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How One Interfaith Family Raises their Children Jewish and Christian
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

Dena and Ben met at the University of Michigan where they were both in the Marching Band.  Twenty-seven plus years later, they are raising their two daughters, aged 12 and 14, in Iowa (USA) as both Jewish and Christian.  

Their daughters attend temple and church, celebrate both religious holidays and are encouraged to pursue their own spirituality, equally between Judaism and Christianity. theParentVoice,’s Jessica Colman Cheng (JCC) asked some questions to this interfaith couple and Ben (Jewish) went into great detail below…


This is a great set of questions. Dena and I wrestled with this for a number of years before and after getting married before deciding to have children at all. At that time we found a group called the Dovetail Interfaith Institute (which has, sadly, ceased to exist) that did some excellent work in this area. We attended their conference several times, met other families and the children in the households who were “doing both” and making it work.




 

The trick for us is that we both felt fairly strongly about our faiths, so we didn’t want to do what we’d most often seen growing up – the “Chrismukkah” approach of merging the faiths together while largely only observing the most secular aspects of either. Much to our delight, we met a number of children of these interfaith families that, in contrast to what we’d heard from some of the clergy in our lives at that time, weren’t broken, confused, or spiritually empty.

We both felt strongly about our faiths and didn’t want to do the “Chrismukkah” approach of merging the faiths together. Click To Tweet

Christian and Jewish

Photo Courtesy: Ben

JCC: Do you believe your children recognize the significance of both?

It’s probably worth mentioning that, with so many different things that we were throwing at them, religiously speaking, we never pretended that the fake elements of the holidays were real.

Ben: We have always participated in both the Jewish and Christian communities fully with our children. We attend Church and Synagogue as a family and have tried to be open and clear about the beliefs of each group. Our girls have a good working understanding of both faiths and recognize the importance of the beliefs and practices that go with them. It’s probably worth mentioning that, with so many different things that we were throwing at them, religiously speaking, we never pretended that the fake elements of the holidays were real. The Easter bunny was never real, nor was Santa. It was important to us that they didn’t start to question the legitimate elements of faith because we’d misrepresented some of the trappings.

We attend Church and Synagogue as a family and have tried to be open and clear about the beliefs of each group. Click To Tweet

We never pretended that the fake elements of the holidays were real. The Easter bunny was never real, nor was Santa. Click To Tweet





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

Yes and no. It’s easy culturally and certainly there are a lot of fun elements that go along with it. I still wince a little when the school throws an overtly religious Christmas tune into the kids choir concert as it still feels insensitive to the non-Christians on the stage even though my kids don’t fall into that category and I felt a bit embarrassed when decorating the house the first few years. I’m over it now.

When the school throws an overtly religious Christmas tune into the kids choir concert, it feels insensitive to the non-Christians on the stage. Click To Tweet

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

They do. At the end of the season, I don’t think they’re getting more gifts than they would have otherwise, but they’re spread out differently. Dena’s family’s gifts happen at Christmas while my family’s contribution fill Hanukkah nights and then we fill in the difference. The one thing that’s easier for us as an interfaith family is that we don’t fight over where to go for Christmas. My family gets Thanksgiving (which the girls have started calling “Thanksgivingka” as we generally do family Hannukah gifts there) and Dena’s family rotates Christmas break between family homes spread across the country.

JCC: 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?

I think it’s likely that they’ll mostly settle into one or the other. At various points along the way, they’ve been drawn more to one or the other, but I wouldn’t say that it’s clear either way at this point. They’ve both chosen to do Bat Mitzvahs but also attended “Jesus camp” for a week this summer. If they ultimately choose not to identify as Jewish in the future, that will be ok with me.”

They’ve both chosen to do Bat Mitzvahs but also attended “Jesus camp” Click To Tweet

Our tree and house decorations have angels, Jesus, Hanukkah decorations, but no Santa. Click To Tweet

Dena (Christian) filled in a few more details – Our tree and house decorations have angels, Jesus, Hanukkah decorations, but no Santa. We also read part of the Nativity story each night of December (acted out with our stuffed Nativity set!), Advent candles, and Hanukkah Menorah with blessings, decorations, and presents. Also, with our communities we have a Hanukkah dinner at Temple and Christmas Eve church service.”  

We have a Hanukkah dinner at Temple and Christmas Eve church service. Click To Tweet

Clearly Dena and Ben both feel strongly about their own faiths but have never let it be a problem in their multicultural, interfaith family.  It’s inspiring to see how their extended families and communities have been supportive about raising their two girls both ways!  


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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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