Half-and-Half: Exploring Religion as an Interfaith Child

by / 0 Comments / 83 View / August 21, 2014

I have never considered myself as Jewish. My parents’ interfaith marriage ended as, according to Fox News, half of interfaith marriages do: in divorce. I’ve gone to temple only a handful of times with my father, but Sunday church with custody-owning Mom was a staple of my childhood. Apart from latkes and what I picked up from World History, Jewish culture is still a mystery to me. I can say roughly three words in Hebrew, I’d fail any assessment of knowledge on the Torah, and apparently the way I pronounce my last name– “Like plum,” I tell people, “not bloom,”–is more of a tribute to my mom’s British roots than of my dad’s Polish. But, especially given the turmoil in Israel right now, I know I can’t completely ignore my Jewish identity. As a friend told me recently, “You should go to Israel some day. I mean, half-Jewish is Jewish enough for that. Right?”

In Naomi Schaefer Riley’s book Til Faith Do Us Part: How Interfaith Marriage is Transforming America, 42% of a surveyed 2,500 American households featured interfaith marriages. Regardless of economic status or geographic area, more and more couples marry outside of the faith they were born into. From a historic lense, that’s tremendous progress. In the Middle Ages, Christians weren’t even permitted to eat dinner with Jews, much less shack up with them. While interfaith marriage was never illegal in the US, many vocal Americans scorned and condemned them in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Moreover, the Talmud, a key text of Rabbinic Judaism, explicitly states that Jewish marriage is for Jews only. But attitudes change, strict stances fade away, and interfaith marriage is becoming remarkably commonplace–which, progressively positive as it is, delivers some tough questions for interfaith children.

From the Common App to conversations with friends, I’ve been asked to identify my religion more times than I can count. While everyone struggles to articulate their religious beliefs, the question gets more complicated when you don’t have a single faith background to fall back on. I’m never sure if I should go with the, “Well, I was raised a Christian,” answer or explain that part of heritage is tethered to Judaism, but most times, I just answer honestly: that frankly, I’m not sure at all.