Eileen and Kevin were just one of four couples profiled in the film, "Mixed Blessings," shown recently at Congregation Ohev Shalom in Wallingford as part of a series of programs geared for interfaith families. The documentary by director Jennifer Kaplan explored the lives of four Jewish-Christian couples and how they maneuvered their familial faith. After the viewing, about 20 attendees stayed to discuss the portrayals in the film, and what being in an interfaith relationship means to their own family life.
David Katz, the rabbinic intern for Faithways: The Interfaith Family Support Network of the Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia, led the discussion group. He said that the goal of the event was "to open up the dialogue to allow conversation to happen."
The film showed that there are no cut-and-dried answers: Each family must deal with issues of religion in its own way, and learn to communicate with each other about expectations concerning religion.
Katz said that no matter how accepting families may be, members have to deal with the inevitable tensions that arise in an interfaith household. "Even in the most idealized setting, there's loss," he said, because one parent is inevitably sacrificing some of his or her traditions.
In the film, Beth, who is Catholic, and Jonathan, who is Jewish, decide to raise their children Jewishly. But she continues to attend church, sitting in a pew alone. She admits that she made a sacrifice, because it was too painful for her to ask the same of her husband.
Katz said that from a counseling viewpoint, people need to be aware of and honest about religious conflicts early on in a relationship in order to deal with them fairly. Some issues are more readily in the forefront, such as finances.
"Religion is different," stated Katz, "it lurks there."
When a family waits until a holiday approaches or a major life-cycle event occurs, they have put off the discussion for too long, he argued. Katz noted that December is not the time to decide about how Chanukah and Christmas will be dealt with in the household: The ideal moment for a discussion is a neutral time a good deal earlier.
Jenny Jablonski is the interfaith committee chair at Ohev Shalom, and has found that her own experience of raising children in such a setting has instilled the value of acceptance in her kids.
"What it's taught them is tolerance," she said.
They do not look at their father's Christian traditions during the holidays as taboo or something to be ignored, added Jablonski. Though the kids are being raised Jewish, she said they still understand the background and faith of their father.
Amy Tashman, a Catholic, and her Jewish husband met with both a priest and a rabbi before they were married, and they decided that their children would be raised as Jews.
She said that the family agreed that it was best for the children to grow up with one faith, but that open communication about religion was key for both adult and child. "They know that their mom is not Jewish," she said, "and that's okay."