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Culturally Jewish: Raising Interfaith Kids
Jessica Colman Cheng

Jessica Colman Cheng

Director of Social Media at the Parent Voice, Magazine
Jewish American with touch of Asian flare, Jessica is raising her half-Chinese daughter in Chicago, Illinois. Read More under "Meet the Team".
Jessica Colman Cheng

To strangers, it may not seem like a big deal, but to religious Jews, marrying someone outside of your faith can be devastating to the family.

Their romance began when Kyle, who was raised Christian, asked Sarah, who was raised Jewish, to their high school homecoming dance. Ten years later when they were planning an interfaith wedding, it was difficult for them to find a Rabbi to officiate. Now, it’s fairly common for Reform Rabbis to officiate these types of weddings as one in every two marriages within the Reform Jewish movement is Interfaith.

Kyle Sarah

Since getting married, Sarah and Kyle have molded their religions to best suit their personal faith which includes lots of deep thinking and cultural practice. Now, 20 years since Kyle first asked Sarah to their high school homecoming dance: they have three gorgeous children who are growing up as culturally Jewish.

theParentVoice,'s Jessica Colman Cheng interviewed Kyle about how his interfaith family honors their cultures.


1) Did you ever feel confused about what each holiday represented while growing up?  

Yes.  I was raised in a liberal Presbyterian church in a religiously diverse community, so I knew that some of the kids at school celebrated Christmas (like me), and others celebrated Hanukkah. Since both holidays seemed to include a lot of the same "stuff," like presents, candles, food, and family, I simply equated Hanukkah as the "Jewish Christmas."  I remember asking a Jewish girl in first grade, around Easter time, "So, what's the Jewish Easter?", which made perfect sense to me, given my understanding of Hanukkah.  

I simply equated Hanukkah as the 'Jewish Christmas.' Click To Tweet

2) Do you believe your children recognize the significance of both?  

Since our kids identify as cultural Jews, they go to Sunday school at a Humanistic Judaism temple, where they learn about the cultural significance of Hanukkah, as well as what some people believe in terms of its religious origins.  They also understand that their paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins celebrate Christmas, and we have taught them the basics of what that holiday is about--essentially, Jesus's birthday, and that his birthday is important to Christians because they believe that Jesus is God in human form.  Culturally, the kids totally "get" that both holidays are pretty significant--at least in America--to whoever celebrates them.  It would be impossible to be a mainstream kid in today's America and NOT "get it."

Our kids totally 'get' that both holidays are pretty significant--at least in America--to whoever celebrates them. Click To Tweet

Kids

 

3) Have you found it easier to incorporate Christmas in your life since it’s the majority holiday in the US?  

We don't do much to purposefully incorporate Christmas in our lives, given that our family doesn't celebrate it.  However, we are surrounded by Christmas, so it's pretty unavoidable and usually welcome.  Christmas lights in the neighborhood, Christmas and winter songs on the radio, Christmas TV specials...we don't go out of our way to shield the kids from Christmas, but we don't try to emphasize it, either.  We have specifically told the kids that it's a fun holiday and we can certainly participate in some of the fun, non-religious traditions that accompany the religious holiday, without getting involved in the religion of the day.

We don't go out of our way to shield the kids from Christmas, but we don't try to emphasize it, either. Click To Tweet

 

4) Do your children get presents for both holidays? (i.e., have the holiday’s turned into more of a material thing than the actual traditions)

Since our kids' paternal relatives are Christian, we have kept up an old family tradition of visiting Frankenmuth (home of Bronner's, the world's largest Christmas store) and exchanging gifts.  Our family respects that our kids don't celebrate Christmas, but we all feel strongly that this season is a good opportunity to exchange gifts, tell our family that we love each other, and spend quality time together.  And yes, our kids get eight presents for Hanukkah and a seemingly unlimited bounty of blue-and-white-wrapped presents from their maternal grandparents.

Our kids get eight presents for Hanukkah and a seemingly unlimited bounty of blue-and-white-wrapped presents. Click To Tweet

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5) Do you worry about your child choosing only one religion to identify with as they grow older? Would you feel upset if they didn’t choose yours?  

We do not identify religiously with any religion--we have explored various paths. Click To Tweet

We do not identify religiously with any religion--we have explored various paths, and have settled on teaching our children about the cultural traditions and historical significance of Judaism, without preaching things that we do not believe in to them.  We do focus on critical thinking, understanding the world through exploration and experimentation, and questioning nearly all answers that are provided to us.

We would predict that our children will continue to recognize and relate to the non-religious aspects of Judaism while also understanding the basics (in terms of history and culture, as well as the mythology) of their paternal relatives' Christian religion.

With that said, we would predict that our children will continue to recognize and relate to the non-religious aspects of Judaism while also understanding the basics (in terms of history and culture, as well as the mythology) of their paternal relatives' Christian religion.  We also recognize that each human must make their own path, and that their own path may include more or less religion than what we have provided to them.  We would hope that they would use the "thinking tools" that we have instilled in order to choose their path, whatever that may be.

 

 

 

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Jewish American with touch of Asian flare, Jessica is raising her half-Chinese daughter in Chicago, Illinois. Read More under "Meet the Team".

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