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ch a pter six Living the Interfaith ­Family Life Dual Religious Heritages Shaping ­Family Cultures This is not a handbook. I bought all the handbooks. I devoured them. I threw them all away. . . . ​I want to write a book that ­will shelter and give ­people comfort and keep ­people com­pany as they face the difficult choices entailed in interfaith­family life. Why? Truly, truly, one reason is ­because the books out ­there suck. They are dry ­little guidebooks with reasonable flat dialogues between in­ven­ted interfaith­couples . . . ​, ­people you would never want to meet in this life. . . . ​­These husbands say ­things like “What Kathy does on Sunday is her business.” ­These wives say­things like, “Why must Sam be upset about having a Christmas tree?” . . . ​Tell the truth, I want to wag my fin­ger at the rabbi who in­ven­ted [them] as an excuse to hear himself give pat answers. —­Jennifer Kimball This epigraph is drawn from personal writings shared with me by Jennifer Kimball, a scholar, blogger, Mormon feminist, and interfaith parent.1 She wrote out of frustration with the ways in which manuals for interfaith families address the issues of interfaith ­family life, and she argued that the books are often produced by Jewish publishing ­houses and written out of a fear that Judaism ­ will be destroyed by intermarriage. It is that fear, she suggested, that produced “flat characters, with their scripted ignorance and their see-­through dissatisfaction.” She argued that while many Jewish institutions voice this concern—­that a child with both a baptism and a bris ­ will ultimately recognize that his parents lacked follow-­through in both traditions—­it is a red herring . Rather, Kimball suggested that for the authors of ­these books, a central concern is the ­ future of the Jewish ­ people, not the daily lives of interfaith families. On some level, the fears found in ­ these books ­ were grounded in a statistical real­ ity. The 2013 Pew Research Center for Religion and Public Life study “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” noted that 79 ­ percent of married “Jews of no religion,” as they called secular or cultural Jews, and 36 ­ percent of “Jews by religion” ­ were married to non-­ Jews.2 Of ­ those ­ people in interfaith marriages, 20 ­ percent said they ­ were raising their ­ children Jewish, 25 ­ percent say they 162 Chapter Six­ were raising their ­ children partially Jewish, and 37 ­ percent say they ­ were not raising their ­children Jewish at all.3 When ­ these statistics are combined with the consistently rising interfaith marriage rate, evidence that ­children of interfaith marriage are less likely to be raised Jews fueled anxiety about Jewish continuity in many Jewish communal organ­ izations. While the nonpartisan research arm of the Pew Charitable Trust produced “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” some of its funding came from the Neubauer ­ Family Foundation, which is invested in the Jewish community and its preservation. It also followed more than a generation of so­ cio­ log­ i­ cal research, often paid for by Jewish think tanks or organ­ izations.4 This earlier research both documented the growing trend of interfaith marriages and the correlation of interfaith marriage with a failure to affiliate with synagogues and to raise Jewish ­children. I use the word “failure” intentionally ­here,­ because this research focused on the effect of interfaith marriage on Jewish communal life and on the perpetuation of the Jewish ­ people and Jewish religion , as mea­ sured by affiliation with Jewish institutions. As a result, the research was generally predisposed against interfaith marriage, which it framed as a threat to Jewish survival. It focused on the families’ failure (or disinclination ) to join synagogues or seek out Jewish education for their ­ children and with their tendency to celebrate Christmas, suggesting that the former came from an internalized anti-­Semitism and the latter from a desire to assimilate. As this research was largely designed to study and solve the “prob­ lem” of interfaith marriage, it did not explore the lived religion of interfaith families themselves. This chapter uses case studies to explore the lived religion of the families that Pew describes as raising ­ children “partially Jewish,” though that is not a term any of the families would choose themselves. In ­ doing so, it places ­ these families inside a growing American trend of hybrid identities and syncretic religious practices. ­ These four families ­ were selected from my broader sample of more than thirty interviews with families who “do both” largely ­because they ­were exceptional in how articulate they...


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