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We live in a world filled with hate. It seems as each new day dawns, we are reminded of this very concept. Charlottesville, Paris, London, France, Spain, the list continues to grow. Even my beloved alma mater, The Ohio State University, a college with a diverse student population of nearly 60,000 is not immune. Can it really be that we have ushered in a new era where it has not only become popular but acceptable to preach hate and bigotry while encouraging violence at targeted groups? This seeminglyÂ commonplace behavior has captivated headlines on a daily basis and often includes attacks on various groups including women, LGBT, minorities and Jews.
America is the land of opportunity. A great country founded on the basic principal of speaking out and rebelling against tyrants forcing their ideologies. Each of us is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. People love to hide behind the First Amendment as a reason to spout vulgar insults and racial epithets. It has been uplifting to see many Americans coming together to rally against hate. But itâ€™s important to remember that freedom OF speech is not freedom FROM speech. Do I support or encourage the Ku Klux KlanÂ and its supporters gathering in arms, bearing torches and shouting references to Hitler along with chants echoing through the night, “Jews will not replace us!”? Of course not, but while we, as equal rights supporters stand unified against hate, we donâ€™t encourage violence to solve violence. The hateful actions of these people are deplorable and do not embody the principles this nation was founded on.
As relatively new parents, this is continuously a topic of discussion in our house. Today, we live in a community only a few miles from where I experienced first-hand that hate is not limited to racially divided cities or foreign countries calling for war against the West. I was maybe onlyÂ 10 years old when our baseball team traveled out to a wealthy suburb on the east side of Cleveland. (For those who don’t know me, I grew up in a predominately Jewish community that was well known for its religious concentration.) I was raised in a Reform Jewish household and became a bar mitzvah. I have been blessed to be married to the most wonderful, kind and loving Catholic woman in the world (although not very religious herself). My life experiences both as a Jew and being in an interfaith marriageÂ have allowed me to view this anecdote differently as I got older.
We arrived for the game on a sunny afternoon and began to warm up. It didnâ€™t take long before we could hear the undertones and whispers coming from the home team dugout. â€śF-ing (expletive) Jews. Why donâ€™t you go home back where you came from?â€ť These were phrases that, while familiar with, I had not experienced them directly, especially as a young boy. I was raised in an environment to be conscious of the fact that the world did not always like Jews and anti-Semitism was a very real thing. Now to experience it first hand was a little jarring. As the game went on there were similar remarks being made under their breathe. Later in the game, on a close play, I slid into second base and was involved in a little scuffle while colliding with the other player trying to tag me out. The play ended and through the cloud of settling dirt, I heard, â€śGo home you stupid k___ (derogatory word for Jews that sounds like â€śkiteâ€ť).â€ť
These awful words still ring in my ears more than 25 years later. My perspective on the world has evolved over the yearsâ€”from a young Jewish man to a husband and father, raising my own family, in an interfaith marriage. The world is a cruel place; people are cruel; children are cruel. The events of the recent past can be avoided, but it has to start now. Hate is a learned behaviorâ€”it is taught to our youth at a very tender and impressionable age. We breed hate as we pass on our distaste for one culture, religion or ethnic group. Information is so readily available today and can be accessed, at our fingertips, within a momentâ€™s notice. Hate groups are using this to unify and unite their cause with propaganda and recruit new soldiers to fight in the battle.
Today does not feel like the world I grew up in. It is fueled by violence and hate, almost as if we have taken a step back in our progression as a society. This is not the world I want my daughter to grow up in. Not a place where she has to be afraid or embarrassed that her last name is known as a common Jewish name. Not a place where she is afraid to walk into a synagogue. Not a place where she cannot be proud of who she is and the heritage she carries with her. We have to do our part, speak out when you see an injustice being committed. I believe that good can and will prevail over evil. However, it starts with us as individuals. The words we use in our homes, the way we speak to colleagues, the way we greet strangers. We CAN make a difference and chart a new course.
You just spent several hours or days in the hospital giving birth to your child or, in our case, several months going through your whirlwind adoption. But the moment you have long awaited is here: You are finally home. You left the house as two, but returned with three. For those of us as first time parents, the panic and paranoia is just setting in. As you slowly learn how to care for the newest member of your family, you begin to contemplate the next stages of life. How will we raise them? Jewish? Catholic? Both? Neither?
