Faith In Our Town: Interfaith Families

WUSA9's Bruce Johnson introduces us to an interfaith family.

KENSINGTON, Maryland (WUSA9)--How important is it for your significant other to be of the same religion?  A Pew Research Center study finds people who married between 2010 and 2014 were twice as likely to have married outside of their faiths as people before 1960.

MORE:  Pew Research Center

Typically interfaith couples do one of three things:  one or both spouses opt out of any religious activity, thus becoming so called "Nones."  Or, one spouse converts. Or, both pick a new religion to practice together.  However, a growing number of couples are practicing both their faiths, and raising their children this way as well.

Dr. Kevin Blumenthal, and his wife Jennie Blumenthal, have been married for 12 years.  They first met 20 years ago when both attended the University of Virginia.

"I actually thought he was Italian when I first met him," says Jennie sitting in their Washington, DC home. 

"Her mom broke it to her that I was actually Jewish," says Kevin.

Once that was settled, Kevin and Jennie started talking faith and marriage.

"It wasn't as big of a concern for me," explains Kevin.  "For you," gesturing toward his wife, "I know it weighed a lot more heavily."

"I was raised Catholic, and went to Catholic school so there was never another option presented until my semi-adult life," says Jennie.

After much discussion and soul searching, both decided to keep their individual beliefs.  Seven years after their first meeting, Jennie and Kevin exchanged wedding vows before a rabbi and a priest.

"But then once kids came along, you really have to force yourself to which ones to do," says Jennie.  "And we decided if we were both, then we were going to raise them with both."

"I didn't want to give up my religion," says Kevin.  "And I wanted my kids to know their religion.  The Jewish aspect.  I wanted them to know both.  I didn't think it was right for Jennie to give up hers either."


This is where the Interfaith Families Project, or IFFP, comes into play. Every Sunday hundreds gather at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, Maryland.  

MORE:  Interfaith Families Project

It's here one finds the blending of religious customs. Members recite the Christian Lord's Prayer, as well as the Sh'ma, the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book.

On the day WUSA9's cameras were present, songs and stories to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were also part of the gathering.  

"We don't talk about dogma. We learn together," says Rabbi Rain Zohav.  "I can't imagine this happening 50 or 60 years ago."

IFFP is led by Rabbi Zohav and Reverend Julia Jarvis. 

"One of the things we are doing in this particular community is repairing part of the world that has felt excluded," says Rev. Jarvis. "They did not feel like they belonged in a church or a synagogue.  So we took these folks that were marginalized and created a home for them."

Sunday school is offered for the children.  Critics sometimes say inter-religious education creates confusion in children.  


"Another criticism of giving interfaith children an interfaith education is that you will stay on a surface.  And that it won't be deep," explains Susan Katz Miller who has written a book called Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family. Miller is the child of an interfaith couple.  She was raised Jewish.

MORE:  Susan Katz Miller, Being Both

"My parents did what most clergy and religious institutions will tell you to do, which is to pick one religion. So they picked Judaism."

Miller later married a protestant and together they raised their now grown children with both faiths.


"For religious institutions the idea of families claiming more than one religion is threatening.  There is concern they are losing people from the pews," says Miller. "It is something that is threatening especially for religious minorities that feel being assimilated out of existence."


Something Kevin Blumenthal admits he struggles with.  "There was a part of me that felt maybe guilt, or concern for that.  I don't know the answer to that question.



However, in the end, sharing both faiths with their children is the only option for their family.  As for what faith they want their children to choose in the future, the Blumenthals say they want their children to know their religious backgrounds, as well as any others that interest them, and for the children to make the choice that is right for them.   


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