I know, I know: December rolls around and here it is, another article on interfaith families and the "December Dilemma." Yet as familiar as the topic might feel to some of us, I believe the December holidays do pose particular challenges for some families. Although I'm not a fan of the "dilemma" moniker, since it implies that there are no good options for balancing the holidays, it is important to recognize that for interfaith families, this time of year usually does involve some juggling in order to find a balance that's right for them.
For some families, the stress point is the celebration: how do we observe both holidays without making December one big gift and party bonanza for the kids? For others it is meaning: if we are raising our children with a Jewish identity, how do we explain the meaning of Christmas so it is more than just a day to get presents? For some families, the challenge is meeting the needs of the extended family: if Grandma is too old to do the Christmas tree and dinner in her home, can we show our love for her by having the tree and/or dinner in our house and still keep it a Jewish home? Parents, too, can have their own torn feelings: how can I celebrate my partner's unfamiliar rituals without feeling sadness about losing something of my own traditions?
The most important thing to remember is that there is no one RIGHT way to balance Christmas and Chanukah. Each family - parents, children, extended family - is different. Just as the stress points for juggling two holidays can vary from interfaith family to interfaith family, the ways families find to manage the challenges usually differ, depending on circumstances and the needs and expectations of the individual family members involved. For some families, figuring things out comes easily, for others it takes time and some trial and error. But most families find a balance that works for them well before the kids get to elementary school.
So how can a new family begin finding that balance? Last year a group of Habonim interfaith families gathered to discuss the holidays, and as different as each family's experiences and choices were, there were some pointers that everyone agreed would help. First, parents need to communicate with one another, making sure that each partner's feelings and expectations are heard and discussed. Being sure that you are on the same page is an essential step to avoiding misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and resentment. Second, parents need to stay focused on their own values while also remembering to appreciate the meaning of holiday rituals for their partners and their families. This dual focus and appreciation can help parents work together to find a balance based on what matters most for their family. Truly, figuring out what works best for your family may take thought and creativity, but it does not have to be a dilemma!
I would like to follow-up with you on last month's article about self-reflection. Have you found new insights and understandings about yourself or your relationships? Have you set new goals or recommitted to certain values? Have you found the need for some extra support or education around certain topics? If so, then perfect! I want to hear about it in our anonymous Kesher survey! You may have already come across this in your email. It covers many topics and also has spaces for you to fill in your specific areas of interest in case I missed them. It will take only about 5 minutes of your time, but your responses will be invaluable to me in guiding programming for the upcoming year. Even if you don't have a strong interest, every voice is important. Just like in school, if you have a question, it is likely someone else has that same question, so please ask it! This is a community effort.
What will this survey cover, you may ask? I have listed options on everything from fertility to advanced directives, from healthy communication in relationships to navigating the healthcare system, and from mindfulness for coping with stress to internet safety. Even outside of this survey, if you have an area of interest, you are welcome to let me know any time of year. Also, if you have an area of expertise that you would like to share with the congregation, let me know and we may be able to develop a program around that as well! I know we have fantastic resources right here within the community!
I would like every voice to be heard, so please let me know if you would like to receive the survey in a different format. I can mail you a printed version which can still be returned anonymously. I can also coordinate for someone to go over the questions with you verbally if there are visual or other barriers to completing a print survey. If you or someone you know has a barrier to completing this survey, please contact me and I will find a way for that voice to be heard.
Your time is valuable and it gets away from us so easily. I appreciate the 5 minutes you will take to complete this survey. Instead of putting it aside for later, please take a moment now for it so it doesn't get buried in your "to do" list. Here is the link:
And, as always, you are welcome to reach out to me individually for confidential support free of charge. We can meet one-on-one at your home or at the shul. Please don't hesitate to reach out to me!
Back to Kesher Program
Amy Small, LICSW, is the new Kesher social worker at the synagogue. Kesher is the congregational outreach program of Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, funded by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and currently active at Congregation Agudas Achim, Temple Torat Yisrael, Temple Am David, Temple Emanu-El and Congregation Beth Sholom. Amy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or