joining a temple? How do I find the best temple for an interfaith and sometimes ambiguous family? Thanks for your help! jl

Hi there, I was born Jewish and I'm still trying to figure out how to be Jewish! An excellent resource is Dawn Kepler of Building Jewish Bridges,email: dawn at, (510) 839-2900 x347. She is the interfaith outreach person for Temple Sinai and is wonderful. I have gone to several of her interfaith workshops. anon

Hi, The first question you'll need to tackle is which movement within Judaism you'd like to get involved with. Since you are not Jewish and your husband is not observant, Orthodox and Modern Orthodox are probably out of the running. Conservative (a movement which emerged as a reaction to the perceived excesses of the reform movement -- it's more liberal than Orthodox, however) is a possibility if you're looking for a connection to traditional Judaism in an environment that is egalitarian (women rabbis, among other things). Reform and Reconstructionist are also candidates.

I hope I'm not the first person to point this out, but your children are not Jewish according to Jewish law. Judaism follows matrilineal descent, and so you (as their mother) would need to have been Jewish at their birth. This will be an issue in Orthodox and Conservative shuls (== ''schools'' == synagogues). Your kids would need to go through a conversion ceremony, which involves a visit to a ritual bath (mikvah) and possibly circumcision for males.

You really should speak with a rabbi if you want authoritative information on points like this. As luck would have it, my shul (Netivot Shalom, in Berkeley -- Conservative movement) is in the process of drafting a policy on ''the role of the non-jew,'' since there are plenty of families in situations similar to yours. Rabbi Kelman would be a good person to for you to speak with.

If you're inclined, there are some excellent intro to judaism books you could look at. One of the best, in my opinion, is Donin's ''To be a Jew''

Also, the Lehrhaus Judaica, in Berkeley, near Cal, has a very fine ''intro to judaism class'' that might appeal to you. I believe the teacher is Jehon Grist, who is wonderful.

I hope this helps. Eric Friedman

Here is a great resource:

Building Jewish Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples and Families

Overview: While interfaith couples address their differences throughout the year, the occurence of lifecycle events can raise new questions -- planning a wedding, welcoming a baby, facing the death of a parent or deciding about the religious orientation of a household may illicit deep feelings for both partners. Couples need a safe place to explore their choices.

Building Jewish Bridges groups offer a process of self-examination that leads to better understanding of your own and your partner's beliefs and attitudes. Listening to others in your group will stimulate ideas that will help you shape your own decisions.

Building Jewish Bridges also offers educational and supportive workshops for parents and adult children of interfaith families who are seeking to develop skills in family interaction. All workshops offer opportunities to explore Jewish life.

Worshops can provide a fun and comfortable environment in which Jews and non-Jews can learn about the traditions and rituals of Jewish life. From holiday how-to workshops to workshops on lifecycle rituals (bris/ritual circumcision, bar/bat mitzvah, weddings, sitting shiva in the house of mourning), anyone can learn the many forms of Jewish observance. Helena

I suggest you go to and click on Discover Interfaith options. That will take you to the web page for Building Jewish Bridges, an outreach program to interfaith families in the East Bay. Sign up to be on the email list, and you will get announcements about educational programs, holiday celebrations and other events. Dawn Kepler, who runs the program, is lovely and knowledgeable about the various Temples in the area and could probable give you great advice on how to ''Temple-shop.'' Alice

Check out Lehrhaus Judaica. They have a really interesting range of classes, including some that address issues of interfaith families, introduce Judaism, and explore the meaning of different holidays and festivals. Classes are held around the Bay Area, including Berkeley (where they are based), Marin, SF, Contra Costa, & the Peninsula. Ilana

Though not Jewish myself, as a young girl I learned a great deal about and became enchanted by the Jewish faith by reading a series of CHARMING fictional books by Sydney Taylor.

''All of a Kind Family'' and the subsequent books in the series made this Irish Catholic girl yearn to be Jewish. Though I haven't read them in, ahem, 25ish years -- I remember a world of wonderfully close family ties, delicious sounding food and beautiful fun religious customs.

I have always enthusiastically recommended these books to anyone with kids... and especially to those of the Jewish faith. You'll Love These Books!

