(JTA) — When Susan Katz Miller’s Episcopalian mother and Jewish father married in the 1960s, they did exactly what most religious leaders advised intermarried couples to do: They chose one religion and stuck to it.
Katz Miller’s mother put her religious tradition aside, learning to make matzah balls and shepherding her four children through bar and bat mitzvah lessons.
But when Katz Miller married her Episcopalian husband, she didn’t want to choose. Instead, she and her husband raised their two children with knowledge of both their Jewish and Christian heritages and left it up to them to decide how to identify.
In a recently published book and in an Op-Ed in The New York Times, Katz Miller makes the case that this approach is good not just for interfaith families and their children, but for the Jewish community itself. Children raised in this way are not “lost” to Judaism, she says. Some grow up to practice Judaism exclusively, while others will “have an unusual knowledge of and affinity for Judaism” even as they practice other faiths.
“Both my experience and my research tell me that we are turning out young adults who feel deeply connected to Judaism, not through coercion, but through choice,” Katz Miller wrote in the Times.
Jewish institutions have become increasingly accepting of intermarried couples and their children in recent years, but raising children in two faiths remains largely frowned upon. The established view has long been that the approach is confusing and waters down important distinctions between religious traditions.
But significant numbers of families do it anyway. The recent Pew Research Center study reports that 25 percent of intermarried Jews are raising their children “partly Jewish by religion and partly something else.”
Jewish groups that advocate greater outreach to the intermarried are reassessing how they deal with families like Katz Miller’s.
Ed Case, the founder and CEO of InterfaithFamily, said he initially declined to cooperate with groups like Interfaith Community and Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington, both of which serve families raising children in two faiths. But Case has changed his mind once he learned that Katz Miller and others like her weren’t blending Judaism and Christianity but teaching elements of both.