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Interfaith Families & Judaism
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Interfaith Families & Judaism
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.
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.
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
and because his mother isn't Jewish, there are always those who will say
really Jewish.'' We got together right when I was re-exlporing my faith,
a pretty liberal Catholic and at one point we were going to the Late
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
and have been very happy there. My husband has no desire to become
we agreed to baptize our kids. They will get instruction until First
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
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
between Judaism and Christianity. Whatever you do, it must be honest and
or it will not mean anything to your children. I would recommend talking
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
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.
My husband and I are having a real hard time coming up with a
working vision of how we are going to raise our kids with
exposure to both religions. We are fine with celebrating the
recognized holidays of both the jewish faith and the christian
faith. Our children our only 3 and 4 mos. I have a much more
relaxed approach to the whole idea of a working interfaith
family whereas my husband who is jewish feels that we cant
teach our kids both because the basic idealogy repels the other.
Are there any book recommendations or other sources we can turn
to that can help guide us through this stressful time?
Hi J, I smiled when I read your post because I could use it as a blurb
for one of my brochures! I run a program called Building Jewish
Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples and one of my workshops is an
eight week Interfaith Couples Discussion group about sorting out life in
an interfaith home. I think it's the best thing you can do for
yourselves. But don't take my word for it. If you like, I can give you
names and emails of people who have been thru the workshop. You should
Feel free to contact me: 510-839-2900 x247 or email email@example.com or
look at my website www.jfed.org/interfaith.htm Dawn Kepler
I don't know about books but I bet that Dawn Kepler at the Jewish
She organizes an interfaith program described here:
Good luck - I'm in a similar situation
There are inter-faith workshops at various Jewish institutions (you can
call the JCC to get some recommendations) where you both can work on
these issues in a safe group environment. I was raised Catholic and my
husband is Jewish so I completely understand. I think my biggest issue
was his resistence to my traditions since I was open to his. After some
interfaith exploration, we have it all figured out and are really
enjoying all of the holidays together. Good luck!
I am Jewish and my husband was brought up in a liberal Christian
(Congregational) church. We raised 2 boys (now adults) with both
traditions. Though we were raised in different religious faiths, we
shared similar beliefs which made the interfaith issues easier. We
celebrated both Jewish and Christian holidays at home.
These celebrations were of a more secular and cultural nature, but were
still meaningful. We also joined a Unitarian church where these holidays
(and more) were celebrated with respect. In Sunday School, the boys
learned about various world religions and were encouraged to develop
their own belief systems. In college, my older son developed a real love
for Judaism and now belongs to a Synagogue. He shares his joy in Judaism
with his Jewish and non-Jewish friends (and Unitarian wife) through
holiday celebrations (building a Sukkot and having a service in it; an
annual Seder dinner for a throng, e.g.). My younger son describes
himself as Jewish and Unitarian.
I strongly disagree with your husband that the two religions ''repel''
each other. Look at the moral and ethical teachings of both and try not
to get bogged down in details. Bringing up children to honor, respect,
and enjoy different faiths is a gift
-- and a powerful way to change the world. I wish you both good luck.
You asked about books. I highly recommend ''Mrs. Katz and Tush''
(and others) by Patricia Polacco. She does a wonderful job of exploring
common themes in various religions and cultures.
By the way, there are 16 Unitarian churches in the Bay area
(www.uuba.org). We love the one in Oakland.
Experience Interfaith Mom
To the family struggling with a vision for interfaith family life, I
understand your dilemma. We have an interfaith family
(Christian/Buddhist), and it is a discussion that continues and evolves
as your children get older. It is understandably more difficult for the
Jewish partner to envision a ''dual-faith''
scenario - Christianity essentially incorporates both the holy text and
many of the traditions of Judaism, so it is not a conflict from the
Christian point of view. On the flip side, Christianity has a long
history of persecuting Jews and others who refuse to accept Jesus Christ
as the Saviour, etc., making it difficult for a Jewish person to be
comfortable with that set of beliefs.
One of the most important things you can do is find leaders and
congregations, both Jewish and Christian, who will support your journey
as an interfaith family. This requires respect for other traditions, and
an ability to remain flexible rather than dogmatic about beliefs. I know
there are many congregations in the area that might fit this bill, and I
would suggest on the Christian end of things that you check out First
Congregational Church of Berkeley. There are many interfaith families
there, and they are held and supported by the community. The church has
no ''creed'' or required set of beliefs, and indeed you will find a wide
range of beliefs within the congregation. The emphasis is on tending to
our spiritual side, creating community, and doing justice in the world.
It is a place where you could comfortably celebrate the Christian
holidays, attend the wonderful youth programs if your children want to,
and not feel like anything was being shoved down anyone's throat. It is
also a place that would support and celebrate your family's membership
in another faith community as an equally important place in your
family's spiritual life.
Wherever you wind up, best of luck with your journey. It requires lots
of listening, enormous respect, and thoughtful participation in other
traditions, and in the end your family will be the richer for it. Know
that whatever path you choose, a faith community or communities(of
whatever sort) will be essential to making it work - it isn't something
you can do alone!