Or maybe you’ve already contemplated these questions. Kimberly and I had this discussion long before that first moment of staring into our baby daughterâ€™s big brown eyes. We thought it was important to talk openly about these topics early in our marriage. Too many people wait until game time to have the discussion and make decisions which can lead to poor decision making and being short sighted. Our wedding day was not about different religious upbringings, but was a celebration of love that including a â€świnkâ€ť to religious heritage. We were not married by a rabbi or priest. In fact, one of my best friends in the world got ordained and performed the ceremony that we wrote. It was special to have someone who truly knew and loved us both bring our marriage to fruition. At the end I stepped on the covered glass while everyone shouted, â€śMazel Tov!â€ť
So much like our marriage, we wanted our daughter to have some religious structure and affiliation in her life, but not necessarily be the driving factor that determined her day-to-day activities. We wanted to make sure our home was a healthy balance between knowing where you came from (even more important with adoption) and havingÂ different faiths represented.
One of the first religious rituals weÂ experienced as parents was the naming ceremony of our daughter while observing a long standing tradition of choosing names that begin with the letter of a loved one no longer with us. Quinnâ€™s Hebrew name is Pelia Davi (meaning beautiful gift). The â€śPâ€ť is for my grandmother, Paula, and the â€śDâ€ť is for Kimberly’s grandmother, Dominicaâ€”a blend of the old world and the new by bringing two different backgrounds together in the name of loving and caring for the next generation.
Since we were comingÂ from different backgrounds and experiencing life with a Reform religious involvement, we wanted a celebration that similarly mirrored our life: one that was about the love for our new child with a nod to the Jewish heritage she would now be entering. The gathering was intentionally small and consisted of our parents, siblings and our twin niece and nephew. It was important to give Quinn a Hebrew name to follow tradition, honor loved ones and give her a Jewish identity when she is called to the bimah. While this was Quinn’s introduction into her newly minted life as a Maccabee, it was our first introduction as a family into a religious celebration that will set the tone for years to come.
Long ago, we decided that Quinn would be raised Jewish, but we would also continue to observe all holidays from our religious backgrounds. She will go to temple and eventually go on to become a bat mitzvah. When she is old enough she can decide for herself if we put her on the right path and will have the opportunity toÂ choose otherwise.
My wife Kimberly didnâ€™t stop being Catholic the day we got married or the day our daughter was born. That part of her life will never leave her whether she ever steps foot in a church again. She has so many fond memories of her childhood that centered around CatholicÂ celebrations that we cannot ignore (nor should we ignore) them. Those experiences helped shape the person she is today and I wouldnâ€™t change that for anything. She has happily chosen to raise our daughter as Jewish as we forge a new path for our family that represents a true blend. We want to provide a warm and loving home that celebrates her parentsâ€™ individuality. But those differences are what brings us together and keeps us together.
These decisions and discussions came relatively easy to us. We have an open, honest and loving relationship that allows us to tackle what seems like, at times, daunting tasks. If you are starting your marriage or just entering parenthood, this is an opportunity, not a roadblock. Talk to your spouse about what is important to you and keep an open mind.Â Be prepared to compromise and show empathy by putting yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if they said it was their way or nothing? That open dialogue will serve you wellâ€”not just today but throughout the rest of your marriage. Our daughter is a precious gift and we want to give her the gift of love in return. Our love for each other and for our daughter will always preside over any religious celebration.
Recently,Â two important Conservative rabbinic opinions came down that probably rang out strongly with their followers. For the rest of us,the announcement quietly gathered steam until it called out across the masses in the weeks leading up to Passover: the Rabbis declared kitniyot (Hebrew for legumes) as Kosher for Passover.Â
In what felt like overnight to me, a group of Jewish leaders told us AshkenazisÂ (Jews of German or Eastern European descent) that it was no longer necessary for us to belabor the possibility that a farmer who wasnâ€™t Jewish had mixed wheat in with the lentils, and that as long as we stay away from chametz, legumes are fair game. Much to my surprise, after 20+ years of label reading and black bean-shunning, I feel mixed about an easier Pesach.
I am not a Conservative Jew. I am a Reform-leaning Jew held in the warm embrace of a Reconstructionist community, so I am homing on two bases, neither Conservative. But this seems like a big deal, since I have owned this more â€śconservativeâ€ť practice since college. Also, to have such a public overturning of a centuries-old practice feels like a challenge for everyone, Conservative or otherwise.
