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10 authors who capture what it’s like to grow up in an interfaith family

By Julia Metraux

Growing up, I struggled to find my place in the Jewish community as an interfaith Jew. By some people’s standards, I am not Jewish enough, despite having an American Jewish mother, because I have a Swiss Calvinist father. Celebrating Chanukah and Christmas growing up was my norm, but discussing my holidays and family interfaith traditions sometimes made me feel isolated.

I didn’t know other interfaith Jews growing up, so the first ones I met were through books. Specifically, Margaret in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. was the first modern-ish Jewish interfaith girl I encountered. What I’ve found is that many of these characters, like myself, merge traditions from different faiths and have trouble navigating their blended identity.

Today, I continue to enjoy reading books and other pieces of work that capture what it’s like to grow up in an interfaith family. Here are 10 authors, including interfaith Jews, parents of interfaith Jews and authors who write characters from interfaith families, who nail what it’s like to come from a mixed religion family.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
by Judy Blume
Margaret is an 11-year-old with a Christian mother and Jewish father. Raised without a religious affiliation, she studies people’s religious beliefs in an effort to figure out her own religious identity. Now 50 years old, this book is still relevant and worth a reread as an adult.

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations
by Mira Jacobs
Mira Jacobs’ son Z, has an Indian-American mother (Jacob) and a Jewish father. In this graphic novel, Jacobs showcases the dialogue that she and her son have had, from his questions about race to her in-laws (and Z’s grandparents) being avid Trump supporters.

Forest with Castanets
by Diane Mehta
Born to a Jewish-American mother and an Indian Jain father, Diane Mehta’s debut book of poetry explores her cultural identity. Mehta, who was born in Germany and moved to her father’s home country shortly thereafter, didn’t know she was Jewish until moving to the U.S., when her mother signed her up for “school at the local synagogue in New Jersey.” 

Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls
by T. Kira Madden
The author, whose late father was Jewish and whose mother is Chinese and Hawaiian, said her parents allowed her to learn about “every different religion, every culture.”  Madden, who also chronicles her experience growing up with parents who struggled with addictions in her book, says she hopes that people who feel like outsiders can “recognize some version of themselves, or some element of themselves” in her book.

The Whole Story of Half a Girl
by Vira Hirandandi
The book’s protagonist, Sonia Nadhamuni – who, like the author, has a Jewish-American mom and an Indian dad – faces pressures from her peers to define her identity. Like Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, this young adult novel captures what it’s like to navigate one’s interfaith identity as a young girl.

I Wanna Be Your Shoebox
by Cristina Garcia
We meet 8th-grader Yumi Ruíz-Hirsch, who has a Jewish-Japanese father and a Cuban mother, as her life is going poorly: Her family is losing its house, her school is cutting her beloved orchestra program and her grandfather Saul is dying. Refreshingly realistic, one of the best parts of the novel is when Yumi’s mother calls her a poster child for the 21st century because of her mixed heritage.

Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas
by Pamela Ehrenberg
In this children’s picture book, little Sadie and her multicultural family – her mom is Indian and her dad is Jewish – celebrate Chanukah while mixing in some of her mother’s Indian traditions, like eating dosas.  It’s a beautifully simple story of how different religions and cultures can complement each other.

Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes
by Laurel Synder 
Born to an Irish Catholic mother and a Jewish father, Laurel Snyder has written a plethora of young adult novels and children’s picture books. This anthology, which she edited, contains a series of essays  that showcase various experiences of Jews growing up in Jew-ish homes. A great glimpse into just how different interfaith Jewish families can be.

by Hannah Lillith Assadi
Like first-time author Hannah Lillith Assadi, Ahlam, the book’s main character, is the daughter of a Palestinian father and a Jewish mother who was raised in Arizona. The novel tracks her and her friend Laura’s journey to New York City. A 2018 National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Honoree and a recipient of the American Academy of Arts and Letters​ Rosenthal Family Foundation Award in Literature.

Poetry and Books
by Phil Kaye
Born to a Jewish father and a Japanese mother, Phil Kaye said in an interview with The Knockturnal that he “felt like this odd duck” growing up, as he didn’t know any other Japanese-Jewish kids. Kaye is also the co-director of Project VOICE with Sarah Kay, a fellow Japanese-Jewish poet. In his 2018 book Date & Time, which is a full-length poetry collection, Kaye touches on everything from being a mixed-race and interfaith kid to millennial stereotypes.

This article originally appeared on Alma.

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