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By Nataliya Naydorf
“I don’t think being with someone who isn’t Jewish compromises my Judaism.” I said to my fiancé on our first date. “As long as my partner is open, tolerant and willing to learn about my traditions, I can’t say it would be a huge issue.”
He had asked me whether I was OK with dating someone who wasn’t Jewish and how I reconciled that with my beliefs. Our original plan was to play pool, but instead we ended up sitting and talking for four-and-a-half hours about everything that you’re not supposed to talk about on the first date. At that point, we had most definitely broken the cardinal rule of first dates by discussing politics, religion and children. Let’s just say that I’m not great at being subtle and knew it was a good sign that he didn’t try to flee the scene.
I met Andy when we were working on the same project at a consulting firm in Washington, DC. Our first non-work related conversation occurred after our building was evacuated during the district’s earthquake in 2011. We bonded over our shared anxiety about using public restrooms. Afterwards, we began to speak more frequently and eventually began dating.
Our first date conversation regarding religion was only the beginning of our continued dialogue. As we became closer and our relationship grew more serious, we learned to traverse our religious differences together. I am a Ukrainian Jew who identifies most with Conservative Judaism. While I am not shomer Shabbat (I do not keep to the strict rules around observing Shabbat, such as not using electricity), I do keep kosher, go to Shabbat services at least once a month, and make sure to light candles and say kiddush on Fridays. Andy was raised Catholic but dislikes organized religion and considers himself somewhere in between agnostic and atheist.
Thankfully, one of the most significant strengths of our relationship is our ability to communicate effectively. Our conversations regarding religion, while sometimes difficult, have been meaningful and have helped us to better understand each other.
When our relationship became serious and more questions regarding religion arose, I realized that I wasn’t able to answer many of them. While I was following some traditions and was involved in Jewish learning, there were still many things I was ignorant about. In the past, I had assumed that my partner would be Jewish and would be in charge of most of the religious traditions. When I realized that I would be the partner that would take that role in our home, I began to learn as much as I could. With the full support of Andy, I took a six month sabbatical from work to study Torah and Talmud at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. It was an amazing experience that helped me to take more control over my religious beliefs and practices.
As we spoke of marriage and children, Andy devoted time to learning more about Judaism too. It was already a part of our lives in terms of food and Friday nights, which resulted in him being extremely knowledgeable about kashrut and the Shabbat songs and prayers. He furthered his education by reading books about Judaism and Jewish history, especially This is My God by Herman Wouk. Additionally, we took an introduction to Judaism class and attended an interfaith workshop at the DC JCC.
When we first started planning our wedding a year ago, I had a feeling that one of the hardest things would be to find a rabbi who would marry us, be supportive and be willing to perform a traditional Jewish ceremony that was inclusive of friends and family. However, there turned out to be many resources for finding a rabbi to perform an interfaith wedding, including Unorthodox Celebrations and InterfaithFamily’s referral service for finding officiants.
Unfortunately, after speaking with several rabbis, I did not feel a true connection with any of them. Feeling ready to give up, I decided to do my own research. We are getting married near a small Virginia town which happens to have a Reform synagogue. On a whim, I called the synagogue and asked them if their rabbi performs interfaith ceremonies. The very helpful gentleman on the phone told me that the current rabbi does not and it crushed me. Fortunately, he then told me that their previous rabbi who had just retired did and gave me his contact information. It turned out to be perfect. The rabbi’s wife’s family was also from Ukraine and we had a lot in common. We met with him recently to plan the ceremony.
Andy and I decided together that our ceremony would be Jewish, but would still be inclusive of our friends and family who are not Jewish. Our go-to wedding book was A New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant (she has a new version that just came out, The Jewish Wedding Now). It helped us tremendously with finding traditions that resonated with the both of us. After reading the book, we worked closely with our rabbi to discuss the parts of a Jewish wedding that we wanted to include. One of those elements includes a ketubah, which we are getting through Ketubah.com.
We are including both of our sisters as witnesses and used InterfaithFamily’s “Choosing an Interfaith Ketubah” resource to create our custom ketubah text. We will also be having a chuppah with two friends and two family members as chuppah holders, a tnaim ceremony for our mothers and yichud, which is a short interlude after the wedding ceremony where Andy and I can have a moment to ourselves during what will be a happy, albeit chaotic, day.