On one side of my emotional spectrum is the urge to listen. For almost as long as Iâ€™ve practiced the ban on kitniyot, Iâ€™ve known it to be based more on an abundance of caution than on biblical clarity. Iâ€™ve also known it to not be the healthiest choice for my body–I will never forget the time I had to have a blood test during Passover and the doctorâ€™s dismay at my abysmal iron levels (made worse because I was a vegetarian at the time). I assured her theyâ€™d bounce back after the holiday, which they predictably did. So enough already–life without the kitniyot ban sure sounds easier, and the argument for it is thin at best.
On the other side, there is a part of avoiding kitniyot that I find adds even more meaning to the eight days of Passover. Perhaps I am too much of a glutton for punishment, but I like how additional rules increase my mindfulness about this time being different. I am not a huge bread eater, so avoiding kitniyot added another layer to the way I paid attention to what I was consuming, which, in turn, made me think even more about the why of the holiday. In incorporating kitniyot into my diet, I feel like I need to find a new way toÂ ensure the same quality of mindfulness I have had in the past several years.
In the middle is the way I hold this change in my role as the Jewishly-raised partner in my interfaith marriage. There is something in this that feels a little funny. Â Because our Judaism originated from my background, I often assume the role of leader or teacher. I can get my head around this when we observe Shabbat, fast on Yom Kippur or with almost everything related to Passover. But when a panel of rabbis picks something that Iâ€™ve suggested my partner do as a part of being Jewish and says â€śOops, not really,â€ť I feel a little like I tricked my family into something unnecessary. I know it is not that cut and dry (Eric assures me it isnâ€™t), but I am reminded that advocating for the Jewish choice for our household comes with some additional responsibility to shine a good light down the Jewish path.
This week, with a little hesitation, I have decided to stop worrying about kitniyot. Halfway through the holiday, it turns out my belly feels betterÂ off without an additional layer of forbidding myself kitniyot. I am curious, though â€“ what did you decide to do?
When we were studying Judaism together as a young couple, it made sense to buy into an â€śall inâ€ť model for a Jewish household. For our future childrenâ€™s sake, if we were choosing to raise them with a religion, we would stick to just one. Â It would be less confusing, and they could be engaged in a specific spiritual community where they could experience a sense of belonging. This would be better for their development, and would empower them to make well-grounded decisions about their spirituality as adults.
It also made sense that we would respect the religious beliefs of family members who were not Jewish by sharing in their celebrations and participating as guests. Guests who were also loving relatives. We would speak openly about their holidays and lovingly about Ericâ€™s personal history celebrating those holidays.
This relatively black and white idea seemed clear when our children were theoretical creatures. Seven-and-a-half years into our very real parenting journey, what I have found is that stepping thoughtfully into the gray area of this proposition not only strengthens our connections to our extended family, but also strengthens our nuclear family connectivity.
The â€śall inâ€ť model assumed we did not let Christian holidays into our home life, but we did celebrate them in our familiesâ€™ homes. This simple idea is complicated by the 2,000 miles between our home and Ericâ€™s parentsâ€™ and sisterâ€™s homes. Â
On days like Easter Sunday, we can get our heads around the Easter Bunny not coming to our house, and around the impossibility of teleporting to Colorado. But both Eric and I have trouble getting our heads around not doing something to mark a day so important to our heritage and celebrated by our closest family members.
So hereâ€™s where we are right now, as of Easter 2016. We donâ€™t celebrate Easter with a visit to church or the corresponding new Easter dresses. We do cherish the Easter eggs we get from Ericâ€™s parents, and the celebrations we share with friends who celebrate the holiday. And as a foursome, we celebrate that it is a day to think about and be with family, and to do something out of the ordinary that celebrates our lives together. Â
For us, this year, it was a fancier-than-usual breakfast with all the bells and whistles. Considering this breakfast, I canâ€™t help but think two things. First, I have witnessed as a parent how much children benefit from whatever black and white explanations we can provide for things as complicated as religion. On the other hand, if the gray area between celebrating something â€śall inâ€ť and not doing anything is finding an extra reason to celebrate love and family, there canâ€™t possibly be anything negative about spending quality time in the gray.
In post-divorce life, it occurred to me that it had been over 13 years since the last time I went on a date. Not only did I have no idea what I was doing in this new life, but the rules had changed. Online dating was the norm, and as a busy mom of two who still didnâ€™t have a very large network here in Maine, it was the reality of meeting people and getting back out there. I fully intended to find love in my life again with a significant other and didnâ€™t rule out the possibility that one day maybe Iâ€™d even remarry, but in the meantime I wanted to have FUN, boost my confidence a little and learn about myself in the process.
