Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Interfaith Families Find the Ways to Navigate Jewish High Holidays

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Interfaith Families Find the Ways to Navigate Jewish High Holidays

Article excerpt

After graduating from Barnard College, Julie Rosendorf did all the right things to find a good Jewish husband, dating the men her parents would approve of. But matters of the heart can take their own course; Rosendorf ended up falling in love with and marrying a college friend, a Catholic from Oklahoma.

Today Julie and Jay Don Johnson, of Franklin Lakes, are raising two boys: Jake, 9, and Jed, 5. Although Jay Don has not converted to Judaism, he's on board with Julie's desire to raise her sons in her faith. "I have a strong Jewish identity and I needed a commitment from him that we would raise our children Jewish," said Julie, who chairs Barnert Temple's Interfaith Group.

As Rosh Hashana -- the Jewish New Year -- begins tonight, commencing a 10-day period of spiritual reflection ending with Yom Kippur, a growing number of interfaith families will be navigating the tricky territory of observing the most sacred holidays on the Jewish calendar.

Unlike Passover and Hanukkah, Rosh Hashana does not have a corresponding Christian holiday on the calendar. For the non-Jewish partner, this holiday period, known as the Days of Awe, can be an intense immersion in synagogue services and large family gatherings.

"It can be a little difficult for the Christian family member; there are so many Jewish holidays in the fall. And sometimes it can feel difficult to feel comfortable with the Hebrew and specific religious references," said Sheila Gordon, president of Interfaith Community, a non-profit that supports Jewish-Christian families in the New Jersey-New York area, with a chapter in Bergen County.

The rate of intermarriage for Jews is now 50 percent, an issue that the Reform and Conservative movements are focusing on.

"The approach of my denomination in the past has not been as welcoming," said Rabbi David Fein of Ridgewood's Temple Israel, a Conservative synagogue. "I think it was a mistake. But it's become at the top of the Conservative Rabbinic agenda."

Intermarriage is such a pressing issue to Fein that he's made it the subject of his Rosh Hashana sermon Monday.

"It's a time for families to gather together in the community and synagogue and commit to their faith and family. We want everyone around the table," he said.

Families raising Jewish children need to be supported, no matter the faith of either parent, he said. During bar/bat mitzvah services for children from interfaith families, Fein makes it a point to allow both parents to stand on the bimah next to the child and the Torah , a practice, he said, some Conservative Jews frown upon. "It's important to honor the non-Jews that have raised the child," he said.

The High Holidays are a time for Jews to ask forgiveness for their sins of the past year and reaffirm their commitment to the faith. Many Christians can relate to these themes of repentance, self-reflection and forgiveness, which are a part of Lent, Good Friday and Easter. "The essential meanings of these holidays can be familiar to Christians," Gordon said.

For one Ridgewood couple -- Chris Nerrie, who is Greek Orthodox, and Bob Goodfriend, a Jew -- the rituals of each other's respective faiths feel familiar. …

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