New flicks with celebs in interfaith relationships and from interfaith backgrounds, plus their baby news!Go To Pop Culture
Itâ€™s 1972. An off-duty, dark haired young cabbie drives by a young blond woman. Slowing down and noticing that the woman is attractive, he switches his light to â€śon dutyâ€ť and backs up to pick her up. He drops her off at the school where she teaches, then watches as she walks in. Flash forward to the end of the school day and as the teacher leaves school, the cabbieâ€™s there waiting to pick her up. A montage unfolds: The good looking couple walking over a bridge in New Yorkâ€™s Central Park with their arms around each other; him playfully chasing her; the two of them kissing in the back of the cab; kissing more by the bridge. And then, they finally speak:
Woman: â€śYou know, this is crazy. I donâ€™t even know your full name.â€ť
Man: â€śBernieâ€¦.Steinberg. Whatâ€™s yours?â€ť
Woman: â€śBridgetâ€¦.Bridget â€“ Theresa â€“ Mary â€“ Helene â€“ Fitzgerald.â€ť
Then they both say at the same time: â€śI think we have a problem.â€ť
So opened the pilot episode of Bridget Loves Bernie (you can CLICK HERE to see it yourself), about the interfaith marriage of Irish Catholic Bridget (played by Meredith Baxter) and Jewish Bernie (played by David Birney).
Bridget Loves Bernie had a primetime Saturday night slot between two very popular shows and it was the fifth highest rated TV show of the 1972-1973 season. But it was cancelled by CBS executives in response to hate mail from viewers who opposed its portrayal of the coupleâ€™s interfaith marriage. To this day, Bridget Loves Bernie is the highest rated TV show to be cancelled after only one season.
I was a young girl when Bridget Loves Bernie was on TV, but I still remember the show. And I remember the atmosphere in which it aired, at least in the Jewish communityâ€”and certainly in the tight-knit Conservative synagogue where I grew up. It was a shonda (a shame, a pity) if you were Jewish and you married someone from another faith. People assumed you didnâ€™t care about Judaism. When you â€śmarried outâ€ť you were seen as â€śwriting offâ€ť your Judaism. I heard stories of parents who â€śsat shivaâ€ť (performed the Jewish mourning rituals) for a child who â€śmarried out.â€ť The parents wondered what they had done wrong. The married children usually cut off ties with the synagogue and the Jewish community. (Can you blame them?)
To a large extent, things have changed. The days when I grew up, when Bridget Loves Bernieâ€™s interfaith marriage was too controversial for primetime television, are fadingâ€”at least in a large segment of the liberal Jewish community. In todayâ€™s worldâ€”a world in which, according to the 2013 Pew Portrait of American Jews, 71 percent of liberal Jews who are getting married are marrying someone who isnâ€™t Jewishâ€”itâ€™s not a shock when Bridget loves Bernie (or, for that matter, when Bridget loves Bernice). And now, with the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Collegeâ€™s recent decision to allow inter-partnered candidates apply to the school, it may become less of a big deal when Bridget loves RABBI Bernie or Bernice.
If you identify as a liberal (non-Orthodox) Jew you almost certainly have friends, and most likely family members, who are in interfaith relationships. If you belong to a Conservative, Humanist, Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal or unaffiliated synagogue, you almost certainly know fellow-congregants who are in interfaith marriages. And you probably know parents who arenâ€™t Jewish who are actively involved in the Jewish education and upbringing of their children.
Today, there are lots of real couples like Bridget and Bernie, each with their own unique stories, and we canâ€™t just â€ścancel the showâ€ť and ignore reality. (For years, the Jewish communityâ€™s response to intermarriage was to preach against it.Â Not only did intermarriage rates continue to rise, but people in interfaith relationships often felt alienation from and resentment toward the Jewish community.)
If Bridget and Bernie were real people living today, InterfaithFamily, and many like-minded people in the Jewish world, would see Bernieâ€™s marriage to Bridget not as a threat to Jewish continuity, but rather as an opportunity. Weâ€™d want to celebrate Bridget and Bernieâ€™s marriage (they could even use our free clergy referral service to find a rabbi or cantor to officiate at their wedding), to provide Jewish resources and support and a safe, non-judgmental space to explore the role of religion in their lives and their marriage. If Bridget and Bernie decided to move to Philadelphia (or one of the other cities that has an InterfaithFamily/Your Community office) they could take our â€śLove and Religionâ€ť workshop and meet with other interfaith couples to discuss how to have religious traditions in their lives together. When they had kids, they could take our online â€śRaising a Child with Judaism in Your Interfaith Familyâ€ť class to consider â€śhowâ€ť and â€śwhyâ€ť to bring Jewish traditions into their lives.
Bridget and Bernie are ready for primetime. And for InterfaithFamily, â€śprimetimeâ€ť is the month of November, when we celebrate Interfaith Family Month. This is a time for synagogues and Jewish organizations to publicly acknowledge and thank those members of our community who arenâ€™t Jewish; to let them know that we donâ€™t just tolerate them, but we are grateful to them for their commitment to Judaism and Jewish continuity. Itâ€™s a time to let those Jews who have partners who arenâ€™t Jewish know that not only are we not â€śsitting shivaâ€ť for them, but we hope that they will fully engage in the Jewish community, and that we donâ€™t see their choice of a life-partner as a reflection on their Jewish commitment. Itâ€™s a time to declare that rather than fighting against intermarriage, we are working for a vibrant Jewish communityâ€”and we welcome anyone who wants to join us.
Interfaith Family Month is a time to let all of the â€śBerniesâ€ť out there know that we donâ€™t love them any less because they love â€śBridget.â€ť And for all of the â€śBridgetsâ€ť out there, we hope that just as you love â€śBernie,â€ť you will come to love his Jewish community too, because we are committed to building a Jewish community where the two of you can truly feel at home.