I signed up for myriad online dating sites, and even allowed my mom to convince me to join JDate, knowing that the prospects of meeting a Jewish man where I live were pretty slim, and even laughable when my 100 percent match on the site was my ex-husband. After my Jewish/Jewish marriage ended, I wasnâ€™t focused on finding a lifelong mate â€“ and honestly never thought twice about interfaith dating. After all, most of my past boyfriends werenâ€™t Jewish, and besides, I didnâ€™t want to close myself off to the possibility of meeting someone great who might not share in my religious beliefs.
So my dating adventure began. It was sometimes downright disastrous and funny, often thought provoking, and even yielded a handful of friendships. Some of these dates turned into short-lived relationships; others etched their way into my heart and stuck around for a long time. But through it all there was one constant: My children come first and they will not be part of my dating life.
Itâ€™s not that the kids were clueless and thought that Mommy sat home every night that they werenâ€™t with me. (I share residency with their dad 50/50 so the idea of having time to go out was new to ME too!) But their concept of mommy having a boyfriend was that I loved listening to Adam Levine sing on the radio. Roxy, being almost 9, was a little more intuitive, realizing that just maybe I was going on dates and was sometimes even brave enough to ask me about it. Everettâ€™s 6 and cares more about playing Legos and avoiding girls with cooties, so with him it was a non-issue. My answers to Roxy were always vague, even when I was in a relationship with someone, because I had no intention of crossing that line. I didnâ€™t want the kids to feel threatened that my affection was going elsewhere, I didnâ€™t want them to be freaked out that there could be another male figure in their lives knowing they were still dealing with the aftermath of divorce, and quite honestly, they are the center of my universe. No man was going to be remotely part of their lives unless I knew he was â€śthe oneâ€ť and not going anywhere for a long, long time. My separate dating life remained that way and it was perfect.
Until the day I met Matt.
Thereâ€™s that whole clichĂ© of when you meet your person, your future, your soulmate and you just KNOW. Thereâ€™s no explanation, thereâ€™s no magic formula and sometimes it just happens. Usually when you least expect it. In Yiddish thereâ€™s a term for this, called finding your “bashert.” And when I met Matt, well, just like that the rules changed. Because I knew. And he knew. But weâ€™ve both been there, done that, so thereâ€™s no rush for something sparkly on my ring finger, even with the knowing.
We treaded carefully with the kids â€“ both with his son and my two kids. I told them he existed, and their questions were: Does he make you happy and treat you nice? My thoughtful children made their first meeting easy and fun, as we joined friends at a major league baseball game. Everett conned Matt into buying him a giant ice cream and Roxy wormed her way into being his bestie. Relief and easy banter between the three of them over the months since has become the norm, with all three kids getting to know one another, Matt meeting my family, the kids and I meeting his family, and daily life has gone on without missing a beat. They accept each other fully and the kids donâ€™t even think twice about Matt not sharing the same faith.
Itâ€™s more than I could have hoped for, finding a love like this and learning what makes us family. We made the decision that over the next few weeks, Matt will be moving in, because the reality is that being together, in the same place, just makes sense. It wasnâ€™t an easy decision to come to, because first and foremost this is where THEY live. I sat them down and talked to them about it last week, letting them know about this new plan. I was nervous to tell them, but shouldnâ€™t have been as they simultaneously cheered and when I asked if they had any questions about this new living arrangement, their only concern was: Please tell me heâ€™s bringing his TV because itâ€™s bigger. We can get more channels now, right?!? Oh my cable-deprived children will be quite all right with this transition, but as I look around my house, Iâ€™ve come to some realizations.
As I write this post, today is two years since I bought this house, built from the ground up with decisions made by me AND the kids on what color the roof should be, what kind of countertops, what flooring. I made this house happen somehow on my own, one of the scariest, bravest things Iâ€™ve ever done. Yet up until this point it has never felt truly like home. We live here, it has our stuff in it, but the thought of Matt moving in and us decorating and rearranging furniture truly excites me. Being able to share in the process with someone is special and turning this space into warmth and family and comfort? I have no words to describe what that means to me. Iâ€™m ready for this next phase but also know thereâ€™s going to be plenty of questions and discussions as we start this part of the journey.
