Our Interfaith Family

Image: Aaron, Linda, Ruth, and Jim, at the Alameda County Courthouse for our civil wedding on July 19, 2013. Photo by random stranger.

My family is an interfaith family.

I became a Jew over 20 years ago. At the time I had two middle-school-age sons who already had a sense of who they were, and they were not interested in becoming Jewish. I put my rabbi’s business card up on the refrigerator and told the boys that they were welcome to contact Rabbi Chester if they had any complaints about me.

They were charmed. Middle schoolers love to have options, especially for complaining about their parents.

Both guys became knowledgeable about Judaism. They visited Israel with me. Jim picked up a little Hebrew. Aaron asked thoughtful questions about Israeli life.

When I decided to apply for rabbinical school, they were supportive. “Go for it, Mom!” Part of my attraction to the rabbinate was that I loved learning ways to make our home both authentically Jewish and authentically their home, too. The difficulties in doing that with integrity were marvelous puzzles. I wanted to do that for more families. The creativity of good rabbinic work appealed to me, still does.

I moved to Jerusalem in 2002, just as the younger son, Jim, started college. The second intifada was at its height. Someone asked Jim what he would do “if your mother gets blown up.” I was horrified by the question. He coolly said, “I’d call our rabbi, of course.”

OUR rabbi. I have to admit, I loved hearing him say that.

Periodically one or the other will call me and say, “Mom, I have a rabbi question.” Usually it’s a question that a Jewish friend has asked them. (Ironies abound.) Occasionally, they are curious about how something looks through a Jewish lens. They keep me on my toes.

They aren’t Jews. They aren’t interested in becoming Jews. That’s fine. They are part of the “mixed multitude” (Exodus 12:38) that left Egypt with the Jews, traveled with the Jews, has always been part of the Jewish community.

Neither one is particularly comfortable with ritual or formal religion. They don’t come over for Shabbat dinner, and they don’t celebrate Jewish holidays with us. As a family, we celebrate birthdays, and national holidays, and fun things like Pi Day.

When I was ordained they came to the service. When I stepped out from under the chuppah and Rabbi Levy announced me as Rabbi Ruth Adar, Aaron hollered from the back of the sanctuary, “WAY TO GO, MOM!”

When Linda and I were married under the chuppah at Temple Sinai, nine years ago this month, they were both there. They could not witness our ketubah (since they aren’t Jews) but they celebrated with us. When the State of California finally decided to let us get married in a civil ceremony, they were our witnesses.

A couple of summers back, Jim married to his sweet bride in a civil ceremony. There were Jews, and Catholics, and Episcopalians, and assorted Christians and agnostics – and that’s just the family.

Our interfaith family.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

17 thoughts on “Our Interfaith Family”

  1. This blog post put a huge smile on my face.

    I also find it the perfect counterpoint to Adam’s post you shared with us the other day, as it shows what being Jewish actually is, multifaceted. Mazel tov to Jim and his betrothed and the family they will build, may only naches be shared and who know what the future will bring us… we were all witnesses at Mount Sinai at a certain point …

    1. Otir, what a marvelous insight! I hadn’t made that connection but you are absolutely right. Thank you so much for your good wishes.

  2. Thank you for this beautiful post. The majority of American Jews have interfaith families. The question for these families is the same one for all families: how can we do this well? Do we have to all be the same in order for each of us to be validated? Nope, that would be the complete opposite.

    My Christian nephew called my Jewish daughter with this question, “If zombies were real could a Jewish zombie eat human brains or would that not be kosher?” What’s not to love about that!?

    One last thought, I really pity the people who don’t celebrate Pi Day. They’re missing out on a LOT of good pastries.

    1. Of course human brains aren’t kosher! No cloven hooves, no cud to chew! (Ha!)

      But the brains of a cow, or deer, or sheep, properly schechted – batei avon!

  3. In my extended family, we are: lapsed Methodist, more-or-less Orthodox Jewish, devout Russian Orthodox Christian, more-Reform-than-anything-else Jewish, and done-with-Jewish-except-for-holidays, and about to acquire some very frum machetunim. Never a dull moment!

  4. At my wedding, we had an Episcopal ceremony (from the old prayer book, because I wanted thee and thou), conducted by a retired Methodist chaplain, with backup blessing by a Catholic priest.

    Our Jewish, Mormon, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and whatever friends thought it was fine.

    It’s one of the truly great things about America. (and Canada)

      1. I’m just old-fashioned? And that was what I’d always heard in movies, so dreamed about in my wedding fantasies. And it sounded more serious. And Mom liked it better.

        We did cut “obey” (duh) and “speak now” (that’s just asking for trouble from jokesters).

  5. Beautiful post!!

    My name is Tori Christensen and I’m a research assistant helping with a project called American Families of Faith that is studying the relationship between religion and family relationships. If you don’t mind, I’d love to ask your help!

    We are looking for happy, stable married couples with at least one child that are highly religious and belong to separate faith communities to participate in our study. I was wondering if you and your husband might be interested in participating? Participation involves being interviewed together as a couple and it will take approximately two hours of their time. The interview will be conducted via Skype and will involve questions about personal beliefs and family dynamics. Both you and your spouse will receive $35 as compensation.

    Additionally, being that your blog is of great influence in your community, I was hoping you may be able to help us find other couples who are interested in participating! We are looking for a total of 30 couples and so would greatly appreciate your assistance in identifying a selection of any exemplary members of your community who would qualify and be willing to participate.

    Please let me know if you are willing to participate and/or willing to assist us in finding other couples who may be interested. If you have any questions–you can respond via email or feel free to contact me at my personal phone number (763) 331-2888.

    If you are interested in reading some of the papers that have been published by this project feel free to visit http://americanfamiliesoffaith.byu.edu/Main/publications.

    Thank you so much for your time! I look forward to hearing from you.


    Tori Christensen
    American Families of Faith Project
    Cell: 763-331-2888

    1. Tori, I have passed your message to some Jewish professionals that I think are in a better position to help you. Thank you so much for your kind words!

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