The Best of Both? Can This Cocktail Work?

By Dinah Zeltser


I usually recoil from self-help books. Most of the time I find them patronizing, a band-aid solution to problems we know can only be solved by hard work we do ourselves. Therefore, when I was asked to review a book called Raising Your Jewish/Christian Child: How Interfaith Parents Can Give Children the Best of Both Their Heritages I was nervous. Having the disadvantage of being raised in a one-faith family and not being a parent, I thought I wouldn’t really be able to relate to the book. I was surprised.

Lee Gruzen wrote the book as part of her personal and family journey. Raised a Protestant and married to a Jew, Gruzen began this journey as a way to complete herself and her family. Disappointed with the literature available on intermarriage and the effect it has on children, she began her own research by interviewing adult children of intermarriage. She found them to be engaged, exciting individuals living rich and fulfilling lives, not at all the image of the confused, lost souls that most of the literature coming from both Jewish and non-Jewish sources presented. Most of the literature she reviewed was written prior to 1970.

Gruzen uses many personal narratives to illustrate her belief that it is possible to raise a loving, caring interfaith family within the context of the intellectually stimulating and spiritually nourishing backgrounds of the two parents. She outlines a model of living that includes lots of discussions about the religious faiths of the parents, being surrounded by friends and clergy of different faiths, family trips to different houses of worship, plus cultural and educational activities and sensitivity to the feelings of the extended families.

I was impressed with the homework Gruzen had done, covering the history of intermarriage in the US, her interviews with both professionals and members of interfaith families, and the scope of issues she attempts to cover. It was interesting to hear the first person accounts of growing up in interfaith households and the journeys of identity building. Gruzen also writes about organizations working with interfaith families and recounts some of the successes they’ve had.

Gruzen also does a good job presenting the dilemmas facing children of intermarriage when it comes to making a choice of religion. While Gruzen presents some of difficulties inherent in blending two different faiths, she believes that families and kids can manage to find ways to live with the inconsistencies presented by conflicting theologies. However, the kind of work Gruzen expects families to do looks good in print but may not necessarily translate easily into the realities of modern life. Her model may work in families free from any other issues besides interfaith marriage and the issues inherent in blending two families together. While I am not rigid about giving children consistency, I believe that integrating both religions equally into a family produces a mishmash bereft of content, an ethnic identity overlay without a sound religious foundation. In the age of every choice being equally valid, I wanted Gruzen to make a choice.

About Dinah Zeltser

Dinah Zeltser is a recent Queens College grad, now residing in Jamaica Plain, Mass. She is studying Jewish Communal Service and Non-Profit Management at Brandeis Unviersity as a Wexner Fellow and in her spare time she dances and commutes to New York.