How to Celebrate the Holidays in an Interfaith Home

How to Celebrate the Holidays in an Interfaith Home

Preparing for and rearing children is a difficult feat, but it can prove to be even more challenging for an interfaith household. Each parent may have unique hopes, dreams, and expectations for the lives they lead, their children, and the traditions they observe, whether or not they’ve vocalized them to their partner or even to themselves. This can be especially evident during the Hanukkah and Christmas seasons. When deeply-held cultural expectations surface, you and your partner may disagree. I’ve found that discord over how to raise children is one of the biggest challenges that Jewish-Gentile couples face.

It’s understandably rough terrain to navigate. Some couples avoid the conversation altogether until (or even after) their children are born. Vocalizing your hopes for your future family life in an interfaith relationship can seem dangerous – a sure-fire way to evoke problems in a relationship with otherwise little turbulence.

But once children come along, the conversation is inevitable. I’ve found that Jewish-Gentile parents primarily wrestle with two questions: “What are our children’s identities?” and “Who and how will we teach them to integrate our different heritages and values?”

Interfaith parents face difficult decisions: Should we raise our children in two different religious traditions or present none at all? How will our decision effect our children’s identities and futures? How will our family, friends, or community react? Will they face backlash for our choice?

Many couples turn to family, friends, or elders in their communities for answers. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always help clear things up. After all, they too carry their own deeply-held cultural expectations about identity. Family members or close friends may start vocalizing their own desires and create an atmosphere of competition over the identity of the children: “Don’t you want your daughter to bake Christmas cookies with her cousins?” or “Your son should be hearing the Hanukkah story from you every year. It’s a part of our heritage!”

Some family or friends may tense at the mention of religion altogether and advise against introducing any faith traditions to your children. Even the most well-meaning loved ones can unintentionally alienate a son or daughter-in-law by imposing their own cultural expectations of what is best for children.

Although Jewish-Gentile relationships today are the norm, it hasn’t long been the case. As recently as the 1970s, the Jewish-Gentile intermarriage rate was below 13 percent. This means that most parents today are on a journey through uncharted territory that their parents and grandparents likely never experienced.

The good news? You’re not alone. Though this is a true challenge, there is comfort in knowing that many others similarly struggle. In my experience, the more we intentionally listen to one another and create safe spaces for honest discourse, it won’t result in anyone losing their heritage. Harmony is within reach, and your family can grow stronger for each rich heritage it acknowledges and perpetuates.

*Dr. Tuvya Zaretsky has an M.A. in Missiology concentrating in Judaic studies from Fuller Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies and a DMiss from the Division of Intercultural Studies at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Zaretsky is the founder of JewishGentileCouples.com. He is married to Ellen, who is also a Jewish believer in Jesus. They have three adult children.

Share:

Tuvya Zaretsky | Los Angeles

Tuvya Zaretsky is one of the founders of the Jews for Jesus ministry. He was the first field missionary beginning his service in February 1974. Tuvya continues to serve the Lord, now as the Director of Staff Development internationally, based out of the Los Angeles office. He also chairs the Board for the Jews for Jesus branch in Tel Aviv, Israel. Tuvya was raised in Northern California in the institutions of American Judaism. During his bar mitzvah at age thirteen, Tuvya read from Isaiah 6:1-8 and declared with the prophet, Hineni-Here I am, send me!" However, his search for God and spiritual truth didn't come into focus until ten years later, when a Christian colleague encouraged him to seek God in the pursuit of truth. Tuvya came to believe in Y'shua (Jesus) on December 7, 1970. Ever since, he has been joyfully saying to God, "Hineni-Here am I." The full story is available by that title, in a booklet form here. Tuvya has provided the leadership of Jews for Jesus branches and evangelistic campaigns in major cities of the US and in Israel. He headed up the Las Vegas Behold Your God (BYG) campaign in 2005 and co-led the 2006 BYG outreach in New Jersey. He is now also an administrator for the website www.JewishGentileCouples.com. In April, 1989, Zaretsky was present at the Willowbank Consultation on the Christian Gospel and the Jewish people, that produced the watershed Willowbank Declaration. Tuvya has presented missiology papers at the Evangelical Theological Society, the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) and at the Global Diaspora Missiology Consultation in 2006. He currently serves as president for the International Coordinating Committee of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, a networking body of Jewish mission agencies. He was editor of the Lausanne Occasional Paper 60, Jewish Evangelism" A Call to the Church in 2004. He was a contributing author of Israel the Land and People edited by H. Wayne House (Kregel Publishers, 1998). His doctoral dissertation, co-authored with Dr. Enoch Wan, was published as Jewish-Gentile Couples: Trends, Challenges and Hopes (William Carey Library Publishers, 2004). He authored or edited articles for the June 2006 issue of MISHKAN themed, "The Gospel and Jewish-Gentile Couples" (Jerusalem) . And in 2008 he was coordinator and contributor for the World Evangelical Alliance Consultation that produced "The Berlin Declaration on the Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Evangelism in Europe Today". In 2013 Zaretsky was appointed to serve as the Senior Associate for Jewish Evangelism by the International Lausanne Movement. Tuvya has an M.A. in Missiology concentrating in Judaic Studies from Fuller Seminary's School of Intercultural Studies and the Doctor of Missiology degree from the Division of Intercultural Studies at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is married to Ellen, who is also a Jewish Believer in Jesus. They have three young adult children: Jesse, Abbie and Kaile.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

We have publications that enable you to connect with us, no matter who you are.