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In Downton Abbey, Lord Sinderby is the disapproving Jewish father who opposes his sonâ€™s interfaith marriage to Rose. In Lord Sinderbyâ€™s time, there were virtually no opportunities for interfaith families to engage in Jewish life, unless Rose were to convert.
Fortunately, we donâ€™t live in that time anymore. Today, many interfaith families can live active Jewish lives â€“ and many do. The Reform and Reconstructionist movements consider children to be Jewish if there is one Jewish parent (regardless of whether it is the mother or father) and they are raised as Jews. They can be married by a rabbi and join a synagogue.
While Jane Eisner defends Lord Sinderby (â€śDefending Lord Sinderby,â€ť The Forward, March 1, 2015), I cannot. Too many Jewish professionals and communities still think that Jews are â€śthrowing it all awayâ€ť, to paraphrase Lord Sinderbyâ€™s words, when they marry someone who isnâ€™t Jewish. With a different approach, however, we can see interfaith relationships as an opportunity to invite more people in to the Jewish community. Rose, although naĂŻve, is already eager to learn about the faith. And wouldnâ€™t it be beneficial to have Lord Grantham as an ally?
I do agree with Eisner on a few points, though. We do need to ask the difficult questions, not only of interfaith families, but also of Jewish institutions. If we want to ask the spouse who wasnâ€™t raised Jewish â€śto commit to doing her part to carry on a precious tradition,â€ť as Eisner says, then canâ€™t we ask Jewish institutions to welcome them and provide opportunities for learning and community?
What would happen if we shifted the focus from who someone marries to helping all families â€“ interfaith and in-married â€“ find their place in the Jewish community? I bet we would see a myriad of beautiful Jewish traditions being passed on to the next generation. That points to a bright Jewish future indeed.