How interfaith families celebrate (some of them)

In New York, just about everyone knows an interfaith family. Catholic-Jewish couples are everywhere.

The Hanukkah-Christmas season is, of course, a challenge for Christian-Jewish families — as long as both spouses are retaining at least part of their religious identity.

images.jpegThis year, Hanukkah starts early, as in next Tuesday evening (Dec. 4). All menorah candles will be long put out when Christmas arrives.

“InterfaithFamily.com”:http://www.interfaithfamily.com/?tr=y&auid=3203212 is a Jewish-oriented website for interfaith couples that encourages openness from the Jewish community and offers practical advice (often in the form of first-person tales) on how to make things work.

The website just released its fourth annual survey of interfaith couples, which asks how they deal with the “December dilemma.” The survey received 860 responses, but they’ve issued a report that focuses only on the 285 survey participants who are raising their children Jewish.

(You can download the report on the top right of their homepage.)

It would be interesting to know how the whole group feels about the holidays. But InterfaithFamily.com is looking at only a particular portion because, in part, “Jewish community policy-makers are focusing increasing attention on engaging interfaith families with the Jewish community with the end goal of the families deciding to raise their children Jewish.”

It’s true that both the Reform and Conservative worlds are striving to make interfaith families choose Jewish (and to encourage non-Jewish spouses to convert). The strategy is largely about preserving Jewish continuity.

Anyway, the survey shows that of interfaith families raising their children Jewish:

— 93 percent will celebrate Hanukkah in their home and 41 percent will participate in Christmas celebrations in their home (66 percent will participate in Christmas celebrations in the homes of relatives.)

— 93 percent will light a menorah in their home and 38 percent will put up a Christmas tree in their home.

— 76 percent say their Hanukkah celebrations will be pretty religious to deeply religious, while 69 percent say their Christmas celebrations will be “entirely secular.”

Gary Stern

Gary Stern covered education in the Lower Hudson Valley for several years during the early 1990s. Now's he back on the beat. He believes that schools are one of the main reasons that people live around here and that educational issues -- from curriculum to financing -- are among the most challenging things that journalists can write about. He continues to be amazed by the complexity of educational jargon. Gary got his B.A. at SUNY Buffalo and his M.A. from the University of Missouri Journalism School (where his master's thesis was about the best ways to cover education). He lives in White Plains with his wife and two sons, who attend public schools.