Focus on Issues: Interfaith Unions Spawn Growing Commercial Market

Holiday cards for interfaith couples are flying off the countertop at Perrin & Treggett Booksellers, a Denville, N.J., store devoted to gay and lesbian and self-help titles.

One features a drawing of a house with a Christmas wreath on the front door and a Chanukah menorah blazing in the window.

Another says “Merry Christmas” over the face of Santa Claus on the front, and opens to a rabbi wearing a yarmulka and tallit under the wish for a “Happy Chanukah.”

“As soon as people see this line, they grab them,” proprietor Bill Glazener said of the cards celebrating both Chanukah and Christmas, which he is selling this season for the first time. Some of the cards are for gay couples, others are not.

Interfaith holiday cards are also selling well at card-and-gift stores, department stores and stationery stores across the country.

While cards designed for the large and growing market of Jews married to Christians have been around for several years, the companies that sell them are expanding rapidly to meet the demand. And the biggest greeting card companies are getting into the act as well.

Recycled Paper Greetings, a $100 million company based in Chicago, has a card with a face on the front that is half-Santa, half-Chasidic rabbi. Inside it says “Merry Chanukah.”

Thirty of the company’s 700 winter holiday cards are devoted to celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah.

“There is strong acceptance by consumers nationally for these types of cards,” said company spokesman Bill White. “I can’t say exactly how many of them we sell, but they sell above average, and we’re selling a lot of them.”

Beyond the cards, a wellspring of new products and services is bubbling up to meet the needs of this burgeoning market — from a bi- monthly newsletter, to children’s books, to tours of Israel designed specifically for interfaith families.

On the market there is even a certificate designed to imitate a ketubah, the contract of marriage required in Jewish marriage, and a Christmas stocking woven in blue and white, adorned with a Jewish star.

The market for interfaith family-targeted products certainly exists — and is sure to grow.

About 1 million American households are today composed of a Jew married to a non-Jew, according to sociologist Egon Mayer.

These couples have about 1.3 million children, said Mayer, director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, which he described as an independent educational organization trying to promote Jewish continuity among the intermarried.

The spawning of this cottage industry is being welcomed by Jews married to Christians, and by Christians married to Jews. But among people concerned with encouraging in-marriage, the phenomenon is not a welcome one.

“These kinds of things make me furious,” said Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the Conservative movement’s congregational arm.

Products such as these “attempt to bridge over differences and blend where there is no authenticity in blending,” said Epstein, whose movement’s position on intermarriage has been to focus on encouraging the non-Jewish partner in intermarriages to convert to Judaism. “People distort both religions when they try to blend them.”

Partners in interfaith couples disagree.

Interfaith families are “now feeling accepted enough to manifest in a public way their decision for themselves and their kids,” said Joan Hawxhurst, a Methodist married to a Jew.

Hawxhurst founded the bimonthly journal Dovetail in 1992 when she searched for books and periodicals “that respected me and my partner and the decisions we made together” and did not find much that satisfied her.

“There was a gaping void in resources that balanced the perspectives of both partners in an interfaith family,” she said, so she founded Dovetail, which now has about 1,000 subscribers.

In May, her company published “Interfaith Wedding Ceremonies,” a compilation of marriage rituals used by interfaith couples.

It includes information on locating clergy who will officiate at an interfaith union and tips for making unhappy family members comfortable.

Hawxhurst has sold 4,000 copies by mail order.

More recently, Hawxhurst has published “Bubbe and Gram: My Two Grandmothers,” the story of a girl who learns about matzah balls, Moses and Shabbat candles from her Jewish grandmother, and the Lord’s Prayer and the nativity story from her Christian grandma.

Hers is one of many recent books aimed at the children of intermarriages.

The entrepreneurs who have created products for this population say they are doing more than selling cards or books. They say they are providing an important emotional resource for people who otherwise often feel quite alienated from both the Jewish and Christian communities.

“I get poignant calls from people, couples who have already made the decision to get married, and they feel so alone, as if they can’t find anyone to help them do what they are bound and determined to do,” Hawxhurst said.

Philip Okrend, who, with his wife, runs MixedBlessings, a greeting-card company that began six years ago and now sells more than 200,000 cards a year, said, “What we’re doing is positive because there are so many interfaith couples and they appreciate what we’re doing.”

“We’re not trying to dilute religion, but to enhance it. We’re trying to make interfaith families feel good, that there’s something for them,” said Okrend, who, like his wife, is Jewish.

Their book “Blintzes for Blitzen” has sold 3,500 copies in the couple of months it has been out, he said.

Okrend, like other people providing these products, disagreed with the notion that they in some way promote intermarriage by creating an increasingly comfortable environment for interfaith families.

“Our products absolutely do not encourage intermarriage,” he said. Intermarriage is now “just an obvious fact of life, and we’re trying to celebrate that with what we do.”

But for those trying to promote conversion, these products are not so innocuous.

“We ought to make things more comfortable for people to convert and this kind of thing, in my mind, does just the opposite,” the Conservative movement’s Epstein said.

There is also some interesting — and as yet undefined — cultural quirk that is leading to these products being created by and for Jews and the people they marry, when interfaith marriage is a widespread American phenomenon, said sociologist Mayer.

After all, Mayer said, “you don’t see any Hispanic-Mormon toys.”

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