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A Hanukkah Surprise for Interfaith Mom

Susan Katz Miller is both an interfaith child and an interfaith parent. Her book on raising children with two religions, based on hundreds of survey responses and interviews, will be published by Beacon Press in 2013. You can find her interfaith essays at and on NPR’s All Things Considered. She served as an expert on interfaith children at national conferences, and has chaired the Board of the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington DC, the interfaith group with the largest religious education program in the country. She is a former reporter forNewsweek and New Scientist magazines, and her work has also appeared in The New York TimesThe Christian Science MonitorDiscoverScience, and many other publications.

This post originally appeared at her blog, On Being Both.

Menorah-pinAfter almost two decades of raising interfaith children with two religions, I realize I am about to be laid off from my parenting job. I must content myself with the idea that my husband and I have done all we could to educate our kids in both family religions: Judaism and Christianity. The controversial pathway we chose long ago has served us well. Now, it will be up to these new young interfaith adults we produced to decide whether or not to continue to tell their own stories. And I will be stuck chronicling the experience of interfaith empty-nesters. 

So, Hanukkah feels strange and slightly melancholy this year, with our firstborn away at college. With only one teenager left at home, I declared the official end to kids hunting for little Hanukkah gifts hidden under sofa cushions and behind bookcases. My son was fine with this. Adults rarely give each other Hanukkah gifts in my extended family, and he is well on his way to becoming an adult. But as it turns out, I did not actually have the authority to make this abrupt and unilateral proclamation. Just because I represent the Jewish side in our interfaith family does not make me the boss of Hanukkah.

So after we lit candles and said blessings and sang “Rock of Ages” on the second night, my (Christian) husband surprised me by saying he had hidden little Hanukkah gifts for me and our son. I was touched, and irrationally excited: I hadn’t hunted for a present since I was a kid and my (Christian) mom instituted this Hanukkah tradition in our family.

My bemused son and I quickly located the little tissue paper packets–in a clay pot on the mantel, and on the windowsill behind the curtains. They turned out to be utterly fabulous, completely cheesy blinking LED Hanukkah pins–a menorah and a dreidel. I wore them both at a Hanukkah party the next night.

So my husband created a moment of role-reversal comedy (mom acting like a kid and receiving a goofy “kid” present). At the same time, he distracted us all from missing our college girl. And he paid sweet tribute to the interfaith family created when we got married 25 years ago, and to the tradition instituted by my pioneering interfaith parents, who are still happily married after more than 50 years. Such small gestures, combining tradition and innovation, respect and humor, bind interfaith families together.