For most families, the biggest debate this time of year, is which side of the family to celebrate the holidays with.
For interfaith families, it can be akin to the invasion of Normandy trying to carefully maneuver each family’s ideologies and feelings.
Cranston couple Laura Levinson and her husband, John Catania have been together for 42 years, sharing not only their lives, but also their different holidays.
They lived together for 20 years celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas. Prior to becoming parents to their daughter; Sylvia, they would celebrate Easter and Christmas at John’s family’s home, and all the Jewish holidays with Laura’s family.
It was when they became parents they decided to celebrate one religion in their home.
“We agreed that it would be best for our daughter to grow up with one strong religion at home and to learn about John's religion by spending time with his family. In Judaism, if the mother is Jewish, then the children are Jewish.
This age-old commandment had a significant bearing on our decision,” Laura said.
Once the decision was made, they decided to embrace a Jewish home and all that it offers.
“John's family wanted Sylvia to have a stronger Catholic connection, and my family felt strongly about Sylvia having a Jewish upbringing. We encourage[d] her to stay connected to her Judaism, but at the same time, let her know that the ultimate choice is hers. She has a strong association and love
towards both her Italian as well as her Jewish heritage and holds them passionately,” said Laura.
They feel confident with the path they have taken.
“We are very comfortable with the decisions we made, and are happy and proud of the roots that Sylvia is nurturing and the way that she has grown and flourished to become the woman whom she is today,” Laura said.
Laura is also very proud and appreciative of John's commitment to co-develop a strong family steeped deeply in tradition, culture and values. His willingness to achieve these ends reflects his strength in family loyalty. John became a Jew by choice and completed his conversion in 2013.
“I feel that being in an interfaith relationship can be a great experience for some couples. There are steps to be taken, and challenges to face to make it successful. It requires planning and commitment, but most importantly, both parties must be in total agreement, especially when marriage is considered,” said John.
As for Sylvia, she never knew any other type of household than a Jewish home.
She attended the Alperin Schechter Hebrew Day School in Providence for elementary and middle school years, so she never had to tell her classmates that Santa didn’t come to her house. She graduated from Cranston East in the Class of 2012.
She has fond memories of growing up celebrating both Jewish and Christian holidays.
“I enjoyed learning the traditions that my mother was raised with and identified most closely with them. Then spending other holidays with my father’s family. Even though I wasn’t raised Catholic, celebrating the holidays was a time spent with family; filled with laughter, fun, and tons of yummy food,” Sylvia said.
Sylvia enjoyed the childhood she had, and the way she was raised.
“I loved growing up in an interfaith household. I think it’s a nice way to expose children to different religions in a very real and practical way. While we only celebrated Hanukkah in my house, I’ve always said that I would love to decorate a Christmas tree, and I’ve been lucky enough to have cousins kindly share theirs,” she said.
Sylvia said she never felt out or was missing anything by not having Santa at her house. But, it did make her very aware from a young age to be more inclusive of people, because not everyone celebrates Christmas.