Interfaith Families

Recent research on the formation of religious identity in interfaith families.

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"Pressure has a demonstrated positive effect," Barack Fishman told The Jewish Week in an interview from Jerusalem, where she was on sabbatical.

Many parents are reluctant to raise this issue with their teen and adult children, she said. "They do talk to their kids about things that they have unambivalent feelings about, about choosing colleges and careers, about drugs and about sex. But a lot of parents have internalized this notion that there's something wrong with encouraging their children to exclusively date Jews and marry Jews," Barack Fishman said.

"You see the parental confusion playing itself out in messages which are given, and not given, to the kids. What they say makes a big difference."

"The Jewish community really needs to start getting this message across, that parents need to think it's important enough to talk about, and to feel unambivalent about, to talk to their kids at various ages, just as they talk to their kids about sex at various ages," she said.

Young Adults

The Web poll of children of interfaith marriages run by Lights in Action for the J0I received 205 responses from college students after being advertised last year in campus newspapers at New York University, Cornell and the universities of California at Berkley, Maryland, Michigan and Penn.

These young adults reported that:

· 58 percent had a bar or bat mitzvah, and 17 percent were baptized.

· 63 percent have participated in or currently are participating in Jewish youth groups, while 26 percent have participated in or now are participating in Christian youth groups.

· Almost all of the respondents--95 percent--said the religious differences in their upbringing contributed to their feeling uncomfortable in synagogues.

· 31 percent wish they had been given more Jewish education.

· 20 percent wish they had been brought up in only one faith, while 15percent wish they had been brought up in both faiths of their parents.

These findings "recognize the challenges that are implicit in nurturing Jewish identity within the context of interfaith marriage," said Kerry Olitzky, executive director of JOI. "It means that the community may have to work harder, but that it's also possible" to accomplish raising children with strong Jewish identities in interfaith households.

The AJCommittee's focus‑group research with roughly this same age group—teenagers--found that many teens from mixed‑married families described fluid religious boundaries in their homes, with their families celebrating the major religious festivals of both Judaism and Christianity.

The message there is that "religion is a matter of choice, and a choice that can be made and changed as frequently as one desires," said Barack Fishman in her report. "Children are often sent a clear message that religious choices are not too serious or momentous."

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Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a staff writer for The Jewish Week.