I have always had a Jewish house. The kids and I are Jewish and I worked professionally in the Jewish community for a long time, so I guess it makes sense. Thereâ€™s a mezuzah on the front door. Thereâ€™s a whole shelf in the living room filled with Jewish ritual objects, from menorahs to Kiddush cups to Havdalah sets. I have a pile of artwork, some in Hebrew that I still havenâ€™t gotten around to hanging up. There are wall hangings and wooden camels brought back from trips to Israel. There are yarmulkes and Siddurs (prayer books) on bookshelves in several rooms. Thereâ€™s no question when you walk in that Jews live here. And I never questioned it before now.
I canâ€™t think of even one of my friends of another faith, especially here in Maine, who have homes that Iâ€™d walk into and immediately be able to identify them as Christian. I donâ€™t know many people who keep crosses on their walls or Buddhist altars in their mudrooms. Yet I have a Jewish house, one that my Irish Catholic boyfriend will soon move into. I know that we will find a balance with his comfort zone, andÂ that come December, where the Christmas tree will go. My Jewish home will morph into something that will reflect all of us, with each of us adding pieces of ourselves to the blank canvas of the rooms and walls that surround us.
Matt and I might not share the same religion, but Iâ€™m hopeful that as we continue to grow as a couple, the one thing people will notice when they walk into my house a month from now, six months from now, is that itâ€™s really a home, filled with joy and love and understanding.
Every teamâ€™s victory is another teamâ€™s defeat, and the stakes were high two Sundays ago when the New England Patriots I was raised on played the Denver Broncos, the team that hails from Ericâ€™s hometown. Â In the ten years since we moved to Boston, Eric has happily come into the Red Sox fray. Â Because of his Sox allegiance, my father innocently assumed that Eric had similarly converted to be a Pats fan. Â The morning of the AFC championship game, I overheard a conversation that went like this between Eric and my father:
Dad: So, I guess the conversations between you and your family might get a little heated this evening, disagreeing about who should win.
Eric: Well, it is not such a big deal, since I am a Broncos fan.
Dad, with a perplexed expression on his face: Uh-huhâ€¦.
A moment of tension, as Dad prepared himself for the inevitably disappointing statement.
Eric: Yeah, weâ€™re rooting for the Broncos.
Dad inhales, unsure if he should butt in about how we raise our kids.
Eric continues: Well, we are raising our kids Jewishly, so I got to pick the football team.
Suddenly, the tension dissipated entirely. Â My father chuckled. Â
Dad: Fair enough, fair enough.
Choosing a football team is not on par with choosing a religion, at least not in either of our extended families. Â But Ericâ€™s choice of the Broncos is symbolic of something that is extremely significant for both of us – Judaism isnâ€™t the only choice we get to make about what kind of family we are. Â It is important to us that our children are raised with a mix of traditions that bring them closer to both sides of our extended families.
Rooting for the Broncos has been very special in that regard. Â Sunday afternoons and evenings, Ericâ€™s phone is abuzz with calls and texts about the Broncos plays, and for the span of the game the distance between Boston and Denver feels that much shorter. Â Colorado is a really magical place, and rooting for the Broncos helps the girls tie their identity to the home of their grandparents, aunt and uncle and cousins that much more.
So tonight, Ruthie can stay up late to root for Peyton Manning. Â Hopefully there can be some FaceTime during the game with homebase in her grandparentsâ€™ living room. Â I will watch the rooting with a smile on my face. Â Mumâ€™s the word on who my team will be.
This week, InterfaithFamily is celebrating its important work and the leadership provided by InterfaithFamily Founder Ed Case and Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston President Barry Shrage in making it possible for more of us to #ChooseLove without needing to decide between love and a Jewish life. Leading up to Thursdayâ€™s celebration, I hope you have had a chance to read IFFâ€™s own Liz Polay-Wettengelâ€™s â€śAn Open Letter to Judaism from an Interfaith Familyâ€ť on Medium this week, as well as Molly Tolskyâ€™s great response on Kveller. In her essay, Liz Polay-Wettengel speaks some honest and difficult truths about her familyâ€™s path to, with, and outside of Judaism as an Interfaith family. Molly Tolsky underscores the importance of Lizâ€™s piece, and shares her own experience, one that rings true to so many of us, of how often Interfaith couples are whole-heartedly raising their famililes Jewishly, even while there are those in our community who still decry â€śthe problemâ€ť of their couplehood.
I am lucky that my familyâ€™s story is not filled with the denials, closed doors or simple noâ€™s described in these two pieces. A huge reason for this is based in a single exchange I had with InterfaithFamily, with Ed Case specifically, eleven years ago.
