The Interfaith Family Blues

Image: The six members of Poor Man’s Whiskey and the band logo. My son is the fellow with the big beard. They and their fans are one congregation in the Church of Making Music.

I love my interfaith family. Linda and I are Jews. Our sons, Aaron and Jim identify mostly as “None of the Above.” Our daughter-in-law and her family are Catholic, my cousins are Presbyterians and Catholics, and Linda’s family identify as Christian.

We get along very amicably most of the time. Our big family holidays are Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, and birthdays. On Christian holidays, family scatter to the Christian households. On Jewish holidays, Linda and I celebrate at home and with my students and Jewish friends. And that’s all good.

The place where it gets tricky are the conflicts. The secular world is very helpful about most of the big Christian holidays and secular holidays. The tricky bit are the Jewish holidays and Shabbat: sometimes it’s hard to draw boundaries around them that work for all of us, and this year I’ve felt it particularly strongly.

Jim’s a musician (see more about him at and his busy times for work are weekends and holidays. That’s just a reality for musicians. You might say that he belongs to the Church of Making Music. Linda and I love going to listen to him, when he’s in an accessible location, but when those concerts fall on Shabbat, we have to make decisions. This year, when a particularly big one fell on Rosh Hashanah, it was tough. He had one of his last appearances with Poor Man’s Whiskey, at one of the few accessible venues around. I had to draw a line: I may sometimes go hear him on Shabbat but Rosh Hashanah was just too big a holiday to miss. Jim understands why we weren’t there, and he’s gracious about it.

I’m “all in” as a parent, and “all in” as a Jew, and when those conflict, it bothers me. I make my choices on a case-by-case basis, and they are never simple. Shabbat is important. Holy days are important. Family is important, too.

So when someone talks to me about how their household is “both” and assures me that it is “not a problem,” forgive me if I’m a bit skeptical. Being Jewish takes time, effort, and boundaries. Being Christian (or a musician) takes time and effort, even if the boundary issues are less onerous. When there are conflicts, something has to take second place.

My own experience is an interfaith family requires sacrifices. I didn’t go to the PMW concert because Rosh Hashanah comes once a year. I felt sad that I couldn’t do “both.” Jim’s church is the Church of Music and the conflicts are always going to be there. I don’t pretend that it is “no big deal” when I miss shul for his music, or miss his music to be at shul. Both are a very big deal, but I’m a grown woman and I can take responsibility for my choices.

If you are in an interfaith family (of whatever configuration) I’d be very interested in hearing, in comments, about how your family makes choices and sets priorities. When there’s a conflict, how do you choose? When one kind of observance conflicts with another kind of observance, what are your priorities? What sacrifices have members of the family made to make this work?

The Jewish Consumer

If you are Jewish and not a member of a congregation it can be difficult to navigate milestones in Jewish life. I’m starting a new category of blog entry for such occasions, and I am going to make at least one post weekly on “Jewish Consumer” topics.

I will confess right up front to some mixed feelings about this. It seems very odd and borderline inappropriate to talk about “consumerism” and Judaism, but I am asked often enough about these matters that I think it is worth doing.

I have a rather strong bias, and I’m going to deal with it in my first post, “Choosing Synagogue Membership.”