Y is for Yarmulke

By September 7, 2010Marriage

We have an interfaith family.  Ross is Jewish and I grew up Christian as a P.K. (preacher’s kid).  We fell truly madly deeply in love and got married anyway in a gorgeous interfaith ceremony that I am sure not everyone enjoyed as much as we did.  The ceremony was not in a church or a temple.  It was full of faith and love and respect.  It was perfect for us.

We have not completely figured out exactly how we are raising our kids although we get asked all the time.  Yes, we have a lot of conversations about faith and religion.  Yes, like with many parenting choices, we are taking things day by day and trying to be the best parents we can be.  No, we are not sure we are going to do it all right.  But we will try.

It turns out most pre-schools are at churches or temples (at least anywhere near us) so we had to step up our day to day plans a little bit to deal with the kids being exposed to religion by people other than us in a religious setting. 

The kids go to pre-school at a church and as the school year begins again I find myself thinking about our family and our faith.  We found out last year that many people know next to nothing about Judaism and this made us feel vulnerable.  What would the teacher say if Sophia asked a religious question?  Were we losing all control at 3 years old?   How would we make her comfortable with who she is and how would we even know if it affected her?

Kids get asked questions about what being Jewish is and we decided to provide our kids with simple answers that would help them feel comfortable and help their teachers understand what Judaism is – at least what Judaism is to a pre-schooler.

During the holiday season, we spoke to her teachers about Hanukkah and Sophia came with me to talk to them about how she was saying the blessings and lighting the candles each night.  As Hanukkah marks the re-dedication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem after it was destroyed by the King of  Syria and commemorates the Miracle of the Oil, there is nothing about the holiday that is problematic for Christians and so I felt it was wonderful to share this part of our family’s faith.  This year she will bring a Menorah to show what it looks like and maybe even say something about why we have one.  The kids talked about Jesus being born and what was said was simple and straightforward.  We were okay through Christmas.  We talked about the different holidays and celebrations and made it through without a scratch.

Easter is the holiday that is the absolute hardest for an interfaith family, and I would expect for Jewish families with children almost anywhere other than at the temple.  Easter is about Jesus and the miracle of his resurrection and at this point discussions about the divinity of Jesus and the expectations of Messiah and the idea of the Trinity come to mind and go far above the minds of a pre-schooler.  In fact, many adults struggle to talk about this subject with people of differing faiths.  I am not debating theology here, but simply stating the obvious – this is a tough interfaith subject.

Every week in school the kids work on a new letter and bring something to Show and Share that starts with that letter.  As it turns out the letter Y fell right around Easter.  I was a little nervous about what we were going to say to Sophia and about what they were going to teach and do in her class.  Actually, I was really nervous.  I wanted to voice my concerns without offending anyone or seeming like the dim wit who didn’t get that I sent my kid to a church for pre-school.  I did it with a letter.

Besides a Yo-Yo I could not think of many things that were portable beginning with Y.  Then Sophia walked by wearing a Yarmulke from our wedding and I remembered how beautiful – absolutely beautiful – the Jewish faith is.   We talked about the Yarmulke and I knew that I could express the importance of Judaism in our lives by allowing her to take that to school for her show and share.  The Yarmulke is not one of the most important parts of Judaism but is certainly one of the most recognizable.  Wearing a head covering is a sign of respect in Eastern cultures and wearing a Yarmulke shows respect for G-d.  It is also worn as a reminder that G-d is always above you.  For a 3 year old, this was a concept that is easy to grasp and for a Christian teacher, this showed some of Sophia’s life in an interfaith family and is simply a beautiful thought.

Sophia was proud to bring her Yarmulke to school and I, as a Christian mother, was proud to see her with no fear when she presented her Jewish faith to her class.  We were also okay with the simple Easter story the school used and talked about it at home but at 3 – she did not really have any questions. 

I know things will get harder but I am determined to teach my kids about our faiths and other faiths around the world so that they feel embraced by the many different people in the world and not embarrassed that they are different.

