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ByÂ Debra Lipenta
I, like many people, was deeply shaken after the results of the presidential election. After feeling so hopeful and then having that hope shattered, I really struggled internally. I feared the recent divisive and hateful rhetoric might take our nation and our communities back to a less accepting, less safe time. When I saw the first evidence of this — theÂ news that someone had spray-painted hateful messages and swastikas in my own neighborhood — I was horrified.
A swastika is just a symbol. Itâ€™s a small visible representation of something much larger: pure hate. Hate to the point of mass murder. Mass murder of my people. The symbol itself should not be able to hurt me, but it does. Each time I see a swastika, it elicits a strong, visceral reaction from deep inside me. I was inconsolable at the thought that this kind of hate still exists, and so close to my own home.
I’m grateful to have a loving, supportive and thoughtful partner, John. Though he is not Jewish, John saw and understood the pain that the swastikas had caused me. We had recently moved into the neighborhood together, our first home. When I called him, distraught, his reaction, unprompted and immediate, was, “We’re going to hang up our mezuzah tonight.”
A mezuzah is just a symbol. Yes, it holds a blessing for a home and to hang one is a mitzvah, but itâ€™s also a symbol that, by its very presence, says, “A Jewish person lives here.” It is a mark of solidarity among the Jewish community, and it does not hide in the face of hate. We, John and I, would not hide in the face of hate. In this seemingly small gesture, John reassured me of my safety and his solidarity. It was both an outward-facing sign to our community, and a personal act of support for me. It meant more to me than he ever could have known.
We hung our mezuzah that evening, he with the hammer while I said the blessing. For me, it is now also a symbol of his love, and I can find comfort and hope knowing that love always wins.
By Stacey Zisook Robinson
Editor’s note: This author describes difficulty finding a rabbi to officiate her wedding in Chicago. We urge couples to utilize our free rabbi referral service, available here. If you are in the Chicago area, or any of our InterfaithFamily/Your Community areas, our rabbi/directors can help guide you.
Iâ€™m dating. Again. Post-divorce, post 50, Iâ€™m dating. I suppose itâ€™s fittingâ€”I didnâ€™t do much dating during the prime dating years of adolescence and young adulthood. My teens and 20s (and if weâ€™re being really honest, most of my 30s) were relatively unscathed by the trials and tribulations of this particular social lubricant.
Not by choice, mind you. I wanted to date. Would have loved to dive into the dating pool. I envied my friends who wept and wailed and crowed with delight, sometimes all in the same conversation. I was just weird enough and insecure enough to assume that no one would ever actually want to date me, so I remained everyoneâ€™s confidante and confessor. I gave awesome advice and my ears grew muscles with the constant stream of listening that they did.
By the time I was dating, it was less â€śdatingâ€ť and more a series of negotiations over a meal or three to determine relationship status. I mean, come on: Who dated at my age? Who did small talk and boundaries? Time was ticking; letâ€™s get a move on. In or out, whaddya say?
My criteria read something like an EEOC banner: any and all applicants accepted, regardless of race, color or religion. I probably would have given pause at political leanings; that is (still) a deal-breaker. But all the other stuff? Not a whit did I care. I fell in love, deeply, passionately, forever and for always with someoneâ€™s soul.
It was probably no surprise to anyone that when I finally found The One, he was not Jewish. It was a huge surprise to me when I called my rabbiâ€”the man who had been my rabbi throughout most of my childhood and young adulthoodâ€”and he refused to marry us.
â€śWhat?â€ť I criedâ€”literally criedâ€”into the phone. How could that be? Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that my rabbi (whom Iâ€™d not seen in more than 20 years, but whoâ€™s counting, right?) would refuse. â€śMazel tov,â€ť he said, kindly and with finality. â€ťI wish you luck.â€ť And he hung up the phone.
It took a while, but I found a rabbi, apparently the one rabbi in Chicago who performed mixed marriage ceremonies. On a magical day in May, there was a chuppah and a glass and a rabbi, and my somewhat befuddled bridegroom who wasn’t Jewish.