Because we had so many resources to aid us in planning our wedding, because we had the support of a rabbi and because of our ability to communicate our thoughts and feelings about religion, planning our wedding has not only been incredibly meaningful, but it has strengthened our love and commitment to each other. We are three months out from our wedding day and we can’t wait to say “Cheers,” “L’chaim” and “Nazdarovye” with all of our friends and family.
When I was single, I spent a lot of time on OKCupid. But when I got Jean’s message, I’d never seen her profile before. My filter was set to see only women up to age 33. I was 37. Jean was 36.
I wasn’t ageist—at least that’s what I tell myself—but I want to have kids. When I did the math in my head—1 year minimum dating + 1 year minimum engagement + 1 year minimum to have a baby—the math got hard. There were other things to be wary of. She was a teacher. I had dated teachers before and was looking for something different. And then, under religion: “Catholic.”
When you’ve spent enough time on dating sites, you know what it means (or what you think it means) when someone who isn’t Jewish mentions their religion. It’s a big, almost political, statement. It means their religion means something to them. It means they knowingly are excluding a significant number of potential suitors who are actively anti-religious, non-religious or uncomfortable with the whole topic. And it probably excludes another not insignificant number of people who are wary of anyone being too serious about anything on OKCupid.
My profile said “Jewish.” But “Jewish” comes with a lot more useful flexibility than “Catholic.” When people write “Jewish,” they could be declaring an important part of their identity. Or, they could be sharing an interesting detail, a conversational topic for late in a good first date. They could be including “Jewish” for other Jews on the site who will only date Jews, as a way to make it through their filter. Occasionally, people write “Jewish” because they’re actually religious. Then again—most of those people are on JDate instead.
I wasn’t against dating someone who wasn’t Jewish. But I want to raise my kids Jewish. “Catholic” signaled a different intention.
But she was cute. She was rock-climbing in one picture. She held a (good) beer in another. There wasn’t a pink Red Sox hat or Macchu Picchu picture in sight. I liked her message to me: It was thoughtful. She had read my profile. She appreciated that I noted that I was aware that my job description sounded “douchy.” (I’m a business strategy consultant for the telecom industry. It does sound douchy.) I liked that. Also, I had recently broken up with somebody—a “perfect on paper” and Jewish, but not so perfect a match in reality, somebody—and was still kind of beat up about it. So I wasn’t looking for anything serious at this point. I figured we could have fun for a little while.
She was late for our first date. Not terribly late, only 15 minutes or so.
“I’m sorry, I’m a time optimist,” she said, a little out of breath. She didn’t seem sorry.
“It’s OK. I used to be a punctuality Nazi,” I said. “But I’ve mellowed.”
On our fourth date, she came over to my apartment.
By this point, I knew I liked her. She was smart. She was funny and self-deprecating but confident. She was a great listener. We always had something to talk about. But she didn’t fit my script. The age, the profession, the religion, a vegetarian to boot. It sounds shallow—and it is. But online dating’s greatest attraction (and no doubt its deepest flaw) is that it offers the promise of enough choice to find someone who actually fits your script. No settling necessary.
Liking her carried another danger, more significant than the risk of going off-script. Permanence. Permanence with somebody who cares enough about their religion that they include it on their online dating profile. Permanence with somebody who may feel strongly about raising her children Catholic, and will probably have better, clearer reasons for doing so than I do for wanting to raise my kids Jewish.
We were lying in bed, smiling at each other.
I asked her the question I knew could end things.
“Soooo…,” I said, turning toward the ceiling. “This Catholic thing. What does it mean for you, in terms of how your kids are raised?”
She sat up. She seemed intrigued, not anxious, about the serious turn the conversation had taken.
I wasn’t sure what answer I wanted to hear.
“Well. When a guy says they’re Jewish on their online profile, I know it usually means he wants to raise his children Jewish. I wouldn’t have sent you a message if I weren’t prepared to do that.”
“Seriously!” she said. “I go to church because I was raised Catholic. But I would probably be Muslim if I were raised Muslim. Or be Jewish if I were raised Jewish. I just want my children to be raised in a religion. What religion that is is less important.”
This was someone to take seriously. What kind of person thinks a first message on OKCupid all the way through to child-rearing? Or rather, what kind of person actually makes a decision about a major life compromise they’d be willing to make before they hit Send? I knew she was thoughtful, but this was another level.