We are starting with simple things like learning how different people celebrate and how they dress and slowly but surely we are talking about what people believe.  It is scary but exciting as well.

I am muddling through my thoughts on this every day and in this post and to be honest probably muddling through the parenting as well but I am trying my best. 

Whether you are interfaith or one faith or no faith at all – how do you teach your kids about the world and the beliefs in it?  How do you approach faith in general?  Did you come to conclusions about  the faith of your kids before you had them?  Did they change once you had them?  Let’s talk!

I have so many questions and would love to share ideas and opinions (respectful opinions) as we begin this journey in faith education.

Join the discussion 23 Comments

  • I love this post!!

    Jeff and I are both Jewish, but I don’t believe in much. I consider myself a cultural Jew, at most. I insisted that we get married by a Justice of the Peace because I didn’t want the word God used during the vows. You can imagine how that went over with our parents. Not well, if you have no imagination.

    Now that the kids are in Jewish school, it’s raising a whole bunch of new issues, none of which I feel equipped to be dealing with. Gah. That’s one of the few things I miss about life before kids– the luxury of not needing to think about any beliefs but your own. Or, lack of, in my case.

    • Brittany says:

      No kidding Jill. Before kids we could just think and believe what we wanted and never worry about how it would affect our kids or our families. Now I am a whole bundle of nerves and more questions than answers and since I am not the Jewish spouse I am trying my very bestest to make sure that they know about Judaism and that they know that they NEVER need to feel left out or embarassed. Now that I am part of an interfaith family I see how few know anything about Judaism and how that could be so hard for kids. I am sure people will ask them questions and I am sure they will be confused and I am totally ill-equipped!

      Anyway – we said God but not Jesus and the whole idea of having a “Rogue Rabbi” and a very liberal preacher do there ceremony ticked off a hell of a lot of people! Not many Rabbi’s and Preachers wanted to touch our wedding. You know – since we would not give either faith our children that we had not even had yet!

      This is going to be a tough one…

  • My husband and I are both Christians, but he’s Catholic and I was raised Baptist. There are definitely some differences in our beliefs! Neither of us went to church on a regular basis when we were married and I agreed to marry in the Catholic church, with a full Catholic ceremony as it was more important to him and his family than it was to me and my family.

    Our biggest problem now is as our kids are getting older, we catch it from his family about baptism, First Communion, etc. And while we do teach our children about our beliefs, the bible, etc, we aren’t going to force them into one religion or the other (and their practices, rituals, etc.) until they are old enough to decide for themselves – something the Catholic church (and his family) doesn’t bode well with.

    I agree, it’s tough. And I can only imagine how much tougher it would be with two completely different faiths!
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    • Brittany says:

      Tina I am with you it is so hard to let the kids decide for themselves with all of the family weighing in and asking questions all the time. We went ahead with the Bris and Baby naming with the rabbi for Sophia and Miles but have not done the baptism whish I think makes my parents feel slighted but the church we go to here is hisorically Baptist so they don’t baptise babies but dedicate them.

      It’s so hard to give them all the information too and then have them ask well Mommy what do you believe? Does Daddy believe that too? This is where we need better answers – stat!

  • Laura @ Vodka Logic says:

    Great post and though you may feel like you are muddling it seems a lot of thought has gone into raising your children.

    We may consider our selves interfaith as well in that my husband was raised with no religion and I was raised a Methodist. We were married in a Methodist church. Although we do not go to church I believe in raising my children as good people, religious or not. I believe in a higher power, be it God or some other spiritual being, I find it all hard to explain.

    Being a scientist it is hard for me to reconcile at times… but basically, Christian, Jewish or Hindu (etc) raising our children to be good and productive humans is what God would want..

    (I hope that all made some sense)
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    • Brittany says:

      Of course you made sense and raising them to be good people is our number one concern. Kids have a LOT of questions about those higher powers – that’s where we need to be able to talk to them about all the different elief systems – but not expect little children to get it all or be ready for it all.

