Navigating the Holiday Season as an Interfaith Family: Debbie Wolff

Debbie Wolff and family

This year, Chanukah and Christmas will overlap once again. For many interfaith families, that means navigating two different religious traditions. For the Jewish spouse, it also means making sure their children feel connected to their Jewish heritage this time of year. We spoke to two Jewish parents in an interfaith marriage about raising their children Jewish this time of year.

Debbie Wolff grew up in Pikesville, moved to Dallas, TX after college to work in the fashion industry. She returned to Baltimore in 2018. Now a teacher at Krieger Schechter Day School (KSDS) and a Connector with the Macks Center for Jewish Connections, Debbie talks about the December holiday season and how she brings Judaism into her home.

What was your religious affiliation growing up?

In a reform home, I didn’t grow up very religious. I went to Wellwood Elementary and attended Hebrew school and Sunday school at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. When I was younger, my family would go to my grandparents to celebrate the Jewish holidays. My grandpa was religious but once my grandparents passed away we stopped getting together in a traditional way for holidays. Now I would consider myself culturally and spiritually Jewish.

What was it like moving back to Baltimore after being in Texas for so long?

When I moved back to Baltimore and began teaching at Krieger Schecter, everything began to truly feel like home. Texas was great, but there aren’t many Jews where I lived, and I hardly celebrated the Jewish holidays. We didn’t have much family near us to celebrate. Now that I’m home I love to celebrate, host and enjoy the holidays.

Tell us about your partner, Chris, and how you two met:

We met on a dating app once I moved back to Baltimore. He’s from Pasadena and grew up Christian, so we probably wouldn’t have crossed paths otherwise. Growing up, Chris was raised Catholic, and occasionally went to church, but now he isn’t involved so much in religion. He knows it makes me happy to celebrate all holidays, so that is what we do.

What is it like raising your son in an interfaith family?

Our son, Brooks, goes to Goldsmith Early Childhood Center at Chizuk Amuno Congregation. Currently he LOVES Shabbat and all the singing, dancing. My heart is truly happy watching him be excited about being Jewish!  We’ll teach Brooks the history and facts about Christianity, and if he asks questions we will answer, but we don’t have plans to affiliate him religiously with Christianity, and Chris is okay with that. It’s most important for us to raise a happy, good boy, with good values.

I want my children to grow up understanding what things are in terms of the Jewish holidays and to understand their heritage and culture. Especially now when antisemitism is so prevalent. It’s more important than ever for our kids to understand the importance of their Jewish identity, especially when they’re out in the world, and to be proud of where they come from.

How do you celebrate the Jewish and Christian holidays in your home?

Brooks is old enough now that he’s starting to understand Chanukah and Christmas. He enjoys lighting the menorah with us, singing songs and making latkes. We’ll also go to a Christmas tree farm, decorate the house with stockings, and  watch Christmas movies and shows. Chris and I both love decorating our house for the holidays. We love themes around the house, so our celebration of Christmas is not a religious way.

This year we’re hosting Chris’s family for Christmas. The main reason we celebrate the holidays is really to be with each other, as a family, and enjoy each other’s presence. For other Jewish holidays, like Tu B’shvat and Shavuot, we always do themed activities and as I connector I try to plan fun and meaningful events for all. We also read PJ Library books together, which has brought us closer to Judaism and helped us understand the Jewish holidays and why we celebrate them.

What challenges or struggles, if any, have come up regarding religion? 

We haven’t really had any struggles. I have had some internal conflicts and ask myself whether my children will feel like they fit in or are being accepted because they come from a different type of family than others. They’re accepted at home, but what about outside the home?

I also think about later down the road, will we want to send our kids to a Jewish day school? Will they learn and speak Hebrew? Chris doesn’t know Hebrew. My partner and I have excellent communication, so we know we’ll be able to navigate any challenge that lies ahead.

What’s your favorite Jewish holiday tradition?

Chanukah is my favorite holiday, and I love making latkes. Every year for Chanukah I make eight different types of cookies, one for each night, all with a holiday theme. When I lived in Dallas, since I love entertaining, I would make apple martinis and honey cake for friends and family. 

Click here to read Heather’s story.

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