Interfaith families find support, education at MJCCA
From left, Jason, 7, Leslie, Ryan, 10, and Andrew Mintz.
When Leslie Mintz’s children started coming home singing the Hebrew songs they learned at day care, she decided she wanted to learn them, too.
Mintz grew up Episcopalian, but she married a Jewish man, and they decided to raise their children in the Jewish faith.
“It kind of hit me that I didn’t know a lot about it,” Mintz said. “When I was 25, I agreed to one day raise these children Jewish, and here I am. I want to be an involved mom, and this isn’t my religion.”
She began attending a program at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta for non-Jewish mothers raising Jewish children. The group was called the Mother’s Circle.
“It was education, but it was also a nice support group because other women would share challenges they were having,” Mintz said.
The Mother’s Circle is one of the outreach programs the Jewish Community Center offers for interfaith families, said Rabbi Brian Glusman, director of membership outreach and engagement. “So many of our couples and families are interfaith on some level,” Glusman said.
Glusman said for both Jews and non-Jews, it has become more common and accepted to marry someone from a different religious background.
“There’s just a greater openness now,” Glusman said. “In the old days, if a child married someone of a different faith, a parent might have gone into mourning over that. That doesn’t happen anymore.”
Glusman said couples from different religious backgrounds often begin to seriously discuss the role of faith in their lives once they have children.
“After the thank-you notes are written following the wedding … there are a host of challenges for people who are in interfaith relationships, especially with children. Children seem to be the catalyst for addressing these issues,” Glusman said.
While attending the Mother’s Circle, Mintz learned about other programs, and started attending more events at the center. She went on a community trip to Israel, and eventually decided to convert to Judaism.
“It jump-started my interest and learning about the cultural and religious side of Judaism,” Mintz said.
Glusman said conversion isn’t the goal of the programming at the MJCCA, however.
“My job is to make sure people in interfaith relationships can find a place in the Jewish community,” Glusman said. “We don’t demand anything of them.”
Glusman said he’s trying to make all programming at the MJCCA more accessible and welcoming for everyone. He believes isolating interfaith families into separate programs can be counterproductive.
“I think that it is distancing and off-putting for some people,” Glusman said. “They don’t want to be singled out. They want to be included. All our programs are open to all, no matter their faith or orientation. I guess you could call them ‘all faith.’”
Shelly Buxbaum is the director of the Lisa F. Brill Institute of Jewish Learning at the MJCCA. She and other instructors teach a variety of courses for adults about Judaism, including an Introduction to Judaism course, which she said is popular with interfaith families.
“Parents of young children want to seriously look at these issues and core values, and understand what their children are learning, and to bring the conversation home,” Buxbaum said.
She said the courses are discussion-based, and offer a pluralistic view of Judaism.
“It makes it meaningful for people who are on a journey, who would like to learn about Judaism, who would like to hear a spectrum of opinions,” Buxbaum said.