      Most days – it overwhelms me!

  • Kari Stafford says:

    Hi There! I do not have an interfaith marriage but we are Sabbath keeping Christians and observe many Old Testament festivals so we often are asked if we are Jewish. The community in which we live in is primarily mainstream Christian so we are definitely not mainstream and getting time off from school for religious holidays can be a bit more difficult not to mention all the sports we cannot participate in on Saturdays. But the more open I am and informational to my children’s teachers the better co-operation I receive(letter’s are great!). Most people, I think, are very open to differing beliefs and are actually kinda curious if your attitude is not defensive- my children sometimes feel a little left out to be truthful – Christmas and all the holiday’s are alluring etc..but they “get” our beliefs and the times I have given them choices to participate they usually won’t if it isn’t in their belief system. Kid’s understand spiritual aspects far more then we give them credit for and far younger. it sound’s like you are off to a beautiful start in developing the interest in her beliefs so young. The more conversations the better! Don’t ever be afraid or intimidated – how lovely is their little minds 🙂 We just help guide anyway – never do we have all the answers – blessings in you journey! – Love, Kari

  • Hollee says:

    It’s hard even if both parents are Jewish! We live in a small town with very few Jews and have not been happy at our temple. It’s very hard to explain to the kiddos, and they definitely sense that they are different but aren’t sure whether that’s bad, good, or neutral. Still struggling with this!
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    • Brittany says:

      Hollee I would totally think it would be hard if both parents were Jewish too! I think it is really sad that kids are not taught about different faiths so it is not SUCH a big deal when some don’t celebrate Christmas or Easter or whatever the occasion. Good luck!

  • Rachel says:

    I know how you feel!!! My husband was raised Horse and Buggy Mennonite and I was raised as a PK! We have one little boy who is 5 months old and I CANNOT get over the culture differences already! We take it one day at a time…but I worry ALL the time that my child (ren) will ask questions in the future about WHY we can drive a car and cut our hair and wear pants (the girls) and such. I pray God will give me the words to say…
    Thanks for sharing your story!!

    • Brittany says:

      Good Luck Rachel. I think that there are great discussions that can be had pretty early with kids about why people observe different customs and how some things are more imortant to some than others. It will be confusing but hopefully he will come to know how wonderful it is that we are all so different. Also – hopefully your husband’s family will exphasize the same thing and not make it seem odd that you have not chosen the horse and buggy life. Good Luck!

  • Kelly says:

    I struggle day to day with our interfaith marriage as well. My husband was raised conservative Mennonite (his mother’s family is Amish and she left the church in her teenage years), and I’m Catholic. Opposite ends of the Christian spectrum! I feel the cultural issues are the hardest to explain to my kids – why Grandma and Grandpa sing at dinner, why they don’t wear jewelry or wedding rings or make-up, why they say different prayers. It’s especially confusing for the kids because we tell them that we are all Christians, but it’s obvious there are many differences. It feel like it’s one thing after another. Unfortunatly, my husband is not very helpful, and I feel like I’m always “defending” catholic traditions. It makes holidays very uncomfortable. Thanks for sharing, it nice to know someone else struggles with this as well.

    • Brittany says:

      Um whoah – two commenters with Mennonite hubbies holy cow! What are the chances?

      It is frustrating to me too that my husband is not more involved and I am trying to gently push the issue without religion becoming a burden when it should be a blessing. He is getting there but it’s tough!

  • Towanda says:

    Thank you SO MUCH for this! Through family and friends my children are exposed to different religious groups and I make sure they respect the similarities and differences in each. I will admit this was easier living in the Northeast. There it was normal to have Christian, Muslim and Jewish friends. It was normal to recognize all of the holidays.

    In the South I have found it to be harder, but not impossible. We visited many preschools before deciding on one because diversity was a requirement for us. We make sure our children see us with people that look like us and those that don’t. We talk about current events in front of them so that they hear firsthand how their parents feel about certain topics. And when they have questions we answer them in a way that makes sense for their age.

