The Story of an Interfaith Family

interfaith familyBy Amanda Toronto P’24, ’25

“No way. Absolutely not.”
“I agree, I can’t see us doing that either.”
“How could we?”
“We couldn’t.”

The discussion: Where to send our kids to school. The question: Would we send our children to religious school? The answer (before we had kids): Absolutely not.

Both my husband and I were ourselves products of religious schooling. I was educated in a Catholic school in Massachusetts for eight years before attending public high school; my husband spent three years at a Jewish day school outside of Philadelphia before transferring to a public high school. Our experiences were, as they say, mixed. Speaking for myself, though the religious education I received at school supplemented and supported the religious aspects of my home, the general education I received in elementary and middle school was lacking and my high school years were marked by after-school tutoring sessions with various math and science teachers —afternoons which I found less than enjoyable. Because of our experiences, our focus was more on the general education our children would receive rather than the religious education. We figured we could take care of the religious education. I mean, how hard could it be, really?

But then you actually have children and you realize all of the millions of things you don’t know how to do. For instance, how do you provide your children with a solid religious education when you’re an interfaith family and there are a variety of factors in play? Or, how can you answer all of their questions when it’s been a long time since you’ve been in a religious school? First, you freak out. Then you sit down and figure out what you’re capable of and what is important to you and cross your fingers and hope (and pray) you can find a school. And we did!

As the non-Jewish parent deciding whether or not to send her child to a Jewish school I’m going to be honest and say the choice came down to me. Would I feel comfortable having my children at a Jewish school? Did I feel the uniqueness of our family would be respected? I am not from the planet Mars; I knew the children would not be learning about Christmas and Easter and Catholic sacraments at a Jewish school, but my concern was more that they feel comfortable in school talking about celebrating Christmas and Easter with their grandparents. I didn’t want them to feel they had something to hide. Kids like to categorize things as a way of making sense of the world.

One of the things my kids like to examine pretty closely is our family: “So you celebrate Shabbat even though you’re not Jewish and we celebrate Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa even though we’re not Catholic.” This is an example of a weekly conversation. Therefore something I find myself saying a lot to the kids is: “We are part of a family and because we are part of a family, we celebrate and learn about everyone’s traditions because we love and respect each other.” That message has become a mantra: Respect others and respect yourself. Listen and learn about others. RSS respects our family, our uniqueness and our similarities. We are part of a community that is so welcoming it makes a city of 8 million feel like a small town. Because of RSS the religious has become the everyday and the everyday is infused with the religious.

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