With open arms


Connecticut native Ed Case talks about attitudes towards intermarriage…and why they need to change

By Judie Jacobson

Ed Case

Ed Case

On Sunday, March 10 Ed Case will come home to Connecticut to talk about a subject he feels passionate about: Interfaith families.
Case, who grew up Wethersfield and attended Hebrew school at Beth El Temple in West Hartford, is founder and CEO of InterfaithFamily.com, an online resource that offers support for interfaith couples who wish to explore Jewish life and Jewish communities. He will be guest speaker at
the Men’s Club breakfast at Beth El Temple on March 10.
Case practiced law in Boston for 22 years before deciding to make a career change by enrolling in Brandeis University’s Hornstein Program, where he received Masters degrees in Jewish Communal Service and non-profit management. His parents, Beatrice and Lewis Case, were founding members. They now live in Westbrook.
The Ledger recently spoke with Case about his organization, its mission, and his upcoming visit to West Hartford.

Q: Why did you decide to found InterfaithFamily.com? 
A:  When I was deciding what I wanted to do after being a lawyer, I realized that engaging interfaith families in Jewish life and community had become my passion.
My wife was not Jewish when we got married, so I had personal experience with many issues that interfaith couples face. My wife and I joined our local Reform synagogue and became leaders of its interfaith couples group. I joined the Board and led a committee that recommended what leadership roles people who were not Jewish could take at the synagogue. I got involved in the regional outreach committee that the Reform movement had at the time.
At the Hornstein Program I did independent studies on intermarriage and had two fieldwork positions dealing with the issue, at the Jewish Family and Children’s Service and CJP (the Boston federation). When I graduated in 1999 I started work at a Jewish non-profit that had started a number of Internet magazines on Jewish topics, including one for interfaith families. I realized there was a potential to do much more, and started InterfaithFamily.com in January 2002.

Q: What is the organization’s focus? 
A: Our mission is to empower people in interfaith relationships – individuals, couples, families and their children – to engage in Jewish life and make Jewish choices, and to encourage Jewish communities to welcome them. We offer educational content; connections to welcoming organizations, professionals and programs; resources and trainings for organizations, clergy and other program providers; and, with our InterfaithFamily/Your Community initiative, coordinated comprehensive programs and services in local communities – currently in Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia.
The tagline on each page of our website sums up our approach: supporting interfaith families exploring Jewish life. So we are most definitely focused on bringing Jewish life into the homes of interfaith couples – and are motivated by our belief that seeing that happen is essential for the future growth and vitality of the Jewish community.

Q: Do you think interfaith couples need to choose a religion in which to bring up their children, or is it possible to bring
up children in two religions?
A: It’s important to clarify that the term “interfaith couple” as we use it doesn’t mean anything specific about the religion or religions that the partners practice, it only means that one partner is Jewish and one partner is not. There is a wide range of religious practices among interfaith couples. Among those who identify their family and home as Jewish, some partners who are not Jewish live Jewishly and do not practice another religion; some do practice another religion themselves but still identify their family, home and children as Jewish. It’s also important to clarify that parents can raise children as Jews while still honoring the other parent’s religious tradition, in particular with non-religious holiday celebrations, if that is what the parents want to do.
There is no question that interfaith couples can choose one religion in which to bring up their children. In Jewish community demographic studies significant percentages of interfaith couples say that they are doing just that, and thousands of writers and Network members at InterfaithFamily do too. We don’t pass judgment on what people do, or say that interfaith couples who bring up their children in two religions are “wrong” or “bad,” but that is not what Interfaith Family recommends. We believe that having a religious identity is a positive factor for children; that because of theological differences a person cannot be both Jewish and Christian; and that raising a child as “both” with the idea that the child can make a choice later is a source of confusion and puts children in the position of choosing between their parents or grandparents.

Q: Do you find that synagogues and other Jewish organizations are not only more accepting of interfaith families, but actually are doing more to welcome these families?
A: Attitudes among lay people about intermarriage have become somewhat more positive as it touches more and more of them, but among lay and professional leaders there is room for much improvement. Just this year one top editor at the Forward, the only national Jewish newspaper, said she was “haunted” by the prospect of young adults intermarrying, and the other top editor said children of intermarried parents identify as Jews “because it’s fashionable in Hollywood.” These kinds of gratuitous slaps at intermarriage are unfortunately far too common. If interfaith couples think that the Jewish community views their relationship as sub-optimal, they will hesitate to engage. People won’t go where they don’t feel welcome.
Some synagogues and Jewish organizations are more accepting and offering more programming, but again there is room for much improvement. Overall there actually is less programming that is explicitly marketed as “for interfaith families” than there has been in the past.

Q: What is the biggest challenge interfaith families face?
A: Our theory of change is that more interfaith families would engage in Jewish life and community if they could learn that doing so could be a source of great meaning and value to them, if they had positive welcoming experiences doing so, and if they could reconcile engaging in Jewish life with the other religious tradition in their family. More and more young adults today, whether involved in interfaith relationships or not, are asking “why be (or do) Jewish?” Those coming from or becoming interfaith families have the additional questions of how they can fit in and whether they will be accepted.

Q: Are there special problems for interfaith families when Christian and Jewish holidays intersect – for example, the approaching Passover and Easter holidays?
A: Each interfaith couple has to decide what it is going to do about holiday celebrations, but in our experience they are able to do so without ongoing conflict. We have conducted surveys about the December holidays and also about Passover and Easter for nine years now; great majorities of interfaith couples raising their children as Jews say they participate in Christmas and Easter celebrations in a non-religious way that does not compromise the religious identity of their children.

Q: What do you plan on speaking about at Beth El Temple in West Hartford? Can people who are not part of interfaith families benefit from this talk?
A: My topic is talking to our children about dating, in-marriage and intermarriage, and the Temple expects the audience to be primarily parents of children in the Temple’s schools. But the talk is really about fundamental attitudes about intermarriage and I hope that everyone interested in the Jewish future would find that worth thinking about.
I was the first bar mitzvah in what was then the “new” sanctuary at Beth El in April 1963. I have a special interest in trying to help the Conservative movement attract and welcome interfaith couples, so I’m excited about being invited to speak at Beth El.

Ed Case will speak at Beth El Temple, 2626 Albany Ave., on Sunday, March 10 at 9:15 a.m. For more information call (860) 233-9696

E-MAIL COMMENTS judiej@jewishledger.com.

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