When Eric and I were engaged in Los Angeles in 2004, we knew we wanted to be married by a rabbi. We also knew we wanted opportunities for members of both of our families to be involved and engaged in the wedding ceremony. We had taken an Introduction to Judaism class together and had shul-shopped a bit, but we didnâ€™t have one rabbi we knew we wanted to marry us. My parents lived in Newton, where IFFâ€™s founding and national office is located, and they knew a little about Ed Case and IFF. They encouraged us to check out the IFF website, and I was happy when I first poked around to find a link about â€śSeeking a Rabbi.â€ť
I emailed the IFF general email with a request for some ideas about rabbis in Los Angeles who would be open to marrying us. Ed Case quickly wrote back with a list of potential clergy, at least a dozen long. We started working our way through the list, setting up interviews, and eventually found a perfect fit – a wonderful rabbi named Allen Freehling with whom we both easily connected.
A list of names in an email might not sound like much, but when I compare it to the stories my peers shared this week, I am reminded of our great fortune. Wedding planning is a huge endeavor, and the process lays a foundation for your identity as a couple. If the very first step in this process is to encounter a set of â€śnoâ€™s,â€ť it can derail both your planning and your spirit. Because IFF had actively engaged in assembling lists just like the one Ed Case emailed to me, we had a long list of Yeses to send us down a path that encouraged both our pursuit of Judaism and our identity as an Interfaith family.
This week, I am thankful that IFF was available to Eric and me to support our establishment as a family. Every week, I am grateful for the resources of this organization and the communities it creates to continue this support. I hope you find it helpful to you in some small or large way, too. If you are anywhere near Boston on Thursday, Iâ€™ll look out for you at IFFâ€™s #ChooseLove celebration.
Recently I attended a long-time friendâ€™s Conservative Jewish wedding, and the event found me reflecting on my own interfaith wedding, now ten years in the past. The Â wedding took place in the Conservative synagogue sheâ€™d attended since her bat mitzvah, a large, well-appointed synagogue outside a major East-Coast city.
The ceremony started in the traditional Jewish way, with the ketubah signing and bedecken, where the groom places a veil over the bride’s head and face, in a reference to Jacob’s being tricked into marrying Leah instead of her sister Rachel. As two rabbis watched, friends and relatives signed the ketubah, and I felt tears spring to my eyes as I remembered my own friends bending over our ketubah to pen their names in Hebrew characters. Today’s bride was oneÂ of those friends. My maid of honor was also present at this friend’s wedding. She is not Jewish, and had carefully transcribed her name in Hebrew onto myÂ ketubah before also signing in English.Â Sitting next to me at our mutual friend’s wedding, she turned to me and smiled.
Other moments, though, emphasized the difference between this wedding and my own. We chose not to do a bedecken, for example, and our rabbi was all right with this. At my own wedding, my spouse and I each circled the other seven times, and then we circled each other simultaneously once. Yes, I felt dizzy in the ninety-degree heat! At my friendâ€™s ceremony, she circled her groom seven times, as is traditional, but he did not circle her. Despite these differences, tears again sprang to my eyes as I saw the bride and groom make faces alternately amused and loving at each other. I remembered my gathered friends and family laughing at the funnier facial exchanges during our own circling.
These small differences, though, hardly bothered me, and in fact, served as pleasant reminders of my ceremony. I find that I cry more at weddings with Jewish elements now than I do at Christian or non-religious ceremonies: the distinctive elements of a Jewish ceremony have such a strong association in my mind.
During that day’sÂ wedding ceremony itself, however, my mood shifted as one of the rabbis addressed the couple under the chuppah. First he made the guests laugh: â€śIt is easy to marry the person you love, but much more difficult to love the person you married.â€ť A chuckle rose up through the audience, emerging from my own mouth as well.
The rabbi moved on, though, to a comment that gave more pain than amusement. â€śWe have here what could be called a best-case scenario.â€ť I expected another amusing quip, but instead, I ended up feeling awkward, and then even angry. â€śBoth the bride and groom come from Jewish families; both of their parents are still married, and both of them also attend the same synagogue,â€ť he explained. I felt a sudden stab of anger and even rejection.
By implication, my own marriage was not a best-case scenario, on two counts, no matter how I might feel about it! Not only has my husband married someone who is not Jewish, but he married someone whose parents are no longer themselves together! DidÂ missing two out of three constitute a worst-case scenario, or something in-between?
