Interfaith couple honors Catholic, Jewish traditions

When the Christmas season approaches, the Advent candles aren’t the only ones that are lit in the home of Mark and Catherine Palmisano. The married couple and their three sons also reverently light a Jewish menorah to honor the days of Hanukkah.

“We talk about the Maccabees and why the Jewish tradition celebrates the candles and oil lasting eight days,” said Mrs. Palmisano, a parishioner of St. Peter the Apostle in Libertytown who explained how the Jewish Feast of Lights commemorates the rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabaeus in 165 B.C.

In addition to exchanging gifts at Christmas and attending Christmas Mass, the Palmisanos also give traditional Hanukkah presents.

By observing religious traditions from the Catholic and Jewish faiths, Mrs. Palmisano said, her family honors the faiths of herself and her husband. Mr. Palmisano was raised in the Orthodox Jewish tradition, and Mrs. Palmisano is a cradle Catholic. The family attends Mass at St. Peter, where their children have received the sacraments and are being raised in the Catholic faith of their mother.

“It really was my decision to make sure we included the Jewish faith for our children,” explained Mrs. Palmisano. “I thought it was important to let them know that the Jewish culture was part of them. We’ve really indoctrinated them into the Old Testament – that’s something I’m not so sure a lot of kids know much about.”

Raised in Salisbury, Mrs. Palmisano said she had some exposure to the Jewish faith because there was a synagogue across from her school and the local rabbi taught students some of the traditions. Her interest in religion continued at Salisbury State University, where she studied philosophy and theology.

“It’s given me a broader view of Christ as being more loving and compassionate,” she said.

According to a 2006 survey of hundreds of Catholic-Jewish couples by InterfaithFamily, it is very common to observe both Hanukkah and Christmas traditions. Ninety-nine percent of those surveyed said they plan to light the menorah and 63 percent plan on telling the Hanukkah story. More than three-fourths of those surveyed said they did not believe participating in Christmas celebrations would affect their children’s Jewish identity.

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.