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Reactions to "Jerusalem," A Play about an Intermarriage, and a Conversation with the Playwright

Watching "Jerusalem," a comic play about an intermarried couple, I realized that Seth Greenland, the author, had to be intermarried. After all, certain moments in the relationship between the New York Jewish psychiatrist Will (Benjamin Evett) and his Ohio-born, Protestant wife Meg (Allison Dunbar) could only have been written by the Jewish partner in an intermarriage.

Having been intermarried for many years, here are the moments--which may have felt like stereotypes to others--that rang true to me. They all occurred during the couple's Christmas visit to Meg's Midwestern parents.

* When Will and Meg first arrive, hungry and tired, the refrigerator is empty. While we all know the stereotypes--the Jewish celebration with too much food versus the Protestant one with hardly any--in truth cultural differences in eating and feeding styles do exist. And seeing those cultural expectations clash in "Jerusalem" can evoke a laugh of recognition.

* In Ohio, Will, a previously nonobservant Jew, suddenly feels the need to celebrate Hanukkah. For many Jews, including myself, intermarriage strengthens our identity as Jews, and participating in Christmas celebrations can heighten our awareness of cultural differences.

* After seeing a cross while attending church with his in-laws, Will worries that his wife's family blames the Jews for having killed Christ. Although his wife finds this concern absurd, when he asks his sister- and brother-in-law, "Who killed Christ," each, without hesitation, replies "the Jews." Early in intermarriages, in-laws may perceive each other as exemplars of their religions, but these perceptions generally shift over time as they get to know each other as individuals.

I left the play curious to learn if the playwright is actually intermarried. A few days later, in a phone interview, Greenland confirms my hunch: He is indeed intermarried, and much of the play is based on his own experiences.

Interfaith marriage, Greenland notes, "forces you to really engage what your religion means to you. You have to make a choice if you want your kids to be Jewish, and you must wrestle with this question in an honest way, a less emotional or sentimental way."

Faced with that choice, Greenland, who had been raised as a secular Jew, chose to raise his children, now 11 and 8, as more observant Jews. The family belongs to a synagogue and, although he had never observed the Sabbath while growing up, they frequently do now.

Greenland's wife, raised as a Protestant, "is a serious student of Buddhism" and teaches meditation to children. Asked about their relationship, he observes that "Jewish guys tend to be more in touch with their feelings," and "non-Jewish women may be attracted to Jewish men for this reason."

While Greenland acknowledges that it may be easier to marry someone from your own tradition, he has this advice to offer intermarried couples: "Try to take your ego out of discussions and be able to back up what you say intellectually. Otherwise, things can degenerate into emotional donnybrooks that don't help anyone."

His wife, Greenland adds, "believes that every marriage between a man and woman is an intermarriage."

In addition to "Jerusalem," Greenland has written the award-winning play "Jungle Rot"--it received an American Association of Theatre Critics award and the Kennedy Center/American Express Fund for New American Plays Award--"Girls in Movies" and "Red Memories." He also was a writer/producer of HBO's "Arliss." Current projects include an adaptation of Bill Maher's novel True Story for HBO and an original screenplay for Universal.

"Jerusalem" can be seen at the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass., through Oct. 20.

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods.
Ronnie Friedland

Ronnie Friedland was the founding Web Magazine Editor of InterfaithFamily.

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