When I got over my initial shock, I wondered who else in the wood-paneled sanctuary might have felt a sudden jolt of pain at the rabbiâ€™s words. Who else there was divorced? Married to the son or daughter of divorced parents? Or (possibly worse!), dating or married to someone of a different faith? It seemed a reasonable guess that these descriptions applied to more than a few people in the room. Was it fair of the clergy to imply that we were all in something less than a best-case scenario?
I could give the rabbiâ€™s words a more charitable spin: As the rabbi knew, my friendâ€™s mother converted to Judaism prior to marrying her father, making her own inclusion in the â€śbest-case scenarioâ€ť in some ways a near miss. Perhaps the rabbiâ€™s words were meant to sooth any fears the new in-lawsâ€™ may have had about the Jewishness of their new daughter-in-law? Perhaps he meant only to reinforce her status as a “member of the tribe”?
Whatever the rabbiâ€™s reasoning, the fact remains that this was one of the first times when I, even if indirectly or without intention, felt the sting of wider Judaismâ€™s fear of intermarriage. Despite that sting, I chose to take the moment as a reminder that we have the responsibility to our partners, of whatever gender orÂ marital status, to create our own best-case scenarios. Those of us who have joined ourselves together with a ketubah have a valid and binding covenant that enjoins us to create our own best-case scenarios, whether those involve intermarriage, divorce in a part of the family or other elements of awkwardness.
As my friendâ€™s new husband stomped on the glass (I remembered hoping my new husband would not step on my foot as we crushed the glass together), I resolved, again, to work to create my own best-case scenario for myself, for my husband, for our daughters and for our loved ones.
My parents and extended family have always supported myÂ own interfaith family. There are many ways they haveÂ said or shown this to me.Â When I think about when I knew it would be OK for me to bring home a partner who wasn’t Jewish, I always remember one specific conversation. I canâ€™t remember exactly when this happened, but if I had to guess I would say it was during my Hebrew school confirmation year. The class curriculum, about understanding our Jewish identity as emerging adults, would have been an easy opener to summon up the courage to ask how my parents felt about me dating people who werenâ€™t Jewish.
My mom knew her answer right away.
â€śI wantÂ youÂ to find someone you love,â€ť she said, â€śand if you really love each other, then you can figure out the rest.â€ť
My mom was a clinical psychologist. Outside of her practice, she was a great friend, an excellent advice giver, and shared the role (with my dad) of #1 life advisor to our extended family. In other words, she had the inside track on a lot of relationships.
Wearing her many hats, my mom had seen successful marriages of all stripes, and she had witnessed the pain of marriages that ended in separation and divorce. She had seen same-faith and interfaith couples who thrived, and couples who had struggled to make their relationships work, regardless of religion.
My mom wanted her three children to find love, the kind that sustains lifeâ€™s ebbs and flows and would encircle her future grandchildren (who were always in her plans, I suspect) with love and stability. She wanted to be sure that no matter who we ended up with, she and my dad would be aÂ closely connected part of our lives. And more than anything in her life, she wanted to protect her children from pain.
She wasnâ€™t saying â€śBeing Jewish doesnâ€™t matter,â€ť nor was she saying â€śYour partnerâ€™s religion, and their familyâ€™s religion, donâ€™t matter.â€ť What she was saying was that she wanted us to learn how to love, and how to be loved. When she said weâ€™d figure out the rest, she really did expect that. My parents always modeled a kind of loving partnership where being married meant you worked through things, not around them. When we had partners, we would need to figure â€śitâ€ť out, whatever it was.
Ultimately, my parents wanted us to be happy. I believe my mom was concerned that if she put limitations on our choice of partners, we might not endeavor on a truly full exploration of what we wanted in a partner. It was most important to her that we learn how to both love and â€śfigure things out,â€ť with either a Jewish person or a person who was not Jewish. My mom understood that religion was important, but not necessarily the magic key to a successful marriage.
I am thankful that my parents opened the door for me to find my right match, and gave me confidence that they would support my relationship based on its merits. This week would have been my momâ€™s 67th birthday. As my dad, sister, brother and I celebrate her and remember how much we miss her, I am lucky to have my husband and his family watch over me and hold my hand. On her birthday, I will pause and thank my mom for the ways she embraced my husband, and for not missing a beat in telling me to #ChooseLove first, with faith that the rest would follow.
There are many ways we all #ChooseLove in our lives. See the gallery and share your story!
Recently, my older daughter Laurel was pretending that her father and I were guests at her house, and we were helping to take care of her while her parents were out at a meeting. She showed me the kitchen, and suggested I might want to make mac nâ€™ cheese for her and her baby sister. Over dinner, she decided to talk about her family.
