When a couple is raising children in the context of an interfaith marriage, they have to strike a delicate balance when it comes to religious identity. Even if they decide to raise the child as a Jew, that doesn’t mean suddenly all of the extended family – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins – become Jewish. Christmas will still be recognized along with Hanukkah, Easter will be recognized with Passover. But Jewish families have one holiday that offers a chance to celebrate Jewish values week after week – Shabbat.
Tracy Hahn-Burkett, who runs the blog Unchartedparent.com and is the Jewish partner in an interfaith marriage, recently wrote an article for the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix explaining how Shabbat has become the holiday de rigeur in her household. Every week before they have dinner on Friday night, without fail, the family says the prayers, lights the candles, and share some challah (sweet bread shaped in a braid) while the parents sip some wine. Sometimes dinner is ordered in, but the traditions laid out are always followed. This, even more than weekly religious school, has given Tracy’s four-and-a-half year old a firm sense of belonging as a Jew.
Tracy said in her piece that it’s gotten to the point that her son won’t go out to dinner on Friday nights because they have to have candles and challah. “They don’t have them at the restaurant,” her son told her recently. Tracy knew that if she wanted to make sure her children were able to easily explore their background, she had to “find ways to bring Jewish values and traditions” into her home. Shabbat is one of the best places to start because not only does it take place in the home, but it can be personalized. A family can celebrate Shabbat in the way most meaningful to them because no matter how they do it, it involves the family recognizing their Jewish background. Those are memories and traditions the children will hopefully take with them as they grow up and someday start their own families.