    As for faith, we pray together and we talk about God… and Jesus.. and that some people call God by other names (Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh), but in the end the principles are the same. We are to live a life of love and peace. We are to be nice to others and help others. We are to love God and his ways. For kids 4 and under this seems to work well.
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  • I adore that the class got a lesson about what a yarmulke was! That’s awesome!

    We really struggle with the whole religion thing at our house. I’m agnostic, my husband is atheist. My kids have plenty of friends who go to church and believe in Jesus and it’s all so hard for me to figure out how to explain.

    • Brittany says:

      Yep – explaining something I totally don’t totally get myself is impossible! There are so many “But Why Mommies” it makes my head feel like chopping itself off and rolling out the door 😉

  • I think religion is difficult reguardless of what faith you are, or if you are both one faith or not. Everyone grows up a little different and their understanding is different. It’s wonderful that the preschool you’ve chosen is open and willing to learn and share other religions!

  • Alli says:

    This is a fabulous post! I grew up in the church, and am a Christian. My husband grew up Catholic, but could really care less to be honest. We made his entire family furious by not having a Catholic ceremony! (We chose to get married in my childhood church, which is non-denominational) We believe it is our kids choice whether or not religion will be a part of their lives. We are trying to teach them about all the different religions! When i was in youth group, we celebrated all the Jewish Holidays as well as the Christian ones. My kids know the Jewish Holidays and the CHristian ones…that’s as far as we’ve gotten! We want them to be well equipped to make their choices when they are ready. That’s what my parents did for me, too. It helped me tremendously. I know that I believe what I do because I explored more than just my comfort zone!

    • Bryna says:

      My faith is similar to yours, Alli. The only difference is that my husband doesn’t really care about religion or follow it. But acts like most Catholics I know… goes through the motions, but doesn’t really care or know why*. We were married in a Catholic church because of his parents and grandparents. I signed paperwork saying that I would raise my kids as Catholic and all the yadda yadda that went along with it. My first was baptized, but I don’t really want to continue on with this charade. I’d like to find a non-denominational church and just have my second dedicated.

      This will cause a major war, I think. So, do I go along with the Catholic thing, or stand by my feelings? I’m still not sure.

      * I do know a few Catholics that are actually devout. I just feel that the “dropout rate” of the Catholic religion is of the highest with the most hypocrites. Again, just my opinion.

      • Alli says:

        Bryna,

        What does your husband think about it? My feelings have always been, I don’t care what anyone thinks except my husband. As long as you two are in agreement, go for it! Talk about it! That is a decision to be made between you, your husband, and God. You need to do what is right for your family. If hubby is on board, I see no reason to worry about anyone else!

  • Amy says:

    I have just started really thinking about this. We live in Los Angeles in a predominantly Jewish community and I wonder if Nola will start to feel left out at some point as many of her little playmates are Jewish. I was raised Catholic but joined an Episcopalian church before Nola was born. However, my beliefs tend to lean toward being agnostic. I do know that she will be raised to believe that our common humanity is far more important than the name of the book we worship. We will teach compassion and kindness and respect for individual beliefs including Aethism.

  • Loukia says:

    I think it’s great that you’re thinking about this, and this was a great post. We are both Greek Orthodox, so it makes it easy for us, you know? My son also goes to a Catholic school, and we go to church, although not often. I think it is beautiful that you celebrate and teach both faiths to your children, absolutely a wonderful thing.

  • Rachel says:

    We are both Jewish, but have yet to have children. I have ALWAYS wondered (and please know, I am not judging) how people raise their kids “both” (meaning, two faiths). I find it difficult because whereas I was raised to be very tolerant (my mom adopted my best friend, legally, in high school, and she is a Muslim from Lebanon), how can one believe two separate ideologies? I mean, Judaism and Christianity have similar values, but the Jesus thing is kind of a big deal. 😉

    Thanks in advance, I’ve always been curious!

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