â€śI am Jewish, and my daddy is Jewish, so we just celebrated Passover,â€ť she said.
â€śOh, that must have been fun,â€ť I replied.
â€śYeah, it was tons of fun!â€ť
â€śWhat other holidays do you celebrate?â€ť I asked, curious to hear how she might answer.
â€śWe also celebrate Hanukkah, of course,â€ť she continued, â€śbut we have Christmas too,â€ť she said, â€śbecause my mommy is Christian.â€ť
â€śOh, really?â€ť I replied. â€śThatâ€™s interesting. I think your mommy told me once that she actually is more of a Unitarian Universalist,â€ť I clarified, thinking fast. Well, UUs historically were Christian, but today, many UUs wouldnâ€™t call themselves Christian, for a variety of reasons, not least because they can’t quite accept some of the central tenets of Christianity. Oh, ack,Â what do I say! Iâ€™m much more of a cultural Christian, I suppose, since I was raised in the Episcopalian church, but, but, butâ€¦ how do I explain this in one sentence, to a 5-year-old!Â
I continued to play along with theÂ conversation. â€śI suppose your mommy is sort of Christian. Sheâ€™s a very, very liberal Christian,â€ť I added. â€śAnd she celebrates Christmas, yes.â€ť Perhaps it would be best to save explanations of nineteenth-century doctrinal changes for a few years, I thought.
When my husband Ben and I first started dating, one of our first outings as a couple was to hear Harvey Cox speak on his book about raising a Jewish child, Common Prayers: Faith, Family, and a Christianâ€™s Journey Through the Jewish Year. Weâ€™d only been dating for a fewÂ weeks, so attending this event seemed kind of significant, and definitely nerve-wracking. What I learned, though, was that Cox and his wife, who is Jewish, decided to raise their son Jewish because of matrilineal descent. When it came to Christmas and other Christian holidays, they would simply tell him that those were his fatherâ€™s holidays.
This sounded like simple enough advice, and something to think more about.
I now know that this suggestion is hardly quite so simple, and that questions of identity will look different for different children as they age.
When Ben and I started to discuss marriage, it also seemed simple to decide that our children, if we were blessed with any, would be Jewish. Or at least thatâ€™s how I remember the conversation going. Weâ€™d just gotten engaged a couple of days earlier, and were sitting on the old green futon that functioned as our first couch back in the grad-school days. I told Ben, â€śIâ€™ve been thinking about this, and since Judaism has an ethnic component to it, as well as a religious one, I think our kids should be raised Jewish.â€ť
I remember the surprise, and the happiness, that I saw in his eyes. â€śReally? Youâ€™d do that? Because Reform Judaism accepts patrilineal descent,â€ť he told me, â€śmeaning that Judaism can pass through the father as well as the mother. Iâ€™m so glad youâ€™re open to this!â€ť
Our ketubah, which we wrote ourselves almost a year after getting engaged, seems to imply a different intention. Iâ€™ve just looked at it hanging there in our living room now, and it clearly expresses our desire to create a home that honors our Jewish and Unitarian Universalist heritages, one that, should we be blessed with children, would â€śhonor justice, respect diversity, love the holy, and make whole the world.â€ť This phrase rather nicely sums up what Ben and I hold most dear, theologically speaking, but nowhere does it say weâ€™re going to raise our children as solely Jewish!
Thatâ€™s funny, I find myself thinking. I thought weâ€™d agreed to raise our kids Jewish? Didnâ€™t I tell Ben that I agreed that we should raise Jewish children?
Or did I mean that I wanted to be sure they had a Jewish identity, even if that identity is only one of the labels a child might choose? After all, we have two Christmas-celebrating Jewish children, childrenÂ who receive Easter cards each spring from still-confused relatives, childrenÂ who this year participated gleefully in their first Easter-egg hunt.
At least, it sounds confusing to me. Iâ€™m not sure itâ€™s confusing to our older daughter. Itâ€™s simply who she is. Just a couple of weeks ago, she was proud to share a box of matzah with her class at school, and on the way home that day, she told me, â€śIâ€™m the only Jewish kid in my school.â€ť Iâ€™m not sure thatâ€™s quite numerically true of the school, even if it is of her classroom. However, what rings more true than a statistic is the extent to which, at this point, Laurel clearly considers herself to be Jewishâ€”and whether sheâ€™d say it this way or not, she knows, too, that itâ€™s not quite that simple.