Dr. Paula Brody, Ed.D., LICSW, is director of Outreach Programs and Training for the Northeast Council of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the Reform movement), where she develops and coordinates a wide range of programs and services to welcome interfaith families into Reform congregations.
A Jewish Outreach Professional Responds to Keeping the Faith
by Dr. Paula Brody
The images in Keeping the Faith keep popping into my mind. As a professional who counsels interfaith couples as they work through the complex issues involved in bringing their two faith backgrounds into their lives together, I found this "light" comedy to be a surprisingly deep and engaging movie. Although I laughed heartily at the many funny moments, especially the livening up of traditional Jewish melodies with a soulful gospel choir, all in all I identified with the poignancy of unexpectedly falling in love with your best friend, of unintentionally finding a soul mate who perhaps differs from your own image of a perfect life partner.
Keeping the Faith reminds us that in our society, our close friendships very often cross the boundaries of religious differences. As the movie demonstrates, sometimes the deepest romantic relationships are grown from the seeds of meaningful friendships. Interfaith relationships can blossom from the seeds of friendship, and very often do.
Just as Jake, the rabbi, never anticipated falling in love with his childhood best friend Anna, so Anna probably never anticipated that she would be in a romantic relationship with a rabbi. Certainly, Brian, the priest, never anticipated that his love for Anna could be so overwhelming, potentially uprooting his life decisions regarding the priesthood. For all the leading characters in Keeping the Faith , their life choices became complicated by the surprising extent of how their deep friendship grew into powerful love for one another.
The movie's focus was primarily on Jake's concerns and how a serious, interfaith relationship with Anna would affect his "family, career and congregation." Jake's questions are common ones so often asked by a Jewish partner contemplating intermarriage: How will this marriage affect my family? Will I appear to have disappointed my community? Jake's dilemma mirrored that of many Jewish partners, although certainly as a rabbi, the complications of his interfaith relationship was heightened by his visibility within his congregation.
Interestingly, Anna realized that Jake's focus regarding their religious differences was outside of himself, outside of their relationship. The intense pain that Anna feels when she becomes aware that Jake is stuck on these "outside issues" is palpable. Anna cannot fathom that Jake could care about these family and community concerns more that his love for her. Indeed, Jake forgets to ask two key questions: What does our relationship mean to us? What do our religious differences really mean to us?
We never learn much about Anna's faith. Jake never asks her about her religious background, her belief system, or the meaning of her faith to her. The film alludes to her Irish Catholic background, but we never see Anna practicing her religion or even discussing her faith with Brain, her dear friend the priest.
We do learn at the end of the film that Anna has been studying Judaism. Although my hunch is that Jake was deeply grateful for this, I would like to have seen his expression of deep appreciation for her openness to learn about his religion. She pursued this study out of her love for Jake. We never learn how she feels about Judaism. What decisions will she ultimately make for herself?
Of course, Keeping the Faith ended before the issue of children is ever discussed between Anna and Jake. In the sequel to this movie, I hope that we will see that this loving couple has had good communication on this critically important issue. If Anna understands the complications of this marriage to his life as a rabbi and is willing to raise future children within Judaism, I hope he appreciates this beautiful gift and does not take Anna's willingness to raise children within his faith for granted. Similarly, I hope Jake sets a model, especially important for a rabbi, of how to welcome Anna into Judaism and the Jewish community.
All and all, I thought this was a great movie. I would highly recommend it to all viewers, especially to Jewish parents who find Jake's mother and the lessons she has learned in her life to be quite helpful.