Finnian Hartnett slept peacefully, wearing a bib embroidered with a blue menorah, rocking in a swing next to a glowing Christmas tree.

While their 3-month-old brother napped in the living room, Everett and Roxy Rovin decorated sugar cookies in the kitchen.


Roxy, 9, pushed hard on the rolling pin to flatten the dough. Everett, 7, named the shapes of the cookie cutters on the table.

“A menorah, a dreidel, a Maccabee, a Star of David,” he said, pointing to each one in turn.

Amy Starr, the children’s mother, is Jewish. Matt Hartnett, the baby’s father, grew up Catholic. This year, the first since Finn’s birth brought them all under one roof, the calendars of the two faiths coincide.

Hanukkah begins on Christmas Eve, which means the Gorham family will recognize both holidays as they travel to spend time with Hartnett’s relatives.


The sugar cookies were destined for his family’s annual celebration – a gathering with as many as 20 relatives around their Christmas tree.

“Matt gave his family the heads-up – ‘It’s Hanukkah at the same time, and Amy’s bringing the menorah,’ ” Starr said.


Starr, 40, grew up in New Jersey in an active Jewish household.

Her mother taught Hebrew school at the synagogue. As a little girl, Starr remembers protesting when a holiday concert at her school only included Christmas carols. The teacher eventually added a Hanukkah song to the program.

After college, Starr took a job with Hillel International, a Jewish organization on college campuses. She led trips to Israel and helped Jewish students celebrate the holidays, and the majority of the students she met came from interfaith families. She later worked for Interfaith Family, a national organization that helps families find ways to blend multiple faith traditions.


“You fall in love with who you fall in love with, and you find a way to make it work,” Starr said. “But what I found working with college students was, if there was no communication about making it work, the level of confusion was so high that they were just completely lost.”

Starr married a Jewish man, and they lived in Rhode Island before moving to Maine in 2012. They joined a Reform Jewish congregation in South Portland, looking for new friends. The couple divorced, and both parents decided to stay in Maine to raise Everett and Roxy.

Starr built a house in Gorham and eventually began to date again. Her mother signed her up for a Jewish dating website, but she expanded her profiles to other websites in hopes of meeting more people. She was just about to delete them all in frustration when she got a message from Hartnett.

“I have no idea why I answered his message,” she said. “It just stuck.”


Hartnett grew up in Philadelphia in a large Irish Catholic family.


He served as an altar boy at his family’s parish, studied at Catholic school and attended Christmas Eve Mass with his family.

“Grandmom sang in the choir,” he said. “The next day, after all the presents, we would head back over to Grandmom’s for dinner.”

As an adult, he doesn’t observe many Catholic traditions. He has never missed a Christmas morning with his 10-year-old son Owen, though.

“Every Christmas Eve, I head over to his house, and we watch the Santa tracker,” Hartnett said. “The next morning, we open presents and basically we’re on the road heading to his grandmom’s house. It’s tradition repeating itself.”

Hartnett, 39, lived in an apartment in South Portland when he met Starr. Last year, she encouraged him to get his own Christmas tree for the first time in years. When the tree fell and destroyed the ornaments, Everett and Roxy asked whether they could buy new ones and fix the tree for Hartnett.

“They’re decorating the tree and they’re singing Hanukkah songs in Hebrew,” Starr said. “The entire scene was so strange, but they were so happy.”


In years past, Starr took Everett and Roxy out for Chinese food and a movie on Christmas Day. Few other businesses are open.

“Everything’s closed, because everybody celebrates Christmas,” Roxy said.

“Not everybody,” Everett said.

Last year, however, they traveled to Philadelphia to meet Hartnett’s family. His mom gave them gifts and ornaments – snowmen for the kids and a “Happy Hanukkah” pendant for Starr. Roxy and Everett see Christmas not as an adopted holiday for themselves, but something special for Hartnett.

“We’re not really celebrating it … ” Starr began to explain.

“We’re helping him,” Roxy finished enthusiastically.


The couple had talked about having a baby, and they agreed to raise a child Jewish because Starr is more active in her faith.

She became pregnant this year, and Hartnett moved in with Starr’s family before the baby was born. The house has a traditional Jewish marker called a mezuzah on the front door, and artwork from Israel hangs inside on the walls.

“The whole time, I was really concerned about making sure that he wasn’t feeling alienated,” Starr said. “I wanted him to be able to feel like this was as much his home as it is mine.”

Their baby has two names – Finnian Jordan in English, Yardain Chanan in Hebrew.

In Hartnett’s family, a number of living relatives share first names. In Jewish tradition, a baby is named after a relative who has passed away. They eventually chose his English and Hebrew names in tribute to Hartnett’s grandmother and Starr’s great aunts who have passed away. His first name is also a nod to Hartnett’s Irish heritage.

“He’s going to completely be the oddball in Hebrew school,” Starr said with a laugh.


Eight days after a Jewish boy is born, he is circumcised.

Starr worried that Hartnett and his family would feel disconnected from the ceremony. She sent an email to his family explaining the tradition and its meaning, and she searched for inclusive passages for the rabbi to read at the ceremony.

“I didn’t realize it would be a solemn thing, but it was definitely a religious process that (Finn) went through,” Hartnett said. “It was emotional.”

Seeing her partner moved by the ceremony reassured Starr.

“From that point, I knew we could do this,” Starr said.



Once, the older children asked Starr whether Finn is Jewish. She said yes.

They asked if he would be confused about his faith when he is older.

“He might at some point be confused, but it’s our job to teach him,” she told them.

They asked whether Hartnett will become Jewish, too. She said no, but she still wants to include her partner in her traditions.

“I would never want to get to a point where he’s 13 and it’s time for his bar mitzvah, and Matt is so disconnected that it doesn’t have meaning for him,” Starr said. “I don’t think Judaism is ever going to have meaning for him because it’s not his faith, but I’d like to know he can find ways to connect.”

As Finn gets older, Hartnett said he will learn from Starr and the kids.


“I just want him to experience a little bit of both,” Hartnett said of the baby. “That smell on Christmas morning is different than any other day. Hanukkah – maybe him and I could learn that together.”

This year, the whole family went to a farm to cut down a Christmas tree.

Hartnett wrapped the tree and the outside of the house in strings of bright white lights.

Starr hung their ornaments and arranged her collection of teddy bears in Hanukkah sweaters on the nearby table.

Finn sat on Santa’s lap for a photo, which Starr plans to give to Hartnett’s mom.

And on Tuesday night, while Hartnett visited his son Owen in New Hampshire, Everett and Roxy poured sprinkles onto the sugar cookies for his extended family.


“That’s too many,” Starr told Everett when he dumped a heap of gold confetti onto a dreidel cookie.

“What?” he said, indignant. “Why?”

Finn woke up from his nap, and Starr brought him to the table to watch his siblings. Everett shook a mound of hot pink sprinkles onto a cookie shaped like a Maccabee — one of the soldiers that helped the Jewish people retake the Temple in Jerusalem from their enemies. Hanukkah celebrates that victory, and Starr began to retell the story as the kids finished their cookies.

“It’s a very complicated story … ” she said before Finn interrupted with a gurgle.

“Oh,” she said to him. “You’re going to tell it?”

He looked up at his mother and babbled his response. His cheeks were fat with a smile.


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