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With Interfaith Marriages on the Rise, Families Utilize Support Networks

Easter and Passover fall on the same weekend this year, and local families are finding new resources to balance differing religious traditions between couples.

Tucked away from the Friday night din of traffic on Dundee Road, a handful of adults nibbled on cheese pizza and debated differences between Christianity and Judaism in late March. In a nearby room of the Board of Jewish Education, their children practiced verses of traditional Jewish songs in preparation for Passover this week.

With the increasing numbers of interfaith marriages on the North Shore, more parents are reaching out to local support networks for help with sensitive situations, such as celebrating two faiths in one weekend, Easter and Passover.

Interfaith Parenting

"Our interfaith marriage didn't become a major factor until we had kids," said Jill Edgeworth, who attended the interfaith meeting with her husband, Tom, and their two children. "For us, in the past it's been about the tradition and not the religion, but now we're putting more meaning into why we do celebrate these things."

Edgeworth, who grew up in Glencoe and now lives in Highland Park, enrolled in an eight-week course entitled "Raising Childen With Judaism in Your Interfaith Family" through InterfaithFamily.com. Edgeworth considers herself culturally Jewish, and her husband grew up Catholic.

"The question becomes 'How do you make a family last for 30, 50 years?' when you have different traditions within the family," said Rabbi Ari Moffic, director of InterfaithFamily in Chicago. On a website that garners hundreds of thousands of hits, Moffic leads several online courses. "The reality is that about 50 percent of Jewish weddings are interfaith in the U.S., which impacts the future of Judaism. People crave to talk about it." 

Another family points to the guidance of religious officials for a smooth handling of different faiths under one roof.

"The support that religious leaders have given to us has been quite valuable," said Shelley Longmuir, a Congregationalist who lives in Glencoe with her Jewish husband, Jonathan Feld, and their 13-year-old son. "We found Sukkat Shalom, which really tries to address families of interfaith backgrounds. We found them through my minister at , and it's helped my husband and I feel that both of our religious traditions are acknowledged and honored."

Longmuir explained how her son, David, was raised in the Protestant church and also went to Hebrew school. In February he celebrated his Jewish bar mitzvah and aims to go through Christian confirmation next spring.

"We have tried very hard to see this as enriching, not as diminishing or competing with another person's religious heritage," she said. "I'm doing a Passover meal this weekend and my husband goes with me and our son to Maundy Thursday services."

Increase in Interfaith Couples in Chicago

Almost 40 percent of Jewish marriages in Chicago were interfaith marriages in 2010, according to Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. The group released a community survey, which stated that "the findings underscore the need to reach out to families with young children, including those interfaith families who want to be involved in Jewish community life."

In the North Shore, both parents and religious leaders agree on the increase in interfaith marriages.

"I do see more interfaith marriages," said Longmuir. "I'm not sure from whence it comes — if it's cultural, societal, or an indication of the transitory lives that we lead, less connected to where we came from, with more exposure to faith experiences. I definitely think that it is increasing."

Edgeworth also believes there is more diversity and acceptance of different faiths. "There are a lot more interfaith couples now than perhaps when I was growing up," she said. "It's definitely becoming more mainstream, and parents are better at teaching their children that every family is different and that's okay."

For Moffic, the popularity of her interfaith classes underscore the need for open discussions about how to handle different faith traditions and how to define one's own identity within two faiths.

"How do you decide to have a 'lead' religion? Do you alternate holidays? What are the words or vocabulary to identify your faith?" said Moffic, alluding to questions she hears. She emphasized that many people struggle with the proper vocabulary with which to identify themselves, noting complexity of interfaith identity today. 

"It's incredibly gratifying to see my kids absorbing our faith and reasons why we celebrate," said Edgeworth. "It's certainly not easy, and it brings in a whole world of issues that people who share the same faith don't have to address as much. But no matter what religion you're in, it comes down to the values taught."

Dani Petrie May 04, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Interfaith families in the area might consider Lake Shore Unitarian Society as a resource. We provide Sunday morning programming that includes inspirational and thought-provoking speakers for parents, and interfaith religious education for children. www.lsunitarians.org

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