Nine months and a day laterâ€”exactly nine months and a dayâ€”we had our son. But as time went on, I watched as my world, my marriage, fell apart. I forgot that if you have a relationship based upon need (because really, who on earth could ever love me; need was almost as good, right?), when the need goes away, whatâ€™s left to hold all the pieces together?
And so my husband became my ex-husband, and I jumped back into the (non)dating pool. I wound up with a handful of relationships to call my own. Though now there was a difference: These were all Jewish men.
Itâ€™s not that I had refused to go the Jewish route when I was younger. This was no misplaced rebellion from God or my parents. Had some Jewish man, in need of fixing or just plain in need, offered, Iâ€™d have been all over that. Iâ€™d have loved that. Maybe it was timing or luck. Maybe it was my subconscious. Regardless, Iâ€™d never dated within the tribe before.
At some point in my more desperate attempts to find healing with the ex of note, however, I had found, much to my surprise, God. And with God, synagogue and Torah and community and services and committees and temple politics and devotion and Talmud and chanting and teaching andâ€¦ OK, Iâ€™ll make this easy: I found my Judaism. I felt as if I had finally come home. Outside of being a mother to my son, being a devoted, mindful Reform Jew was the central fact of my life, and I was determined to make â€śJewishâ€ť central to my dating criteria from now on.
So, of course, when I least expected it, there it wasâ€”love. Again. Dating. Againâ€”no, not again.Â For the first time. Actual dating. The Iâ€™ll-pick-you-up-and-weâ€™ll-go-to-dinner-and-then-Iâ€™ll-take-you-home kind of a date. The Iâ€™ll-call-you-in-a-few-days-and-weâ€™ll-make-plans-for-another-day kind of date, because we donâ€™t have to do everything right now; later is also good, because there will be a later.
And now here I am, dating. Heâ€™s kind and funny and smart. He loves me, which is awesome, since I love him. We met in junior high and we found each other again in a hailstorm of good timing and strange coincidence. He likes pizza and the Cubs, has a cat named Einstein, and heâ€™s not Jewish.
Dammit, heâ€™s not Jewish. And it never, ever mattered to me before. But I found God, and Judaism, and mindful devotionâ€”shouldnâ€™t it matter?
â€śI donâ€™t know about him,â€ť I said to my son, now 17. We were talking just after Iâ€™d come home from a dateâ€”not the first one, not even the second or third, but right at that tipping point of figuring out where it all fit, having no idea if I was doing it right at all, since Iâ€™d never actually done this before. â€śHeâ€™s not Jewish. That feels kinda weird.â€ť
My son, filled with that heady mix of cynicism and ennui that pervades every 17-year-old, said, â€śMom, you just want someone who believes what you believe.â€ť
â€śNo,â€ť I replied, with a growing sense of wonder, â€śnot that. I want someone who thinks like I think. Someone whoâ€™s willing to dive in and learn and argue and discuss and discover. Heâ€™s devoted to his faith and to what his faith calls him to doâ€”serve those in need, fix whatâ€™s broken in the world. How is that different from what I want?â€ť
I wonder sometimes if I am betraying my faith, my people. He and I, we talk about it from time to time. He comes to synagogue with me on occasion. I go to church every once in a while with him. I think we are both a bit smugly sure, in a most loving way, that each of us is right about the whole God thing, and we kindly indulge the other in their misplaced faith.
Thereâ€™s a chance that God smiles indulgently at the both of us, too.
But we dive and struggle and wrestle with faith, with God, with love and our imperfectionsâ€”not to change the other, or to prove our rightness. We wrestle because it is part of the thing we share: devotion and faith.
We are completely together, differently. That is, ever and always, enough.
This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters here.