But this wasn’t just a hurdle cleared, or even just a deep source of potential future conflict addressed early on and head-on. It was a gift, yes—as it is for all Jewish people whose partners are willing to make this compromise. It was also a challenge.
When two Jewish people decide to have a family, this kind of conversation can be put on the backburner. Regardless of whether they send their kids to Hebrew school or whether they observe Shabbat, the parents can be confident their children will identify as Jewish. Two Jewish parents + bagels and lox + appreciation for Woody Allen movies = Jewish upbringing. But when your partner who puts “Catholic” on her OKCupid profile says, “I just want my children to be raised in a religion,” she is laying down a challenge: If you are making me sacrifice sharing my religion with my children, then you better be ready to share yours. Bagels and lox + Woody Allen movies ≠ Jewish upbringing. This means Hebrew school, bar mitzvahs, weekly Shabbat perhaps, talking to your children about God…
What had I gotten myself into?
I first met Jarrett in February of 2010. Our encounter was brief. I was a junior at Penn State University and out with a group of girlfriends one night. I ran into Jarrett and his friend on my way to the bar. They introduced themselves, we exchanged a few words then I continued on as usual with my evening. Just another night out in State College…or so I thought.
A few weeks later, I was out to dinner celebrating my roommate’s birthday. Toward the end of our meal, I received a text from a friend. She said they were at a bar around the corner and that I should meet them after dinner. Now, it was a Wednesday night. I had a tough course schedule that semester and didn’t love the idea of staying out late on a weeknight. I told her I was tired and didn’t think I was going to make it. She responded with, “but there is someone here that wants to see you.” Curiosity got the best of me and after all, it was Saint Patrick’s Day. Being a redhead of Irish descent, I couldn’t disappoint my ancestors on this holiday, right? So, I finished up dinner and headed to Café 210 West.
When I approached my friends, I noticed there were a few boys with them and right in the center of the group sat Jarrett….timing is everything, right? I learned that a few of his fraternity brothers were friends with a group of my girlfriends. I was still skeptical. I mean, he was a fraternity boy (which must mean trouble) and a senior getting ready to graduate. I thought he would have no interest in dating. But, as I sat with him that evening, I learned that he was funny, confident and kind. We talked and hung out in the weeks leading up to his graduation. He even asked me to be his date to his Senior Fraternity Formal! But we never talked about our status as a couple.
After he graduated, we went our separate ways. I moved back in with my parents for the summer in Gilbertsville, PA, and he moved back in with his mom in Cherry Hill, NJ. I thought for sure we would fall out of touch. But one summer day, he asked if I wanted to go on a date. We saw each other every few weeks after that and officially started dating! As we got to know each other more, he learned that I was raised Catholic and I learned that he was raised Jewish. This wasn’t anything new for me as I had a Jewish roommate in college who taught me the basics of Jewish traditions. Also, while I would say I’m a spiritual person, my Catholic faith background wasn’t the only thing that defined me. Plus, I liked this boy! And who knew where our relationship would go? I was only 21 years old at the time and wasn’t planning for marriage.
The following three years meant long distance for our relationship. I finished my senior year at Penn State, graduated and moved to Maryland to complete a dietetic internship to become a Registered Dietitian. He started his career in sales in New Jersey. Throughout the long distance, we strengthened our relationship through milestones such as meeting extended families and celebrating different holidays together for the first time including Passover, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah and Christmas!
In the summer of 2013, we decided it was time to fix the distance between us. We started talking more about our future together and had some of the “tougher” conversations about things like where we should live, finances, marriage (more about that later) and children. In September of 2013, we made an offer on our first home in Cherry Hill, NJ. I was offered a new job in Philadelphia (a short drive away) on the same day that our offer was accepted…they say timing is everything!
Just in case we didn’t have enough responsibility as new homeowners, we decided to adopt a golden retriever puppy in September 2014. We named him Nittany after our beloved alma mater. On March 20, 2015, Jarrett, Nittany and I took a road trip back to Penn State for a mini-getaway. Upon our arrival, we stopped for a quick family photo-op at the Nittany Lion Shrine and to my surprise; Jarrett got down on one knee with Nittany as his witness and proposed in the place we had met almost five years to the day…timing is everything!
