What The US Can Learn About Tolerance From Interfaith Families

by Carly Breitbart

My dad is Jewish, and my mom is Catholic. I had a rabbi and a priest at my baptism.

I read the Four Questions at Passover, and I found the first egg on Easter. I learned the Shema Yisrael and the Our Father. Santa brought us gelt.

When the idea of having kids came up in conversation, my parents decided to raise me and my sister with influences of both Catholicism and Judaism. It was an experiment, and I was the trial run. They wrote their own rules, and they hoped for the best.

The thing is, according to Judaism, I’m not Jewish because my mom isn’t Jewish, and according to Second Corinthians, my mother should not have gotten “unequally yoked” to my father. Popular opinion says exposing a child to two religions is confusing, and it can cause irreparable divisions within a marriage.

It hasn’t always been perfect, but I have to say this arrangement has worked out pretty well. They have been married for 25 years, and I turned out OK.

Being raised as a “cashew” — half Catholic, half Jewish — has brought me so much more than double the holidays and double the presents. My upbringing has helped me to become more tolerant, loving and open-minded.

It has also made me realize that if the world followed the example of my parents, maybe we would all be better off. Maybe loving each other, despite our differences, is exactly the medicine we need to stop the polarizing partisanship and systematic exclusivity in our country. I’ve learned a lot from my mixed-religion family, and I think the world could, too.

I’ve learned to be more accepting of people and their beliefs.

We all believe in something. Who's to say one religion, or even a lack thereof, is better than another? Being a part of a mixed-religion family taught me not to judge a person based on what he or she believes, or how he or she chooses to practice it.

In a recent poll, 59 percent of Republicans agreed with Donald Trump from banning all Muslims from entering the country. Saying "no" to someone just because of the religion he or she practices, before getting to know his or her story, is no way to live.

If my parents had this kind of prejudice, I wouldn’t be here right now. If you’re a good person and your actions reflect that, you’re good with me.

I’ve learned to ask more questions.

In a world full of seemingly infinite -isms and -ologies, growing up in a home with two religions taught me there is always more to learn.

Meeting people who practice other religions is like opening new chapters in the never-ending textbook of humanity. I’m eager to know more about what they believe, why they believe it and how they practice it.

We have the privilege of living in a country where hundreds of religions and denominations are practiced. We can take that opportunity to have conversations, rather than closing ourselves off to the chance to learn something new or, at the very least, meet someone new. The fact that my parents have different faiths reminds me that maybe faith isn’t always black and white.

I’ve learned to find my own faith.

I can’t count the number of people I know who went to Catholic School and Sunday Mass all of their lives, but have yet to go to church since moving away from home. The same goes for my friends who haven’t gone to Temple since their bar and bat mitzvahs.

They were told what to believe, and in many cases, forced to practice it the exact way their parents did. Because I was exposed to two religions, I was able to carve my own path and, more importantly, form my own relationship with God.

My faith is a fundamental part of who I am because I was encouraged to seek it on my own. It isn’t something I would simply give up because my parents aren’t around to wake me up for church. When we open our minds to new interpretations of faith, we may solidify our own in the process.

I’ve learned when to hold my ground.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy for my parents to decide exactly how much of each religion to instill in their new family. I can only imagine the doubts, hesitations and admittedly justifiable arguments that ensued during these pot-stirring conversations.

Their decisions would shape the worldview of their children, which is a task no one should view as simple and by-the-book. It was too complicated for a 50-50 tie.

Compromise was important, but some aspects were too vital to concede. When they say “pick your battles,” I’m pretty sure this one is what they are talking about.

Tolerance and complacency are not synonymous, though some Americans tend to equate the two. There are times when we can justifiably fight for what we believe in while respecting that others may not completely agree.

I’ve learned to make sacrifices for the people I love.

Governor John Kasich was asked in a recent debate how he would explain his opposition to same-sex marriage if he had a son or daughter who was gay or lesbian.

"Because somebody doesn't think the way I do, doesn't mean I can't care about them or I can't love them," he replied. "God gives me unconditional love. I'm going to give it to my family, my friends and the people around me."

This is a perfect example that we don't all have to agree in order to love each other. My family shows me that every day.

My dad comes to church with us every so often. He never fails to remind us that he “isn’t the only Jew there,” as he looks at the statue of Jesus on the altar.

It definitely isn’t his favorite place to be, and it probably made him a little uncomfortable at first. But despite the lip-syncing of Our Father, he shows up. He shows us we are a family who supports one another, regardless of our differences, beliefs and disbeliefs.

I’ve learned to open my mind to the possibility of falling in love with anyone.

My parents are a perfect example that two people don’t have to agree on everything to be happy together. They can question each other, learn more from each other and grow together every day for the rest of their lives. I won’t write someone off just because he or she doesn't identify with the same things I do.

My parents' trial run at making little "cashews" turned out just fine. It taught me religion is more ambiguous than some people may think, and that it's a personal experience differing from family to family. You can shape it however you want.

Religion has always been a point of contention in the world. Which is best, who's the most devout and whose practices are best are all questions that cause great divides between faiths.

The world could learn a powerful lesson from those of mixed faiths. Being both Catholic and Jewish has taught me love, kindness, individuality and above all, tolerance, which is a practice the whole world could use right about now.

At the end of the day, my religion makes me feel close to my family. It helps me understand the inner workings of my parents' minds and marriage. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll have some “cashews” of my own.