'Do You Secretly Hope You Will Win?' On Raising Multifaith Children

Last year, I had the honor of filming a tribute for our community's Holocaust Memorial Center dinner. As the lights and microphones were being set up around my house, I had the opportunity to have a wonderful, winding conversation with the director. I mentioned that my children were at faith formation at our church, leaving the house abnormally quiet for an hour. This mention, in the midst of talking about Judaism and the Holocaust, naturally led to a discussion of how we were raising our children. As soon as I mentioned that we were raising them in both the Catholic and Jewish faiths, she asked a question that I am sure many have thought of, but only an inquisitive documentary director would ask: "Do you secretly hope you will win?"

Rather than being offended by her bluntness, I was refreshed by the honesty of the question. In viewing our life surrounded by the tenets and teachings of two faiths, it would be all too easy to start keeping score.

"We went to church last week, so we have to go to synagogue this week."

"Why are there two mezzuzot on the walls, but only one cross?"

"We are celebrating more Jewish holidays than Catholic ones, we have to skip holidays."

But in a multifaith house, it is about developing a religious identity, not fomenting a competition of faith.

I replied to my interviewer honestly, "I would never think of them picking Judaism as winning or of them picking Catholicism as losing. I do not think it is necessary to their lives to choose between religions. They will believe whatever they believe, as we all do. When they grow up, I just hope they can walk into a synagogue or a church and feel comfortable and at home." And I smiled, because I knew I truly believed what I was saying.

The deeper truth is that it took me a long time to get here. Faith is a journey, as are relationships. A multifaith marriage can feel like those two journeys colliding, sometimes in unexpected and painful ways. Years ago, when the boy and the girl that now sleep in their beds were just dreams to us, the idea of raising Catholic kids took my breath away in an existential religious crisis. Baptism? Never. Faith formation? No way. Perhaps, back then, I did believe that there would be winners and losers in this battle of faith.

But something changed for both us. We went from an interfaith relationship to a multifaith marriage. At our wedding, a passage from Ruth was read. "Your people will be my people and your God my God." We took this to heart. Our family is Jewish and Catholic. We share a common identity. Yes, we have differences. But those differences are not nearly as significant as the world would make them out to be. I am a parishioner at a Catholic Church -- though I do not believe in the divinity of Jesus. My husband is a congregant at a Jewish synagogue -- though he remains a dedicated Catholic. We belong to our communities. We refuse to be strangers, to be separate, to be excluded.

This is a journey where the possibility of winning and losing lurks before us -- but not in the way my interviewer thought. I would not win if he chooses Judaism. And my husband will not win if she chooses Catholicism. We will win if we raise these two perfect children to understand that they come from two faiths with traditions and teachings that span thousands of years -- and if they continue to travel on their journey of faith formation in whatever direction it leads. And we will lose if we were to allow our faiths to be pitted in a competition against each other so our home was a place of contention instead of one of love and kindness. "Do you secretly hope you will win?" Yes, I do hope we will win.

A version of this post was originally published at www.multifaithlife.com

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