What a timely question with the holidays coming up.
We have an interfaith family (dad Jewish, mom lapsed Catholic, raising
our girls Jewish but celebrating Christmas and Easter).
There are no easy answers to the question, and we had to find our own
path. Most of the people out there will tell you that you need to pick
one or the other, lest you confuse your kids to much. We did an
interfaith group through the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, and
liked the other families we met. The downside was that the non-Jewish
half of us felt that the whole program was designed to make the entire
family Jewish rather than to find a way to navigate the issues.
You don't say how religious either of you are. If either/both of you
are firm adherents to your religion, then the doctrinal issues can get
in the way. Neither of us is in our case, so we're able to let the
doctrinal issues slide and focus on the cultural aspects of it.
hope this helps.
My husband and I are interfaith and, yes, there are many resources out
there for interfaith families. Here are some connecting points: In
Oakland Building Jewish Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples (510)
839-2900 x347 or see the website www.jfed.org/interfaith.htm. In San
Francisco The Interfaith Connection (415) 292-1252 or see the website
There is also a national group, which puts out a monthly newsletter,
called Dovetail: http://www.dovetailinstitute.org/ It is a wonderful
institution solely devoted to interfaith families and helping them find
the choice that's right for them. It is the only organization I know of
for interfaith issues not connected to a religious organization.
I hope that helps you start off on the right foot!
In our family, I am Jewish and my husband is Catholic. What we are
doing, after much discussion about what was important to us and what we
felt was the most consistent way to be respectful of each other's
traditions, is to raise the children Jewish but also celebrate Christmas
in a non-religious, winter solstice kind of way. We agreed that raising
the kids in both traditions was (a) confusing to them and (b)
incompatible with each other. But everyone finds their own comfort zone
with this big issue and I wish you luck in finding yours!
My wife and I attended Dawn Kepler's interfaith couples group a few
years ago. Pam is Methodist and I am Jewish. The course helped provide a
lot of clarity on issues. While we knew we wanted to raise our
yet-to-be-born children Jewish, there still were many areas to work out.
And it was really helpful to hear how other couples were struggling with
Dawn runs Building Jewish Bridges, a program sponsored by the Jewish
Community Federation of the Greater East Bay. For more information about
her programs, please see http://www.jfed.org/interfaith2.htm
You ask a very heartfelt question... I don't know of any books about the
subject, but I do care about it. The single best bit of advice I can
offer is to find a support group of parents who are working through the
same question. Maybe other couples will respond to your question.
I wanted to address your husband's concern that Judaism and Christianity
are theologically at odds with each other. Certainly some forms of
conservative or even traditional Christianity are at odds with Judaism;
orthodox Christianity makes truth claims about the identity of Jesus of
Nazareth that conflict with Jewish sensibilities.
Those truth claims also conflict, I believe, with how Jesus would have
thought of himself.
The good news is, there are some progressive Christians (and
congregations) that have a much more inclusive view of Jesus. I
understand Jesus as a first century rabbi who interpreted the Torah in a
way that eventually found expression in rabbinic Judaism. In my view,
the early church turned ''the religion of Jesus'' into ''a religion
about Jesus.'' The key, I think, is to focus on Jesus' ethics as found
in the Sermon on the Mount and the spirituality that emerges from his
parables. It's all very Jewish.
You might find Epworth United Methodist Church in Berkeley to be very
supportive in your family's spiritual journey.
If you'd like to talk further, please feel free to contact me by email.
I am Jewish and my husband is not. I was raised with very little
cultural or religious traditions, so I don't have a particular
attachment to specific holidays. However, once I decided to have
children, I felt it important to raise them with a sence of Jewish
identity- whether that was religious or not was to be determined. What
I have found is that it has been an evolution- a process that gets
refined each winter season and one that my husband and I discuss when
needed. Originally, I was afraid that if we had a tree, I would not be
seen as ''Jewish enough.'' I have had to let go of what I perceive
other's might think of me and do what feels right. I have found though,
that if I don't plan a bit, the holidays will be around the corner and I
won't know what I am doing ''this year'' and feel overwhelmed. It has
5-6 years, but I think I am at peace. We have a christmas tree and will
go to an occasional Easter-egg party, but my husband's parents know that
we identify the children as Jewish, so they don't push any specific
agenda re: the role of Jesus.
My advice is to talk to your husband about what he feels is important
and look to how you would like to celebrate your heritage/tradition. I
am finding you can create it in any fashion you like, and there will
always be some folks who dissaprove or judge. Just so long as you and
your husband reach a common understanding. I have had great support and
info from Dawn Kepler at Building Jewish Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith
Couples. www.jfed.org/interfaith.htm anon
You will find a lot of resources for interfaith families on an email
newsletter put out by Dawn Kepler of Building Jewish
Bridges: Outreach to Interfaith Couples. For more info, contact her at
(510) 839-2900 x347 or (925) 943-1484. Good luck Lisa
Get in touch with Dawn Kepler at Building Jewish Bridges, Outreach to
Interfaith Couples (510-839-2900, ext. 347)! She can direct you to all
kinds of wonderful programs and discussion groups. I attended several
before my husband and I got married (he's Jewish, I was raised as a
Catholic) and it was a tremendous support and help to me. You'll meet
so many people grappling with the same issues that you are.