We will tie the knot in an interfaith ceremony in October 2016. I look forward to sharing our interfaith wedding planning journey!
By Anne and Sam
July 10, 2012 is a day that I will never forget. I went in for surgery to correct my congenital scoliosis. The surgery was complicated, expected to last 3-4 hours with two weeks of recovery. I had everything planned out and handed everything over to my sister, Michelle, who was going to take care of me for 2 weeks.
Heading into surgery, Anne, as usual, had everything under control. She had compiled a massive binder with all the relevant information: surgeon’s name, health insurance, full medical policy, questions to ask the doctors at every step of the procedure, etc. After sharing a few jokes and prayers, she was taken to the operating room, around noon, and we headed to the waiting room. Hours passed. Around quarter after six an anesthesiologist updated us. After they had stabilized her spine’s curvature, but before they could straighten it, the sensors in her legs stopped receiving signals. As quickly as they could, they closed her up, woke her up, and tested her nervous response. She could neither move nor feel her legs.
I woke up with a breathing tube still down my throat. Michelle and Sam told me what was going on, but my brain didn’t register that I couldn’t move my legs. I was very tired, groggy, and my entire body hurt. For four days, I was kept in the surgical ICU while doctors and nurses poked me and ran test after test. Family and friends visited, and pretty soon I won the award on the floor for having the most visitors! I even had a doctor who looked like Ryan Gosling, who made the poking and prodding seem so much better. (Sorry, Sam.) After a week, I was transferred to an in-patient rehab facility because there was still no movement in my legs. They had a rigorous schedule lined up for me, with occupational therapy, physical therapy, art therapy, and even cooking therapy.
The first day of therapy was torture. My brain finally registered that I couldn’t move my legs. Sitting uncomfortably in a wheelchair in the middle of the therapy gym, I was terrified. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t get up and leave. I had to rely on someone to help me out of the chair, rely on someone to get me dressed, and I couldn’t even shower or go to the bathroom.
I drove up to the rehab center every day after work. At first, the doctors told us that they didn’t know when Anne’s legs would “wake up.” It could be a week, a year, or it could be never. However, it didn’t take long for Anne to start showing signs of progress. First her left leg began to feel sensation, then she could wiggle her left toes. There was still no feeling in her right leg, though.
The days at the rehab center got much better as I started to realize that I was not alone. There was an entire floor of patients who were going through similar traumas. Michelle and Sam pushed (okay, forced) me to have a positive attitude and make friends with my roommate, my therapists, and other patients. We played card game after card game, Bananagrams, Uno, Phase 10, Cards Against Humanity, and plenty of other games to pass the time. Heading into the surgery, I had registered to run the Long Branch half-marathon the following May. My therapists would use that as a motivational tool, saying “You can’t run the marathon unless you sit up,” or “You have to learn how to walk before you can run that marathon.”
I attended some of Anne’s physical therapy sessions. It was frustrating for the therapists to tell Anne to move her legs and Anne would conjure up all of her willpower and strength and nothing would happen. I’m sure it was more frustrating to Anne to not be able to do the simple things that she was able to do a week ago. It was also frustrating to not be able to see her for very long. I would come up to the rehab center straight from work and then have to leave about an hour or two later because visiting hours were over. I’d also spend a good chunk of my weekend with Anne and Michelle at the rehab center, playing games. We even started our own Saturday morning Torah study, reading and discussing the weekly parsha.
Anne’s improvement was slow, a lot slower than we wanted, but it exceeded her therapists’ expectations. One day Anne had enough strength to stand, then the therapists pushed her to walk. The day after her first wobbly steps, she walked the length of the gym, assisted only by a walker. I loved seeing the excitement on her face when she’d tell me about the progress she had made earlier in the day, and every day she seemed to grow ten times as strong as the day before.
Sam and my sister Michelle were there every day, and my immediate family drove 2 hours from Delaware every other day to visit. Sam even met some of my friends and extended family during visiting hours in the rehab center, including some cousins driving back to Minnesota from New York.
The surgery and its fallout was a horribly traumatic experience, but with Sam’s support I was able to heal faster than my doctors’ and therapists’ expectations. Even two years later, I’m still not 100% healed. Sometimes I notice that one of the nerves in my right foot is still not functioning properly. However, going through this experience with Sam brought us closer together. I hope that Sam and I never have to experience that kind of trauma again, but I know now that we have the strength together to get through all of life’s difficulties.
