For marriages where one spouse is Jewish and the other spouse is not, holiday seasons can create considerable stress. When you add children into the equation, you have the formula for two stressed out parents.
Over several years now I have had the pleasure of observing intermarried couples with children during the holiday seasons. I have found that more often than not as they attempt to covey the richness of the culture they experienced while growing up the begin to work against each other. They accent the differences between Jewish and non-Jewish culture rather than the values they share. While this course of action may educate the children about each parent’s perspective on religion or tradition it does not convey the meaningful experiences either parent valued while growing up. This is because the ethos of the Jewish and non-Jewish intermarried couple is not the same as the previous generations respectively. Most of the time the previous generations did not consist of Jewish and non-Jewish parents. In the past there was far less intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.
The intermarried couple cannot recreate the same exact meaningful experience because the variables in the marriage have changed considerably. In spite of all the efforts of the parents, overwhelmingly the children of these marriages begin to loose interest in either culture or religion. More often than not this results in two tired and disappointed parents. Even worse it results in children that missed the great substance each faith and culture has to offer.
However, the story does not have to end that way!
Intermarried parents may not be able to pass on the same exact experiences they had but they can pass on meaningful experiences that are solidly rooted in the faith and culture of each intermarried partner. The first step is for the parents to gain some insight into the Holiday that’s being celebrated. Lets keep it simple! Since Jesus was Jewish we often find him celebrating these Jewish Holidays. Thus it makes this task easy.
Previously I stated that intermarried parents tend “to accent the differences between Jewish and non-Jewish cultures as they attempt to covey the richness of the culture they experienced while growing up”. Lets embark on a path that can change that methodology. The following is an excellent example. The Holiday of Passover offers a great opportunity for an intermarried family to not only pass on a tradition to the next generation but to educate them as well. Passover is filled with wonderful traditions, the removal of the chametz (leaven) from the home, the Seder (Order) meal just to name a few. So, the non-Jewish partner might ask what does this have to do with Jesus?
The Last Supper was a Passover Seder.
And Jesus said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man will meet you carrying a pitcher of water; follow him into the house that he enters. 11 “And you shall say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you,” Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?
When we read about that meal we see he participated in the tradition of drinking the four cups. He reclined at the Passover Table and much more. Now the wider Jewish community does not accept his claim as the Messiah but when reading through the Haggadah (The Passover Story) both the Jewish and non-Jewish spouse has a lot to reflect upon. Jesus uses the Holiday of Passover to point to himself as being the Passover lamb. He refers to a passage in the 53rd chapter of the Prophet Isaiah found in the Jewish Bible.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off out of the land of the living, For the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due?
As the Haggadah is read you can point out not only how the story tells of Gods deliverance of the Jewish people out of Egypt bondage, you can also point out the similarities between what happened to the lamb as a sacrifice and what happed to Jesus during Passover. The children and even most adults will find the similarities incredible and quite meaningful. Even the Matzah (Bread) has a place for a comparison with Jesus. Matzah has no leaven in it, that’s why it does not raise. Leaven is often used as a symbol of sin in the Bible. The Last Supper story tells the reader that no one could find anything Jesus had lied about or done wrong. Thus he would have no sin. You will find many comparisons like these that will engage both sides of the intermarried family.
The next issue that must be raised in the holiday conundrum is the issue of motive. Often parents want to pass on traditions to their children that they themselves don’t practice. Usually this is done out of obligation to grandparents or other such reasons. Using this approach the parents are viewed by the children as being hypocritical. This comes across as the old, do as I say, not as I do style of parenting. This type of parenting style lacks constancy and tends to confuse children. This way of teaching most likely did not sit well with either of the intermarried parents when they were young and it won’t do any better with their children. Children tend to value what their parent’s value. When celebrating religious holidays intermarried parents should not shy away from the spiritual aspect of that Holiday. Increasingly spirituality is playing an important role in our society. It is the spiritual aspect of the holiday coupled with the richness of tradition that produces the desired effect in the family. The first step in presenting traditions and religious values to children is unity between parents. The second step is the intermarried couple reviewing their own motives. If any tradition, Holiday or otherwise lacks real personal spiritual value to you, it will lack personal spiritual value to the children.
In the United States the intermarriage rate between Jewish people and non-Jewish people is over fifty percent. These marriages often produce children whose feet will stand in two different cultures. Within the context of spirituality more often than not these cultures are Jewish and Christian. Through the years these two cultures have been at odds with each other. Now in the new millennium it’s about time these parents reexamine each other’s faith in light of the similarities they share not the differences that divide. Intermarried parents have a rich and wonderful heritage that is linked to generations past. They have an exciting challenge of creating new and meaningful ways to pass on that legacy to the next generation.