Interfaith couples ponder options of child-raising

"All of the speakers show a great amount of energy and thought in raising their children and providing a meaningful family life," says Cartun, who was installed in March as spiritual leader of Congregation Etz Chaim in Palo Alto. The Lehrhaus Judaica class is co-sponsored by Etz Chaim and the Albert L. Schultz Jewish congregation, where the group meets.

Although Cartun personally believes it is better to raise a child in a single faith, he feels it's important to air other points of view.

One such option is the two-tradition solution. Belmont couple Alicia Torre, 44, who is Episcopalian, and Jonathan Nimes, 39, who is Jewish, are raising their two sons in both cultures. Although the couple's own parents were humanists and belonged to no formal institution, Torre and Nimes feel it is important for their sons, ages 3 and 6, to know their heritage.

"I have a strong sense of Jewish identity rooted in my ancestry," Nimes says. "I have Jewish sensibility that my wife doesn't have. Whether my children have it, I don't know. My identity is a mixture of elements, including history and traditions. I feel it is important to stress that Jews have a lot in common with [other] major religions. The Jewish values I want my children to realize are pursuit of justice, the Golden Rule, charity and laughing at oneself."

Torre said she was baptized Episcopalian and attracted to the study of theology in college. When their children were born, she and her husband created the welcoming ceremony for the baby-naming and baptism.

On Friday nights, they say prayers and perform rituals from both religions.

"Rituals give security to kids," says Torre, whose family has been a member for five years of an interfaith group. They celebrate many holidays with the group.

Torre says, "By their mid-teens, we want our children to be versed in the Old and New Testaments, leading to an awareness of the depth of religious tradition on both sides." She would like them to know enough about both traditions to explore on their own.

Both spouses in such a family, she says, must stay flexible.

Raised Jewish, Lissie Bland, 47, of Palo Alto, is married to a Presbyterian minister formerly connected with Stanford. They have two children aged 11 and 14. Because her extended family is in California and her husband's in Georgia, Bland's children receive more exposure to Jewish tradition than to her husband's Christian background. Passover and Chanukah have been significant events in the children's lives.

Although the family has attended services at the Presbyterian church, "Much of what we do is in the home, celebrating major holidays of both faiths," Bland says.

Bland and her husband wanted to raise their children with both religions, so that they can make their own choices as adults.

Sarah Luria, 38, who is the child of an intermarried couple herself, has chosen to raise her children in a single faith — Judaism. Her father was Jewish in name only. Her mother was Protestant. Neither parent was religiously active; but as a child, Luria remembers her joy in reading texts and singing in family groups.

"When I was young, my father told stories about his Sephardic background, which aroused my curiosity," says Luria , who lives in Redwood City. "This interested me, and led to my studies and conversion to Judaism 10 years ago. My husband is Jewish, and we are raising our children in the Jewish faith."

Cartun, formerly executive director of Hillel Foundation at Stanford University, emphasizes that the couples involved worked hard to resolve two-faith issues.

"You cannot coast; you must work and become an active participant in your community," he says. The common thread among the couples, he says, "is the commitment to make their plans work."