Sunday, June 27, 2010

Interfaith Families in the Huffington Post

This morning I got an email with the link to the Huffington Post, Interfaith Families: Can You Be Jewish and Christian at the Same Time? by Kate Kridkis.

I thought, Oy! I don’t even want to see the online comments. People get so nasty in cyberspace.

But what does this article say to professionals? It is proof that we need interfaith couples discussion groups.

Can it be that after more than 25 years of Jewish outreach that there are still so many good willed, uninformed young Jews? Yes, unfortunately, there can.

Also unfortunate, most responses are, as Kate says, angry ones. How can you have a conversation when someone is mad at you? People in Kate’s shoes stop listening. So we leave our young people with the naive belief that more is better, and that letting a child decide is about being fair and decent. Add that, in America, we are currently a culture that thinks that making parental decisions is unhealthy and doesn't allow our children to grow. So relinquishing parental responsibility becomes a virtue.

Note Kate's hopeful comment that with some education the children will be better equipped to make their own choice. Unfortunately what children don't need is the "freedom" to make choices about religion; they do need a community in which to grow up. The nuances of what St. Paul or Moses taught about the value of say, kindness, is not really important to a child. Both traditions support the same universal values. Children start out learning through stories. It is the narrative to which one belongs that both educates the child AND provides them with a place. A place in the fabric of history, a community that both belongs TO THEM and to which THEY BELONG. It is the awareness of the need for this core mutuality that we Americans seem to have lost. Human beings survive in groups - call them tribes, families, towns - they are the center from which we venture out. They are the hearth to which we return.

Some individuals in interfaith relationships feel an unarticulated truth, a pull to that core place where they belong and that belongs to them. They can't imagine leaving it. It is too important. So how can they ask their beloved to leave their own, but different, core? So who will go without? Their children. Their kids will not be raised with a place where they belong. The children will be visitors in two places, but not residents. I know these children. Some are perfectly comfortable without a community. They are decent, honest good people. As adults they are in the "no religion" group. Others are wounded; actively concealing their pain from their parents. Sometimes they rage at the Jewish and Christian communities; it's a lot easier to be mad at a faceless group that to be mad at Mom and Dad. So the alienation for them continues.

I've heard the angry comment, "So many people are intermarrying that soon we'll out number the rest of the Jews." Step aside from the obvious pain this expresses and the need to comfort and sooth these people for a moment and let's just examine this common misconception.

Being the child of an interfaith couple is a born-into status. You can't convert others to be children of interfaith families. Two percent of Americans are Jews and 50% of those Jews are intermarrying. Of those couples generally speaking, one third are raising Jewish kids, one third are raising Christian kids and one third are doing both or neither – more in the neithers camp. So we now have a group totaling >1/3 of 1/2 of 2%. Spread those folks out over the vast stretch that is America. OK. Now, how fast do you really think this group is going to "out number" the mainstream Jews?

But this kind of huffy defensiveness gets going because people feel cut out and hurt. They want to turn the table and become the insiders. If we act on their, at times repressed desire, the longing to be included, we would make a lot more progress. If we provided warm, caring places to have the difficult conversations, to lovingly bring up the hard questions, more Kates would get a chance to think this through, the same way she'll have to think through immunization, public school, vegetarianism.

What if one, or more, of these couples decide they aren't going to choose? They are going to boldly do both. What I tell my couples then is, in my opinion you have chosen the harder road. Now it becomes all the more important that you and I remain in touch. What if you need help? What if you hit a tough issue that isn't working out? Then you need to know that I'm not mad at you, that I care about you, that I want to help think things out with you. You have to feel confident that you can call me.

Sincerity and kindness can go places that angry and rejection cannot tread.