Stacey Zisook RobinsonÂ is a single mom. She sings whenever she can. She writes, even when she canâ€™t. She worked in Corporate America for a long time. Now she works at her writing and looks for God and grace, meaning, connection, and a perfect cup of coffee, not necessarily in that order. Stacey has been published in several magazines and anthologies.Â Her book,Â Dancing in the Palm of Godâ€™s Hand, has just been published by Hadasah Word Press. She recently launched a Poet in Residence program designed to work with both adults and kids in a Jewish setting to explore the connection between poetry and prayer as a way to build a bridge to a deepened Jewish identity and faith.Â She blogs athttp://staceyzrobinson.blogspot.com, and her website can be found atÂ www.stumblingtowardsmeaning.com.
It started as most modern romances do these days. Girl logs on to a website. Spies a boy. Sends notes back and forth. But it was 2000 when I met Dave, long before dating websitesâ€”a time when chat rooms and websites catering to different hobbies and interests were just starting to bring people together.
We corresponded via Internet and phone calls before we ever met in person. I was living in Brooklyn and needed to be in Boston for a work event in May 2001. We thought we should have dinner. Dinner turned into a weekend, which turned into weekend trips between New York City and Boston for quite some time.
Aside from the travel, it all seemed so simple.
And it was, mostly. There came a point in the relationship where we knew we were going to move forward, as in, it looked like I was going to leave New York City and move to Boston to be with Dave. We felt like we needed to tell our parents we had met someone special. That we were serious.
I was nervous.
You see, I was raised Jewish. My mom, my dad, my Orthodox Russian Rabbi great grandfathers, and family as far back as I know of, are all Jewish. And Dave was raised in a different religion.
I know the stories, Iâ€™ve seen The Way We Were, Fiddler on the Roof, and Annie Hall. People get disowned, troubles arise … lineages are broken, chaos ensues! I love my dad. I am his first born and I have always wanted to please him. I also knew I loved Dave. And that my Dad loved me.
So I prepared myself mentally and I picked up the phone.
Please answer so I can get this over with.
We start off like any other normal conversation; we laugh a little and check in. Then I let him know that I have something important I want to talk to him about.
â€śSo I know I told you Iâ€™ve met someoneâ€¦ but I wanted to let you know that we are… um… moving forward with our relationship.â€ť
â€śWell Iâ€™m sure you must know that I have one big question for you about this man that I need to ask.â€ť
â€śOK.â€ť Still holding breath, about to pass out.
At this point Iâ€™m trying to prepare to help my father understand that, to me, just because Dave isnâ€™t Jewish, that fact doesnâ€™t make me less Jewish or even less likely to raise Jewish children. Iâ€™ve always loved the holidays and the culture and the food and I want to make sure that those traditions are carried on. Iâ€™m ready to have this conversation with my father.
â€śOK, Dadâ€¦ask it.â€ť
â€śWell, is he a Red Sox fan? Because that might be a deal breaker for me.â€ť
And with tears in my eyes, I laughed. I laughed and told my father that no, the man I knew I was destined to marry was not a Red Sox fan.
I knew that my father chose love. He chose his love for me because he knew that love is the most important choice. He understood that we make choices in our lives every day and those choices should be made with love.
In my head, I made this conversation much more difficult because the â€śIf youâ€™re a Jew, you marry a Jewâ€ť mantra whispered throughout my upbringing. The truth is, by embracing my interfaith relationship, my father actually made me want to keep Judaism in my life moreâ€”to carry on the traditions and the culture in my own family. And while I wouldnâ€™t realize it until long after this conversation, he made me want to fight to keep Judaism in my childrenâ€™s lives no matter how many times we were made to feel unwelcome.
â€śI thought you were going to ask a different question.â€ť
It has been over five years since my father died. I see him in my children. My Jewish children. When they laugh, when theyâ€™re defiant and when they participate in Passover and light the Shabbat candles, and certainly on the day they eventually become Bar Mitzvah. Judaism is strong in my family, because at a critical moment, my father chose love.
To learn more about InterfaithFamilyâ€™s #ChooseLove campaign and to tell us how you #ChooseLove, visitÂ interfaithfamily.com/chooselove.
To see how we #ChooseLove, watch this video.