Turn Jew and I’ll Marry You

  

Turn Jew and I'll Marry You Blog PostThis blog post was reprinted with permission from Red Said What? 

By Jennifer Reinharz

Larry and I struck our deal over Sicilian pie.

“Turn Jew and I’ll marry you.”

I shook my head.  “You’re crazy.”

“Then raise the kids Jewish.”

Bringing up nonexistent children in a faith other than my own seemed easier to digest than lukewarm mozzarella.

“OK,” I shrugged.

One civil ceremony two children, and 15 years later Larry and I have put some mileage on our interfaith marriage bus since that momentous meal.

Turns out, there are many of us traversing a similar highway.

Hoping our collective experience might offer insight to couples merging toward the on ramp, I reached out to a handful of drivers in my lane. Together, we created a travel guide we wished someone had stashed in our glove compartment years ago.

1. Know Your Baseline

A clear belief system is the anchor for future decision making.

Flushing out what spiritually, culturally and religiously, if anything was important to me: not extended family, not community, but me, before I was in a committed relationship would have saved me years of agita.

2. Face Fears

Fear is at the root of all issues interfaith.

Jill, who is married to a Jewish man, raised Jewish children, and is active in her church and synagogue believes, “If you are strong in who you are, then there is nothing to fear. Notice when you feel threatened and investigate within yourself.”

3. You Are You

Individual identities are often clarified and strengthened when one is in an interfaith relationship as its nature requires each party to listen, reflect and respond regularly.

I still hear Larry say, “Marrying outside my faith made me a better Jew.  It puts me in a position to think about what matters.”

4. Your Children Will Always Be Yours

After our son’s bris, an outsider remarked, “He should go to the mikveh. It’s part of the deal.”

I felt torn between the conviction to do right by Larry’s conservative upbringing and dread that my child’s formal conversion would jeopardize our mother-son bond.

In search of guidance, I went to see a Reform rabbi. She explained the difference between Reform, Conservative and Orthodox interpretations regarding matrilineal descent and ultimately offered, “Think of bringing your baby to the ritual bath as a beautiful rebirth.”

Screw that, I thought. What was wrong with his first one?

My son never made it to the mikveh but believe you me, the kid is all mine. And when it comes time for him to stand on the bimah as a bar mitzvah, this Catholic mom will beam with pride.

5. Make a Plan

Whether it’s before the nuptials or on the second date, but definitely before babies make an appearance: decide. How will you raise the children?

Will your family choose one religion, formally teach two or like Laurie who is one-half of an interfaith and intercultural couple, celebrate and observe all holidays and life cycle events with a focus on spirituality, values, tradition and gratitude?

The plan will likely change, but a shared vision will minimize confusion, create the structure and identity children crave and help all parties feel safe.

Don’t rush this conversation to avoid cold pizza. Invest the time.

6. Show Up

Stacey, a proud Italian who was raised Catholic and her husband, a Conservative Jew, decided to raise their children in the Jewish tradition. He was responsible for schul (synagogue)-shopping and schleps the kids to Hebrew school. She holds court during the holidays and planned each child’s bar and bat mitzvah celebrations with care.

Laurie and her spouse deem it the responsibility of the parent whose tradition is being celebrated to teach the children about it in a meaningful way.

Regardless of approach, each person takes a turn behind the wheel.

7. Find a Friendly Rest Stop

When my children were young, I was fortunate to find a local interfaith group. During our regular “Coffee Talk” meet ups, we kicked around ideas, vented, listened, sought validation and offered guidance. These women and men were my leaning post and sounding board.

8. Build a Bridge

After agonizing through years of Hebrew laden Rosh Hashanah services and prayer-heavy meals with extended family, I cracked. “This is not my holiday. I don’t get it. It’s too much and I’m not going anymore.”

My outburst and subsequent conversation with Larry gave us permission to create a tradition where we each felt included and able to derive meaning from the environment. We started with a relatable rabbi, the children’s service at our Temple, and a meal with friends and have since graduated to grown up services and food with Larry’s family.

9. Celebrate Your Spouse’s Traditions

Larry, who was raised in a moderately observant home, had a post-decorating nightmare after he participated in my mother’s Christmas tree trimming party for the first time.

