Interfaith Marriages

Cross Lanes interfaith couple celebrates Hanukkah, Christmas

F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail

Jennifer and Leon Ronen, of Cross Lanes, play with their daughter, Ophira, and son, Noam, at their home earlier this week. Not pictured is their youngest son, Ari. The interfaith couple celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas, which overlap this year.

On the mantel in Leon and Jennifer Ronen’s Cross Lanes home, garland and glittery snowflakes surround signs with “Peace” and “Noel” in big letters. Two menorahs stand on the right and the left sides, and three sequin stockings — blue, red and green — hang below.

A Christmas tree shines brightly in a nearby room.

The Ronens — Leon, a Jew, and Jennifer, a self-described “cradle Catholic,” and the couple’s three children — will celebrate two holidays today: the beginning of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve.

“It’s going to be interesting,” said Leon, a physician originally from Long Island, New York.

Hanukkah, an eight-day “Festival of Lights,” is a minor Jewish holiday, compared to Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah, Leon said. The festival commemorates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in 165 B.C.

Rabbi Victor Urecki, of Charleston’s B’Nai Jacob synagogue, said Hanukkah moves around each year because it’s observed based on the Jewish lunar calendar, which has 354 days, as opposed to 365 days. To make sure Jewish holidays are observed in the proper seasons (Passover in the Spring and the Feast of Tabernacles in the Fall), the Jewish calender has a “leap month” seven times every 19 years, Urecki said.

“Hence why, a couple of years ago, Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving and this year on Christmas Eve,” Urecki said. “[It’s] neither rare, nor remarkable, nor religiously significant.”

Today, the family will celebrate with a mix of Catholic Masses at Blessed Sacrament Church, in South Charleston, and by lighting a menorah, playing games and opening some presents. Jennifer will attend a third Mass — at midnight, after the children have gone to bed, in anticipation of Christmas morning and more presents.

“Some of the bigger [presents] are left off for the last day of Hanukkah, which is Jan. 1,” Jennifer said.

She said the dueling holidays don’t add to her stress level.

Jennifer, a singer at her church and with womanSong Chorale, said her stress has been about the many performances scheduled for this month, which keep her busy.

She enjoys the holidays in general, she said.

Jennifer said her children — Ophira, 8, Noam, 7, and Ari, 6 — benefit from celebrating both holidays.

“In my opinion, I think it shows tolerance,” she said. “That way, they realize, ‘Hey this isn’t the only religion out here.’

The children attend Catholic school at St. Francis of Assisi, in St. Albans. Jennifer said she likes the school because it has a religiously diverse group of children — Catholics, Lutherans, Jews and Muslims.

The children have not been baptized into either religion, as of yet. The couple has agreed to let the children decide on religion for themselves as they get older.

Neither spouse converted to the other’s religion before their wedding, either. The two eloped and had a civil wedding.

As one might expect with interfaith relationships, the couple’s respective families were hesitant, at first, about their religious differences, they said.

“You don’t decide on a person based upon what your parents want, but what you want,” Leon said. “Your parents have to kind of work with you.”

Jennifer’s family was no stranger to interfaith marriages: Her father was raised Lutheran and her mom Catholic. Her grandfather was raised Mormon and her grandmother was Catholic, she said.

To her, having a two-religion household is like having the best of both worlds, she said.

“There’s a reason why we do what we do, and it works out for us,” Jennifer said. “It may not work out for everybody else, but we don’t have any issues with it.”

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