- Associated Press - Sunday, January 8, 2017

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - A lighted Christmas tree and silver tinsel greeted guests at the bay window of Jonathan Spodek and Theresa Kruczek’s home last month.

About a dozen steps in the dining room, so did three menorahs and a handful of dreidels.

Spodek, who is Jewish, and Kruczek, who is Quaker, are an interfaith couple raising two daughters while practicing different religions. Quakerism is a Christian denomination which celebrates Christmas in December, while those practicing Judaism celebrate Hanukkah. The year 2016 actually was the first time in nearly 40 years that Christmas Eve and the start of Hanukkah fell on the same day, so the family’s decorations mixed. Spodek and Kruczek haven’t seen this overlap happen in their 25 years of marriage, and only once, 11 years ago, have they seen Hanukkah’s first day fall on Christmas Day.

But their children, 21-year-old Sarah and 18-year-old Rachel Spodek, found ways to make both holidays work during the overlap. Sarah, who attends Quaker-founded Earlham College, displayed both an illuminated menorah by her bedroom window and a Christmas stocking at her door.

As for rituals, the family observed Christmas first, simultaneously acknowledging Hanukkah’s first two of eight days. Then, the remaining six days were dedicated to feasting, lighting the candles of the menorah and playing “spin the dreidel” - a game with a four-sided top played during the Jewish holiday.

However, the family did sneak in a game or two on Christmas Eve.

“We just sort of blend it all together,” Rachel said.

Interfaith marriage is an increasing trend, according to 2014 Pew Research Center statistics. The study reported 39 percent of couples who have married since 2010 are made of two religions. Compare that to 19 percent of those who wed before 1960. Among other religions, Judaism and Christianity are two common components of an interfaith marriage, with 35 percent of Jews reporting being married to or living with a partner of a different religion. Ball State sociology professor Richard Petts credits this trend to multiple factors including increases in acceptance and online dating.

In 1989, Spodek and Kruczek met in Richmond, Va. Spodek was at his first job out of college, while Kruczek was completing an internship. A mutual friend introduced them. Religion wasn’t their first conversation topic, but later on, it became important when planning their wedding. The couple hired an outside source who helped craft a ceremony pleasing both sides, something respectful of their backgrounds, but also meaningful spiritually and personally.

For example, neither religion allowed for marriage on the Sabbath, a religious observance. For Spodek, it was Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. For Kruczek, it was Sunday. So, they were wed on Saturday night.

“Some family was skeptical coming in, but as it turned out, I don’t think anyone left mad,” Kruczek said.

One of Kruczek’s aunts, who actually grew up in the Church of Christ, told her it was one of the nicest ceremonies she had ever been to because “it was reflective of them as people, and it wasn’t a typical, customary wedding.” And surprisingly, those most devoutly religious were the most accepting. Cousins even gave the couple a book titled, “Happily Intermarried.”

Years later, Spodek and Kruczek’s next challenge was rearing their children with two different faiths.

They had their daughters attend monthly Quaker and Jewish services during their early years, with the occasional Catholic mass in respect for Kruczek’s mother. As they grew older, Sarah and Rachel were given the freedom to choose which path to follow, if any at all. Eventually, the sisters’ interests split and evolved, and each naturally latched onto one specific religion. But they agree, that doesn’t mean they’ll give up the other.

“I definitely find myself identifying with Quakerism and going to Quaker service, but I also don’t want to forget Jewish celebrations because not only are they fun, but I grew up with them,” said Sarah, who likes the meditation and peaceful conflict resolution associated with the Quaker faith.

Rachel said she leans more toward Judaism because she identifies with the rituals and feel of community, though she agrees she wants to incorporate both religions into her life.

Their mother turned to Rachel. “Well, you’d asked me even last week, right? Can you be Jewish and still have a Christmas tree?”

“Well, I think that was a joke,” Rachel said laughing. “But I definitely want to retain both parts of my identity.”

Today, Spodek and Kruczek normally attend services separately, Spodek at Temple Beth El synagogue and Kruczek at Friends Memorial Church. Those buildings are just across from one another at the intersection of Adams and Jackson streets. Each congregation has welcomed the other spouse.

No matter where their children turn, Spodek and Kruczek said both of their religious backgrounds promote similar moral views of social justice and advocacy, and to them, that’s what matters.

“We adopted the notion that the most important thing is to believe in God, and to love one another and love each other,” Kruczek said. “That’s something that drew (me and Jonathan) together, and that’s a common value we can now share in our home.”

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Source: The (Muncie) Star Press, https://tspne.ws/2hKHwFn

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Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com

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