When we decided to put up our own Christmas tree a few years ago, I brought home a modest bush, concerned that a grand statement might make him squeamish. Larry gave our five-footer the once over, examined the nine foot ceilings and announced, “This tree doesn’t do the room justice. Next year it has to be much bigger!”

10. Give Extended Family a Chance

Let extended family on the bus. Offer to take a ride with them. Prepare a kosher meal. Attend a mass. Kindness, sensitivity and respect breed growth and mutual acceptance.

11. Be Open to the Journey

Jill feels being part of an interfaith family is, “An opportunity for you and your children to learn and understand not just one, but two cultures and religions on a very deep and intimate level. Learn and embrace as much as you can.”

The scenery doesn’t look quite the same as when Larry and I shared our Sicilian pie. Interfaith marriage is a journey and we are a work-in-progress.

In the end, we need to map the course which best suits our own family. Honoring each other along the way will make the ride more enjoyable and make all the difference.

Jennifer Reinharz writes for children; blogs for grown ups; is a teacher, CrossFitter and Mom.  She is a 2015 BlogHer Voice of the Year and creator of the personal essay blog, Red said what?  Her work has also appeared in Brain, Child, Mamalode and Club Mid.  Visit her on Twitter and Facebook.

Laundry Room Mishpacha; a Rosh Hashanah Tale

  

When we look beyond the laundry room, we are all mishpacha.This blog post was reprinted with permission from Red Said What? 

By Jennifer Reinharz

After Hurricane Sandy, roughly six weeks post Rosh Hashanah 2012, we temporarily moved into my in-laws’ apartment.  The building is home to a number of observant Jewish families, my in-laws included.

Waiting in the laundry room, I noticed a grandma folding clothes while her four-ish year old twin grandchildren, a boy and girl played nearby.

“I’m going to sing a Rosh Hashanah song,” announced the light eyed little guy.

After he got a few lines into his song I said, “That’s a nice tune.”

“He’s a good singer,” Grandma replied.

“Yes.  I haven’t heard that one before.”

Right then his sister whipped her auburn curls, looked me dead in the eye and declared, “That’s because you’re not Jewish.

“Watch what you say to people!” Grandma barked.

Watch what you teach her, I thought.

I bit my lip and explained, “The Rosh Hashanah song I know is different.  It goes like this…”

I sang a few lines of my holiday ditty.  Thankfully the dryer’s buzzer went off.  I took my clothes, wished them a good day and left – fuming.

Why do I have to be Jewish to know a Rosh Hashanah song?  Why did the girl assume I was different than she?  We were in the laundry room, not synagogue and it wasn’t Shabbat.  Could she really have drawn her conclusion simply because I was dressed less conservatively than her grandmother?

It wasn’t clear.

What was clear was this little girl had been taught either directly or indirectly to identify, judge, and draw a conclusion about a person based on one’s appearance relative to the other grown-ups in her life.  As a Christian woman married to a Jewish man who takes pride in raising Jewish children, I felt offended and sad.

This week, my family will celebrate the Jewish New Year.  Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a time of reflection and new beginnings.  Whether you observe or not, perhaps it’s a good time for us to think about the symbolic gestures we feel bring us closer to God.  Although seemingly benign when practiced with a similar group, the question remains;

Do these gestures create an unhealthy divide, particularly when our children form false and hurtful conclusions based on them?

When all is said and done, I personally don’t think God gives a rat’s ass about what clothes we wore, the food we ate, the holidays we observed, or how many times a day we prayed.

It is how we view and treat each other while we are here that matters.

But let’s be realistic; life is wonderfully diverse and so our lifestyles will vary and symbols sustain.  So in an effort to close the gap, let’s be mindful about consistently teaching young people that all religious and cultural perspectives are valid and deserve respect.

Grandma, you and I may have different ways of approaching our day to day living, but my hope is that we embody the same values.  With this New Year upon us, let’s show our children that when we look beyond the laundry room, we are all mishpacha.

Jennifer Reinharz writes for children; blogs for grown ups; is a teacher, CrossFitter and Mom.  She is a 2015 BlogHer Voice of the Year and creator of the personal essay blog, Red said what?  Her work has also appeared in Brain, Child, Mamalode and Club Mid.  Visit her on Twitter and Facebook.