One family. Two religions. Can it work?

Hannukah and Christmas coexisting.


It is on every magazine at the newsagent…TomKat is no longer.  While speculation continues to run rampant, you can’t help but decide the reasons for the sudden split.  In the weekend paper, it was reported that the split had everything to do with Scientology.

That Katie Holmes didn’t want her daughter, now school age, to enter that world.  So much so, that Katie has enrolled high-heel wearing Suri into a Catholic school.  Whether it may be true or not, it begs the question, does it work when parents are from different religions?

As a product of parents with completely different religions, I can confidently say yes.  My parents are still married after 38 years. But it isn’t easy.

My mum is Christian and my dad is Jewish.  When they got married, and even today, this set up isn’t acceptable to many.  Mainly with the fact that my mum isn’t Jewish.  Which means I (and my siblings) can’t be Jewish.  In the Jewish faith, kids can only be mums religion…mainly because there is no doubt they are hers.  Not the most trusting of religions.  Anyways, it means that my dad’s Jewish sperm is completely wasted in creating Jewish children to continue the faith (and do a silent “screw you” to the previous Nazi agenda).

And while there were people who gave my parents grief when they got married, you would think it would’ve ended by the end of the seventies when free love was firmly in place.  Not quite.

I remember standing in line at primary school ready to enter the classroom (do you remember those days).  A line for the girls and a line for the boys.  It just so happened that two of the popular boys of our year stood opposite me in the boy’s line.  Never belonging to the girl’s popular crowd, I was amazed when they talked to me, “So, what religion are you anyway?”

At 9 years old, I had no idea what they were talking about.  No one had really taught me anything about religion.

I mean, I went to bible studies during lunch hour.  Not because I wanted to learn about the bible, but because my best friend wanted to go, and really, who else was I going to hang out with at lunch.  So I did my best friend duty and went along.  I didn’t even really understand what they were talking about.

All I remember was that there was someone called God, he apparently lived in the clouds (most likely with Care Bears who were up there too according to Saturday morning TV), and if you did something bad it was called a sin and you had to beg for forgiveness by saying a prayer.

I remember during one lunch time without bible studies, my best friend swore (I can’t remember why) but I think it was a pretty mild “Hell”.  I do remember the fear on her face for sinning and how we quickly said a prayer so that one day we could join God and the Care Bears.

“Well, do you celebrate Christmas?”  This answer I knew, “Yes.”  “So then you’re Christian.”  Great, I was Christian.  That seemed like a good one to be.  “So then why is your name Jewish?”

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have different religions.

Thankfully, God looked down and prompted the teacher to come out and lead us into class.  Thanks God.

The boys, who turned out to be Jewish, were right.  My name is Hebrew and therefore, people often assume I am Jewish.  When I respond that I am half Jewish and half Christian, there is rarely a nice expression as a response.


In high school, I attended a school that was predominately filled with Jewish kids.  Not because it was religious but because their parents could afford it.  Being a little older and knowing more about religion and who I was, I enrolled in Jewish studies.

My mum was shocked why I would choose Jewish studies.  Not because she didn’t want me being Jewish, but because she didn’t think I had any interest in religion.  This was true.  But I figured if I had spent my lunch hours learning about Christianity, I should at least know a little bit more about the other 50% of me.

While the rest of the class (all 100% Jewish) were looking for an easy grade, I found it interesting.  So much so that the teacher started to like me because I did well in the class.  Until one assignment.

We had to write a report on our parents Jewish names and what they meant.  Apparently, when a Jewish baby is born they get a name (like John) and then a Jewish name (like Moses).  So I rushed home and asked my dad what his Jewish name is and wrote a killer assignment using all my available resources (e.g. encyclopaedias and my dad – this was pre-internet).  When the assignments were handed back to students, mine had big red writing saying “See me after class”.

So I saw the teacher after class, “Why did you only do half the assignment?”  I didn’t understand. “Why did you only write about your dad, you forgot to do your mother?”  Without thinking of the insensitivity of her question (I mean what if my mum was no longer alive?) I answered truthfully, “Oh, she doesn’t have a Jewish name.”

“And why is that?”  “She’s not Jewish, just my dad is.”  From the expression on her face, and the way she ignored me for the rest of the semester was my first lesson that my parents’ marriage wasn’t happily received by everyone.  And as a product of that marriage, I was the sin.

Thankfully, my skin is a little thicker now than back then, and I don’t care about which religion would please the popular boys or the teacher.  And I don’t pray for forgiveness after each sin I commit.

I am proud to say that I choose neither religion.  But I chose both traditions.  I don’t go to church or the synagogue.  I battle the crowds every December at Myer for the latest, shiniest, glitteriest Christmas tree ornaments I can find.  The Christmas decorations would be up all year if I didn’t worry about looking crazy.  And I fast on Jewish New Year (Yom Kippur) to remember my Jewish grandmother who survived Auschwitz and all those who didn’t.

As a family we hide our Easter eggs in the garden, even though we are all adults and I always will.  And I eat like only a real Jew can at Jewish holidays (which usually includes 3 starters, 5 mains, 3 desserts and just a little more to finish the feast off).  I also pray each night to a God who has no name and no religion, but I am sure still hangs out with the Care Bears.

Regardless of how many times people ask me to choose a side, I don’t. But I can only confidently do this because of my parents, who have never shown favouritism to either religion or taught me that one is better than the other.

And that is why I feel for Suri, 50% Scientologist, 50% Catholic, with no one loving both.

Avi Vince works as a manager in a non-profit organisation. She is starting her freelance writing career and you can follow her blog here or at twitter here.

Do you think different religions can co-exist peacefully in one family?

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