Open and forthcoming, they touched on a variety of subjects, including the family’s decision to give their daughters grounding in both faiths — a choice with which others may disagree, Lauffer acknowledged.
Chishti and Lauffer met about 25 years ago through their volunteer work on various nonprofit boards, the two said.
“I ended up at a lot of meetings with him,” Lauffer recalled, “and I always found his intellect very attractive and compelling.” The admiration was mutual, and the two dated for several years before getting married in October 1994.
That decision encountered not a shred of hostility from their families, contrary to the experience of many interfaith couples, Chishti and Lauffer said.
With two such markedly different backgrounds, the chances of Helene Lauffer and Muzaffar Chishti meeting, much less falling in love, could be seen as remote by many observers.
His grandfather built a life in India as a renowned Islamic and Persian scholar, a teacher and an imam at the local mosque, and his Muslim family continues to live in South Asia.
“Muzaffar said it was important to follow Muslim tradition and give our kids Arabic names,” Lauffer recalled.
“And I said, ‘That’s fine, as long as we follow Jewish tradition and name our children after a relative who’s no longer alive.’” The names they eventually chose both reflect that compromise, with Maryam named for Lauffer’s mother, Myra, and Hava named for Lauffer’s father, Heinz.
Those views aside, Maryam comes across as a bright, self-possessed child, comfortable with what she’s learned about both religions.
She recently interviewed her 92-year-old aunt about the Holocaust for a class at Manhattan’s Gateway Middle School and is now talking to relatives from both sides of her family for her bat mitzvah project.
But at the end of the day,” she added, “our values were very similar.” Those values include an appreciation for family, friends and education, as well as honesty, integrity and a shared belief in tikkun olam, or repairing the world.