We know that intermarriage comes with a host of challenges that the couple and their families must navigate. But those challenges become even more complex when the backgrounds of the married couple are often seen as being at great odds – specifically the less common, but rising (according to JOI’s Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky) instances of Jewish-Muslim interfaith relationships. The [New York] Jewish Week recently spoke with one such couple to find out what steps they are taking to ensure a successful and religiously meaningful intermarriage.
Helene Lauffer and Muzaffar Chishti have been married for 16 years and are raising two daughters. They attend synagogue on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where one of their daughters is currently preparing for her bat mitzvah. At the same time, the family follows certain Muslim traditions, like giving their children Arabic names. But the practice of bringing elements of each religion into the lives of their children goes deeper for this family – Lauffer and Chishti have chosen to raise their children in a dual-faith household.
This decision by intermarried parents is often met with controversy. Conventional wisdom says that providing children with multiple religious identities will cause confusion. Often the advice is to choose one religion while respecting the other. But depending on how parents manage the choice, “it could be an enriching experience,” said Hussein Rashid, an American-born Muslim who teaches at Hofstra University.
It’s impossible to say what the future will hold for the religious identity of Lauffer and Chishti’s children. The fact that their daughter is preparing for her bat mitvah makes it clear the children are receiving a Jewish education and are in touch with their Jewish roots. But how the children are being raised is only one half of the equation. It’s up to the Jewish community to make sure they – and all children of intermarriage, regardless of the religious make-up – continue to feel welcomed and included as they explore their Jewish backgrounds.
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