I am Catholic. My husband is quasi Jewish in that his dad was Jewish and
his mother was not Jewish. He went to Jewish school but he never had a
bah mitzvah. I was not into my religion when I met my husband. We
actually attended a synagogue for awhile and it drew me back to my
faith. While I love the beauty of the Jewish faith, I just didn't feel
comfortable converting. I'm a doubting thomas kind and there was no way
I could fully state a belief in another faith. Plus, there were things I
missed about my own faith. I found a very liberal Catholic Church and
started attending services. My husband was interested in his Judaism in
theory but not really committed enough to go regularly, join a
Because I was participating in my faith more than he was that we'd raise
them in my faith. Our kids have been baptized and we plan to take them
through their first communion. Confirmation will be up to them.
Because my husband's side has very loose attachment to tradition (Jewish
or otherwise), it's kind of up to us to carry on any and all relgious or
My family is Catholic and Cajun and are very close-knit and tradition
oriented. I really like the food, the rituals and the closeness that my
family holds dear. I am not local so I can only provide a mere shadow of
My husband's father, who was Jewish, basically rejected all of that, so
his upbringing didn't have all the family traditions that mine did. His
mother rejected her side
(Irish) as well. They made their own way. I don't condemn it at all, but
I really want my kids to have some traditions to grab hold of or reject
if they choose to.
I think this is a very personal decision that you and your husband need
to agree on and work toward and I don't think there is any right or
wrong answer. I do think though, that whatever you do has to be sincere
and supportive. While I don't think Christianity and Judaism ''repel''
each other, I do believe that it's less confusing to pick one. Faith
questions are complicated. I do think teaching them about the
similarities and differences of both are important to help them make
their own choices in the future.
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.
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.
I was raised by agnostic parents and converted to Judaism a few years ago;
married to a Reform Jew, and we're raising our kids Jewish, but with
acceptance of many other religions, holidays, etc. We do this without going
synagogue or church services.
Every Friday night we light candles, eat challah bread, and sing prayers. We
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
celebrations with friends and family.
Our kids know they are Jewish, yet embrace Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc..
Jewish holidays we pull out kids' books about them, and a general
and read that holiday's story to them. We talk about Israel, and will talk
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
anti-established-religion, and on a tight budget...this is working out great
for us so
We hope they'll be bat/bar mitzvahed in the future--maybe we'll join a
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
Have you thought about a Unitarian Universalist church? We've been members
years and particular appreciate it now that we are parents. From the UUA
(www.uua.org): ''With its historical roots in the Jewish and Christian
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
We believe that personal experience, conscience and reason should be the
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
like us, who discovered the Christian churches we grew up didn't speak to the
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
your own spiritual path. For children, it offers not ''Sunday School,'' but
Education,'' oriented toward learning about religion and spirituality without
indoctrination in a particular faith. The church is also strongly oriented to
justice work, and has a long history of putting faith into action dating back
abolition, and including the modern civil rights movement and the current
We happily attend First Unitarian Church in downtown Oakland, which has a
intergenerational service and a strong music program (uuoakland.org), but
many others to choose from around the Bay Area (www.uuba.org).
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 (uuoakland.org). There are many more UU
congregations in the bay area. (You can find them at uuba.org).
Good luck with your search.
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 (www.kehillasynagogue.org) 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
I am an African-American mother about to give birth to a
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
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.
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
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.
I would suggest checking out Lehrhaus Judaica which is the adult school
studies. They are located in Berkeley but they offer courses throughout
Area. (www.lehrhaus.org). They have a class titled: ''Essentials of
Beginner's Basics Course'' that offers both Jews and non-Jews an
enrich their basic knowledge of Judaism and is open to all.
Another source is the Community Rabbi Program. This program ''helps
their spiritual roots within the Greater East Bay Jewish community,
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
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.
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]jfed.org mailto:dawn[AT]jfed.org with the
subject line ''subscribe-interfaith.
Well...this may be more than you are interested in, but have you
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
well as Tot Shabbat, a nice way to get your toddlers involved in some
the rituals. The temple offers a sliding scale as well if membership
are an issue. I was dubious about joining a temple but I have felt
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 http://netivotshalom.org/library/homelibrary.htm. 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 (http://lehrhaus.org, 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
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: http://www.lehrhaus.org/
I recommend attending a festival in Berkeley celebrating multi-
cultural and multi-racial Jewish families on Sunday, May 23rd 1-
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
1414 Walnut ST
For information call:
(510) 848-0237x112or www.brjcc.org
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
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!
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 jfed.org, (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.
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
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.
Here is a great resource:
Building Jewish Bridges:
Outreach to Interfaith Couples and Families
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.
I suggest you go to www.jfed.org 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
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. http://www.lehrhaus.org/
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.
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
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.
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 www.intfaith.org
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.
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.
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
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
this page was last updated: Oct 12, 2008
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