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Jews donâ€™t live in ghettos anymore, and I think most of us would agree that this is a good thing. In our daily lives we interact with all sorts of people who are different from ourselvesâ€”people with different political views, people from different socio-economic backgrounds, people of different races and people of different religions. This exposure to diversity makes our lives varied and interesting. I for one donâ€™t know of many people who would want to give this up.
We donâ€™t live in a world of arranged marriages, and the simple fact is that people fall in love for all kinds of reasons, many of them inexplicable. Sometimes you just know when you have met â€śthe oneâ€ťâ€”even if that person is someone totally different from you, and even if that person is totally different from what you had imagined for yourself.
Many people, before finding their mate, have a â€śchecklistâ€ť of what theyâ€™re looking for in a partner. One of my friends always said sheâ€™d marry someone blonde, very physically fit andâ€”most importantâ€”Jewish. So when she met a man at work who had dark hair, was chubby and didnâ€™t like to work outâ€”and was Methodistâ€”she wasnâ€™t concerned when they started to spend a lot of time together as friends. Sure he was smart, interesting and funnyâ€”but he wasnâ€™t her â€śtype.â€ť But eventually their connection become deeper and they fell in love. It stopped mattering to her that he wasnâ€™t blonde and fit. What mattered was that she loved him. And though she didnâ€™t value her Jewish identity any less after falling in love with him than before falling in love with him, she was determined to find a way to make their relationship work since he was â€śthe oneâ€ť she loved. Eventually, they got married.
For my friend, â€śthe oneâ€ť is a Methodist. For Rabbi Michal Woll (who co-wrote the recently published book Mixed-Up Love with her husband Jon Sweeney) â€śthe oneâ€ť is a Catholic author. For me, â€śthe oneâ€ť happens to be another rabbi. But just because my friend and Michal married Christian men that doesnâ€™t mean that either of them values Judaism less than I do.
Iâ€™ve met numerous people who grew up with strong Jewish identities and who care deeply about the future of the Jewish peopleâ€”many of whom spent much of their lives certain that they would never even date, let alone marry, someone who was not Jewish but who simply fell in love with someone they knew, like a college classmate, a work colleague or a best friend. Some of them shared with me that they went through deep soul searching and many tears after having fallen in love with someone of a different faith, but ultimately they came to the conclusion that they could spend their life with the person they loved as well as live a committed Jewish life and raise a Jewish family.
These people didnâ€™t see themselves as having to make a choice between EITHER the person they loved OR the religion and community that they loved. Rather, they made the decision to BOTH spend their life with the person they loved AND to live a Jewish life and raise a Jewish family. Most people Iâ€™ve talked to who have made this BOTH/AND decision have acknowledged that there are challenges to being in an interfaith relationship (just like there are challenges in any relationship, especially one in which there are fundamental differences between the partners), but they would rather deal with those challenges together with their mate than having to choose EITHER/OR between their mate and Judaism, and they find meaning and often joy in facing those challenges TOGETHER.
The fact is that in todayâ€™s world, in most of the liberal Jewish community, having a partner who is not Jewish and living a committed Jewish life arenâ€™t seen as necessarily mutually exclusive. As Michal and Jon share in Mixed-Up Love, faith and religion are VERY important to BOTH of them; thatâ€™s a large part of what attracted them to each other. It just happens that in their case they each have a DIFFERENT religion. Together they are raising a Jewish daughter and making it work for themselves and their family.
So donâ€™t just assume that because a Jewish person is in a relationship with or married to someone who is of a different faith that their Judaism, the Jewish community and Jewish continuity arenâ€™t important to them. Rather than EITHER/OR, perhaps they have chosen to commit to BOTH/AND.
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