When a Child Has Two Cultures
That is, who would train them and what they would be taught about the two different identities present in a Jewish-Gentile home.Enculturation is the process of acquiring culture from an ethnic people. In a Jewish-Gentile couple, only one party is Jewish and the other is a different ethnicity. Culture is all the things that are learned by a particular ethnic community to express itself. I’ve tried to use the image of a computer to explain the difference between ethnicity and culture. If we picture ethnicity as being like the hardware of a computer, then culture is like the operating system software. Ethnicity is established by bloodline, DNA or like a “brand name.” It doesn’t change. On the other hand, culture is all the stuff by which a person, or a computer in our example, accomplishes its tasks. Culture can and does change. It morphs and accommodates to enable people to communicate within multicultural relationships. Since all communication is cross-cultural, we are all regularly acquiring new information about culture, some of it about our own culture and some about the culture of other people.
That might be a rough analogy, but think of culture as the things that children especially learn to help them interact with their new and growing world. The surface level of culture, that part that is most easily changed, might be the sort of foods that “our people eat.” For example, Jewish-Italian partners might describe how one set of their people eat things like matzo or challah while the other family enjoys panini or focaccia bread.
Children learn from their relatives and parents how to experience life cycle events like weddings or funerals and how to celebrate holidays. They learn what events are parts of our culture. They learn from social authorities how to address elderly relatives or religious leaders in their culture. They form a sense of communal, familial and individual identity according to the accumulation of cultural elements.
At the core of their culture people learn about where people come from, and I don’t mean from Europe (thanks to the movie “Diner” for that one). They learn about the order of the universe, values for moral living, what their family believes about the afterlife and the nature of God. Religion is after all an important component of culture. It is learned. It can change. It is not tied to or owned by any one ethnic community. And, there are different truth claims made by various religious systems. Therefore, those beliefs that are cross-cultural, and potentially contradictory, can produce significant tension when Jewish-Gentile couples enculturate their children.
Marrianne Calahan did a doctoral research study on how intermarried couples choose to enculturate their children. She found that some couples, fearing potential tension, abdicate the responsibility and teach nothing. Their justification is that children can decide for themselves about religion when they grow up.
Some couples choose to teach both religions. It is argued that such children either end up with a shallow knowledge of both traditions or that they are led to believe that there is no such thing as axiomatic, objective truth. Of course, when parents are teaching both religions to a child, the inevitable disagreements can result in tension between the spouses.
Calahan also noted that some couples leave the religious education to only one of the parents. In that way, the child only learns one religion. While that provides consistent training for the child, it also feeds the inability to find spiritual harmony within the home.
I found, in the graduate study on challenges, that the longing for spiritual harmony was a consistent longing among Jewish-Gentile couples. Therefore, we advocate that parents teach the children of a Jewish-Gentile couple about both of their ethnic heritages and a consistent, unifying faith in the one true living God. Don’t jump to a conclusion. When a child learns about the one true God, we advocate that they learn that God has manifested Himself in the Messiah of Israel, Y’shua, (Jesus).
We would like to provide information to help in this enculturation process. We believe that it is best accomplished in the family. Certainly a community of like-minded Jewish-Gentile couples can be of help. That can be found as a social network, a havurah, a church or a Messianic congregation.
There are family conferences in the fall that are now available for Jewish-Gentile couples and their children. We have camping opportunities for children through teens. Camp Gilgal sponsors programs on the East Coast, Midwest and the West Coast of the United States. Let us know if you are interested in the introductory Wonderful Winter Weekend experience for children. Please contact us or click here for more info.
How might we serve you in training up children to love God within Jewish-Gentile families? Let us know.