Walking down the long halls of her middle school and high school, young Annie Rush from Atlanta was different from everyone else. Now 21-years-old looking back on those years, she says she enjoyed being different, “I liked the attention,” said Rush.
Rush was the only Jewish student at a Christian school. She was raised by her Christian mother and Jewish father. During the summers growing up, Rush spent her time at an overnight Jewish camp, where she met her best friends through Judaism. After being exposed to both religions, she decided to be Jewish.
Many people are faced with deciding between religions when raised in interfaith homes. About 20% of U.S. adults were raised in interfaith homes, as shown in a study by the Pew Research Center.
Learning about the traditions of each religion your parents hold is part of the decision making process, and it’s important to know that you are making an educated choice. Don’t jump into the decision making process before doing some background research first, because this decision is something that will affect the rest of your life.
It’s also important to note that certain religions have pre-existing guidelines on being raised in an interfaith home. Rabbi Yehoshua Chincholker, originally from Bombay, India, noted a tradition in the Jewish faith that if the mother is Jewish, the child must also be raised Jewish.
The logic is that once the egg and sperm are unified, the mother has the upper hand throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy, and the child transforms its identity to that of the mother.
So here are steps to take when you can’t pick between the yarmulke and the Santa hat.
Reflect on what is most important to you
Allison Lukas, a 21-year-old from Berkeley, Calif., was raised in a home where her father is a reformed Jew and her mother is Catholic and Mormon. She suggests starting by looking back on your childhood, and take note of what you were involved in. Ask yourself, “What kind of education did I receive about religion? Was I in any clubs or youth groups?” If you were involved with anything having to do with religion, perhaps you already feel more connected to one faith than the other.
Growing up, Lukas attended a Jewish day school, a Jewish summer camp and joined a Jewish youth group in the eighth grade.
The only experience she had with Catholicism was celebrating Christmas every year with her extended family. Over time, Lukas grew unhappy with her extended family for separate reasons and associated Catholicism with them, leading her to dislike her familiarity with the religion itself.
For Lukas, the choice seemed clear. She was already more connected to Judaism by the time she was in middle school, and chose to become a Bat Mitzvah—a Jewish tradition where a girl is called to the Torah for the first time and becomes a woman.
Others might be equally involved in both religions, making the decision harder. Lisa Sideris, a religious studies professor at Indiana University, said that making this decision depends on what the person has been exposed to in their life—did they go to church, attend a religious school, have friends of different religion, etc. Sideris mentioned that her 11-year-old son has been exposed to many religions through education, and thinks at this point he would be able to start thinking about making a decision.
Lukas was definitely more exposed to Judaism, leading her to make the choice she did. “It doesn’t ever feel like being Jewish was a choice, it just felt the most right,” Lukas said.
Have a conversation with your parents
Rush recalled a heated conversation at the dinner table with her parents. “My dad fought for me to go to Jewish camp, since I was already at a Christian school,” she said.
After talking with her parents, Rush decided to follow through with her Jewish side and she went to Hebrew school twice a week after school up until she became a Bat Mitzvah, while staying at the Christian school as well.
“I didn’t keep going because it was a Christian school, it was just a good school,” Rush said.
Once she was exposed to both faiths growing up, it was easier to have an open conversation with her parents.
The same goes for Mayme Acklen, 22-year-old from Cincinnati, Ohio. Acklen grew up with a Christian father and a Jewish mother. Her senior year of high school, Acklen’s mother talked to her about attending a two-week trip to Poland and Israel through the Jewish Community Center. It wasn’t until the end of the trip where Acklen felt truly connected to Judaism.
I’m so happy that my mom talked to me about the trip because I wouldn’t feel truly Jewish without it,” Acklen said.
Research both religions
Religion is a very broad term. Sideris said it requires so much exploration that you’re never a complete expert on a religion, but through educating yourself on the matter, you are able to make a decision for yourself.
A good place to start your research is by talking to the religious leaders in your parent’s church, synagogue, mosque, or wherever they are involved. Ask them about the ancient traditions and how they have evolved to the modern day. After hearing stories such as Rabbi Chincholker’s, begin online research.
Find common trends in religion that are popular right now. Sideris suggests asking how they relate to your current views? Do you see yourself fitting in with their beliefs?
Even though you may know enough to make a decision, your journey is just beginning.
“As someone who teaches religion, I would say that learning about religions really is a lifelong process, there’s always more to know,” Sideris said.
Interfaith Upbringings Offer Better Perspective
So take the time to reflect, research, and review your options. Religion can guide your life in many directions, and you want to make sure you’re taking the path that is best for you.