When Samuel Oliver turned 12, he asked his parents why he wouldn’t have either a bar mitzvah or a confirmation. His Jewish mother, whose family includes Holocaust survivors, and his father, who grew up in a religious Christian home, at first brushed off his question. Then they decided it required further investigation.
We met Samuel, along with other teenagers in similar situations, while conducting research for Being Interfaith, a multimedia project on Jewish-Christian families that we created earlier this year while students at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. We began the project in part because we were struck by a statistic: Over one in four American adults are married or living with a partner of a different religion. A small but increasing number of these couples are choosing to raise their children in both religions. These families often face opposition from extended family and struggle to be accepted by established congregations and religious organizations, many of which advocate educating children in only one religion.
Then we found an alternative: the Interfaith Community. Founded in 1987 in New York City, with branches now in Denver and Boston, the organization provides support for religiously mixed families, hosting services and celebrations for Jewish and Christian holidays and offering counseling for couples and classes for children and adults. These classes are taught by two instructors, one Jewish and the other Christian, with each sharing his or her own faith’s history, traditions, and practices, to give the teenagers the tools to make informed decisions regardless of the religious path they choose.
We interviewed 10 teenagers we met through the Interfaith Community. These young adults are at the front line of this new generation—often referred to as “half and half”—and we believe it is essential for their own voices to be heard.
Samuel Oliver’s family began attending holiday celebrations at the Interfaith Community
when he turned 12:
Zoe Wolfe took classes at the Interfaith Community from the age of 8 through 12.
Today she considers herself interfaith:
Daniel Froot is one of the few kids at the organization who has chosen one religion over
the other. After four years of attending classes, Daniel decided, when he turned 12,
to have a bar mitzvah:
Elettra Fiumi and Lea Khayata are 2011 graduates of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.