Sam and I got engaged in September and this blog is our place to share with you a little bit about us as individuals and as a couple. We continue exploring and learning about each other. I will be writing these blog posts in collaboration with Sam.
It was two years, this past weekend, since I started dating my fiancé, Sam. We met online and neither of us were particularly looking to meet someone from a different faith; it just happened. On our second date, religion and faith was the topic of conversation and we started recognizing the similarities of Judaism and Catholicism.
Sam grew up in an interfaith household. His father is a Reform Jew and his mother is a practicing Presbyterian. All three children were raised as Jews. Because of this, Sam is very connected to his faith: sitting on a few committees of the local Jewish Federation, frequently attending services, and involved with lay leadership at his synagogue. I, on the other hand, was raised in a religiously conservative Roman Catholic household. My nine siblings and I went to church every Sunday, received the Sacraments as often as we could, attended private Catholic schools, and pray often as a family.
In trying to write this first blog post about our upcoming wedding, we asked each other a few questions about how faith played a role in our dating experiences.
Have you ever dated someone who was of a different faith?
Sam had dated Jews and people who were not Jewish and it didn’t faze him one way or the other. He had even dated a Pastor’s daughter. I had only dated Christians before Sam, some more practicing than others.
Did your parents/family have any expectations of you finding a significant other within your faith?
Because Sam grew up in an interfaith household, there was minimal pressure on him dating outside his faith. Growing up, he expected to raise Jewish children; whereas my parents expect Catholic grandchildren. (Expect more on this topic in a future blog post.) Interfaith is brand new territory for my family. Growing up, my family’s circle of friends was from the private Catholic grade school and high school. I even went to a Catholic college, as did most of my siblings. I didn’t have many non-Catholic friends, until I went to a Mormon graduate school. Even then, my best friend was another Catholic.
When did your family realize/find out that your significant other wasn’t practicing the same religion?
For Sam this was a non-issue. It may have come up in casual conversation with his parents, but there wasn’t a specific time when his parents were shocked that I wasn’t Jewish. With me, it was quite different. In helping my mom prepare the Easter menu, I mentioned that I wanted to bring my boyfriend home and he had a few dietary restrictions. I offered to bring separate foods that were kosher for Passover, as to not put pressure on my family. We had only been dating for a few months, so I didn’t want to make it a big deal that he wasn’t Catholic. However, Mom told Dad, Dad told my brother Chris, who then told my sister Michelle, and shortly thereafter everyone in my family knew that Sam was Jewish.
The meal turned into my siblings asking Sam questions about Passover, his faith, and Judaism in general. Sam took this bombardment of questions like a champ! Sam joined us again for Easter this year and my family started embracing the kosher for Passover foods. My dear mom even experimented with matzah desserts! We said the grace before the meal and my Dad asked Sam to say his blessing, which he did in Hebrew. It was then, that my very conservative Catholic grandfather realized that Sam wasn’t Catholic. (Expect more on Sam’s relationship with my grandfather in a future blog post.)
Because you were dating someone of a different faith, did you have doubts about the relationship?
Sam didn’t have any doubts in being in an interfaith relationship because he saw his parents as role models. He had grown up practicing Judaism, but also experiencing major Christian holidays with his mom. My answer is not as simple. I did have doubts about overcoming the faith-related hurdles of our relationship. The more I would practice my own faith, the more I would struggle with our relationship. “How I could be with someone who didn’t believe in Jesus? How would we raise our children?”
Thankfully, my friends calmed my fears and gave me advice to take this relationship one step at a time, because if it was meant to be, we would figure it out. Fast forward two years and those questions aren’t as huge, not because I have found the answers, but because I have found someone to help me work toward the answers.
When did you realize that this interfaith relationship would last?
We both realized this around the same time. I had surgery last summer with a very long and painful recovery process. It was during this time that we realized the power of our relationship. Sam was incredible. He was at my bed side every day, helped me go through physical therapy, saw me at my worst, and gave me strength. It was also during this time that my family realized how committed Sam was to this relationship despite our different faiths.
As we approach our October 2014 wedding, we look forward to sharing more about our relationship in this blog. We hope that you will follow our journey and that our stories will help you explore your relationships.
Tell us about your interfaith relationship. Are there any similarities to ours?