Temple Beth Hillel in Richmond (off of the Hilltop exit) is a small reform temple with many interfaith families. TBH has a warm and friendly atmosphere. Newcomers are welcomed without any pressure to join or do or be anything. I suggest you come to a Friday evening Shabbat service. We sing a lot, there is a small choir that often sings at the services. The number for the temple is 223-2560. We have a great religious school which happens at 9:30 on Sunday mornings. Many of our congregation are families of interfaith, interrace or intergender relationships. If you would like to ask more questions you can all Arlene, the temple secretary at the above number. June

One low key way to start with your children would be Temple beth abraham's kindergym friday program for 17 mo-3yrs that concludes w/ a mini-shabbat. for older children JCC camps and holiday family workshops would be another way. Many congregations are now composed of interfaith couples. There are interfaith holiday workshops offered by the Berkeley/Richmond JCC. adult child of interfaith couple

I know there are many different Jewish organizations in this area and can't really advise on which is best, but I can tell you what has worked for our interfaith family.

We are members of Kehila Synagogue which is a very welcoming comunity for interfaith families. In fact, the High Holydays theme a couple years ago centered around how to both encourage and nourish the diversity (of faith, race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual preference) of the Kehila community while maintaining our identity as a Jewish organization.

Kehila has a wonderful Jewish education program for children and also periodically offers adult classes. The congregation is part of the ''Jewish renewal'' movement and has both a spiritual and social/political focus.

Services in many ways depart from ''traditional'' Jewish practice (We actually have a Rabbi who while clearly ''a man of faith'' and an active and founding member of the congregation, identified himself as a person who does not believe in God). Some people, particularly those with a more traditional backgroup can find this disturbing. I generally find it refreshing and more inclusive without being drained of sprituality; because the rabbis and lay leadership are very knowledgable about traditional practice, their departures from it are made through concsious deliberation, reflection, and discussion.

Whatever congregation you join, I highly recommend becoming a part of a havurah--a group of families or individuals that meets monthly to have a shabbat dinner. It's an excellent and comfortable way to participate in Jewish culture and build Jewish identity that isn't all about doctrine. julie

You are not alone. The scenerio you describe is common - Jewish husbands who are lukewarm about religion, including their own, and non-Jewish wives who want a spiritual component to their family. It doesn't mean the husband is bad, or even that he is a bad Jew, Jewish atheists are quite common. It just means the wife often takes up the job of religion in the family.

Here are some connecting points: In Oakland Building Jewish Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples (510) 839-2900 x347 or see the website

In San Francisco The Interfaith Connection (415) 292-1252 or see the website

If you want to receive a weekly e-mail about interfaith programs around the bay area, email to dawn AT jfed DOT org and put subscribe interfaith in the subject line. You can get referrals to synagogues from both of these places. Once you are ''inside'' the Jewish community, you will be completely enfolded in Jewish life if you want that. Synagogues are very embracing communities. Being in an interfaith family is pretty common these days so you will find many other families that look like yours. Best wishes! dckepler

I was born Jewish but never taught what it meant. My husband is not Jewish but I wanted to expose my children to Judiasm. Here is what I have tried so far. There is a Sunday school at the Berkely Richmond JCC every other Sunday for pre-school and grade school children. Focus is on Judiasm as culture not religion. They teach about holiday meanings, customs, foods, and songs. Have a Hanukkah and Passover celebration. Contact Gerry Tenney at gtenney AT earthlink DOT com. The BRJCC also has a preschool and maybe a grade school.

Temple Sinai has a Tot Shabbot the 3rd Friday of every month. This is for kids 6 and under. Definitely religious and great for kids. Lots of music and humor and tolerance for babies.

The Oakland JCS has a fabulous afterschool program that teaches a little Judiasm. It is definitely interfaith. Any of these places can also tell you about interfaith groups. sorta Jewish

Some more input on getting in touch with Judaism - you might want to try this great free program, called Partners in Torah. I've been doing it for almost a year and have gotten SO much out of it, even my non-Jewish partner has really enjoyed the learning. How it works is, you call their office (1-800-STUDY-4-2) and answer some questions about who you are and what you want to learn. Then, similar to a match-making service, they partner you with an appropriate Jewish mentor who will call you once a week at a time you both agree upon. You talk about whatever your specific interests are.

For example, I'm interested in the role of women in traditional Judaism, and how to be Jewish on a daily basis instead of just 'identifying' as a Jew. They matched me up with a woman my age, also a mom, and we just clicked right away. I recently flew out to NY to meet her.

A caveat, fyi, whatever - this group is organized by the Lubavitchers, who I think are absolutely wonderful people, but other folks might have some political differences with them. They don't necessarily match you up with a Lubavitch partner. They're not out to convert non-Jews certainly, but it sounds like you're interested in raising Jewish children and I'm sure they'd love to help you.

Good luck! Also, you might want to try Congregation Beth El (Reform) in Berkeley. Rabbi Jane Litman and Rabbi Ferenc Raj are both very welcoming to interfaith families with children and they have a recurring program throughout the year called 'Being Jewish 101' where you learn about the holidays, etc.

Not the typical Jewish Mother