Growing up, I struggled to find my place in the Jewish community as an interfaith Jew. By some people’s standards, I am not Jewish enough, despite having an American Jewish mother, because I have a Swiss Calvinist father. Celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas growing up was my norm, but discussing my holidays and family interfaith traditions sometimes made me feel isolated.
I didn’t know other interfaith Jews growing up, so the first ones I met were through books. Here are 10 authors, including interfaith Jews, parents of interfaith Jews and authors who write characters from interfaith families, who nail what it’s like to come from a mixed-religion family.
1. “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret,” Judy Blume
I came across this book when I was in fifth grade. The main protagonist is Margaret, an 11-year-old who has a Christian mother and Jewish father. Margaret, who was raised without a religious affiliation, chooses to study people’s religious beliefs in an effort to figure out her own religious identity.
It’s wild to think that this book came out more than 50 years ago. This book is still incredibly relevant and worth a reread as an adult.
2. “Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations,” Mira Jacobs
Mira Jacobs’ son Z has an Indian-American mother (Jacob) and a Jewish father. In this graphic novel, Jacobs showcases the dialogue she and her son have had, from his questions about race to her in-laws (Z’s grandparents) being avid Trump supporters.
3. “Forest with Castanets,” Diane Mehta
Born to a Jewish-American mother and an Indian Jain father, Diane Mehta’s debut book of poetry explores her cultural identity. Mehta, who was born in Germany and moved to her father’s home country of India shortly thereafter, revealed that she didn’t know she was Jewish until moving to the U.S., when her mother signed her up for “school at the local synagogue in New Jersey.”
4. “Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls,” T Kira Madden
T Kira Madden, whose late father was Jewish and whose mother is Chinese and Hawaiian, said her parents allowed her to learn about “every different religion, every culture.” Madden says she hopes people who feel like outsiders can “recognize some version of themselves, or some element of themselves” in her book.
5. “The Whole Story of Half a Girl,” Vira Hirandandi
Born to a Jewish-American mother and a Hindu Indian father, Vira Hirandandi said she “grew up feeling not quite enough of one or the other” in an interview with Publisher’s Weekly. In “The Whole Story of Half a Girl,” the protagonist, Sonia Nadhamuni — who also has a Jewish-American mom and an Indian dad — faces pressures from her peers to define her identity.
6. “I Wanna Be Your Shoebox,” Cristina Garcia
In “I Wanna Be Your Shoebox,” the main character, Yumi Ruíz-Hirsch, has a Jewish-Japanese father and a Cuban mother. I don’t have fond memories of eighth grade, and Yumi’s experience is going similarly poorly: Her family is losing its house, her school is cutting her beloved orchestra program and her grandfather Saul is dying. This novel is refreshingly realistic.
7. “Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas,” Pamela Ehrenberg
In this children’s picture book, little Sadie and her multicultural family — her mom is Indian and her dad is Jewish — celebrate Hanukkah while mixing in some of her mother’s Indian traditions, like eating dosas. While I do enjoy novels that tackle complexity, it’s nice to read simple stories of how different religions and cultures can complement each other.
8. “Half/Life: Jew-ish Tales from Interfaith Homes,” Laurel Synder
Born to an Irish Catholic mother and a Jewish father, Laurel Snyder has written a plethora of young adult novels and children’s picture books. This is my favorite of hers; it’s an anthology she edited. “Half/Life” contains a series of essays that showcase various experiences of Jews growing up in Jew-ish homes. It’s a great read if you want glimpses into just how different interfaith Jewish families can be.
9. “Sonora,” Hannah Lillith Assadi
Hannah Lillith Assadi, who is Jewish and Palestinian, published this debut novel in 2017. Like Assadi, Ahlam, the main character here, is the daughter of a Palestinian father and a Jewish mother who was raised in Arizona. .
10. “Date & Time,” Phil Kaye
Born to a Jewish father and a Japanese mother, Phil Kaye, in an interview with The Knockturnal, said he “felt like this odd duck” growing up. In “Date & Time,” a full-length poetry collection, Kaye touches on everything from being a mixed race and interfaith kid to millennial stereotypes.
This article originally appeared on Alma.
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