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I recently joined a Facebook group that InterfaithFamily started to connect couples planning interfaith weddings (join here!). As Iâ€™ve mentioned in a few of my posts, Zach and I have our wedding pretty well planned already, and weâ€™ve been working with great officiants to create a beautiful, meaningful and inclusive ceremony. I joined the group because Iâ€™ve realized during this process that the choice we made with this wedding to include and celebrate both traditions–to make both families feel welcome and represented–is a challenge and opportunity that we will continue to face in our married life.
Iâ€™ve mentioned a book called Being Both by Susan Katz Miller that solidified our decision to marry. The book isnâ€™t about weddings; rather, itâ€™s about what happens after. That was our biggest question in deciding to get married: What would we do if and when we decided to have children?
Meanwhile, what I had heard from clergy, both Jewish and Catholic, was that â€śbeing bothâ€ť was not an option. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops claims that religious leaders agree that raising children of interfaith marriages exclusively in one religious tradition is best. While this may be true, I had a hard time finding studies on the alternative, save for Millerâ€™s book. Additionally, both Zach and I felt that a piece of us would be missing from our future family if our future child or children was or were raised exclusively in one tradition. Being Both offers examples of families and congregations that enable families to participate in both traditions fully, rather than having one or more family members as a spectator to that tradition.
Iâ€™m not entirely sure what the right answer is for us, but reading that book made me realize that our family might not feel completely at home in either tradition, because of our desire to not just respect but incorporate both traditions into our one family. As a Catholic woman from a Catholic family, where we get together for baptisms and First Communions, that is a realization that, honestly, I still struggle with.
But I draw strength in my conviction that the benefits outweigh the negatives. Iâ€™ve already writtenÂ about how well Zach and I complement each other, and I also see a unique calling or mission in creating an interfaith family. I love celebrating Jewish holidays with Zach, and I canâ€™t wait to share those beliefs, prayers and family traditions with our children. Similarly, when I go to church on Sunday, I think about sharing with them my familyâ€™s stories, beliefs and rituals. I think our overall desire is to raise children comfortable and familiar with both traditions, who see and appreciate God in all forms. Because, when it comes down to it, I see God in my relationship with Zach, and I refuse to be bound by the lines our religious communities have drawn around us. Our love is boundless, and our family will be too. Thatâ€™s been the biggest realization for me in this process–weâ€™re starting something new, that no one in either of our families has done before, but connecting to the larger interfaith community, with families who have years of experience before interfaith marriage became commonplace, is so valuable.
I recently decided to take the last name Drescher. I struggled with the decision for a while. I like my name as it is: Laura Rose Free. I like the connection that â€śFreeâ€ť gives me to my family. I like the pun possibilities (bachelorette hashtag: #freeasilleverbe). But marriage signifies the start of something new–of two people coming together as one, acting as partners, and making decisions together. For me, taking the last name Drescher is a step in that direction; it’s an act that symbolizes that change for me. In addition to all of the practical reasons, this symbolism made me decide that I want to change my name. Iâ€™m not saying itâ€™s the right decision for all couples, but I feel itâ€™s the right decision for us–itâ€™s the first step toward the new family that weâ€™re starting. Iâ€™m thankful to have this community to support us and show us the ways they have chosen to create new families and traditions.
One of my favorite holidays is Hanukkah, and for that, I give a lot of the credit to the Beerorah. The Beerorah is something that my fiancĂ© Derek and I came up with the first Hanukkah we were dating â€“ well, really itâ€™s a gift pack from Heâ€™Brew brewing company (a division of Schmaltz brewing) that his best friend had given him when the friend found out he was dating me.
We joke that the Beerorah combines our two loves: â€śMy love of God with his love of beer.â€ť And Derek really does love beer â€“ itâ€™s his hobby in a true aficionadoâ€™s way. I have learned more about craft beer in the four-and-a-half years weâ€™ve been together than most people learn in a lifetime, and we love to visit beer bars and breweries just to try new and rare beers. Also he and his best friend have a collection of over 500 bottles of (craft) beer, carefully inventoried in their â€śbeerventory.â€ť
As for me though, the love of God part is apt too. A Conservative Jew, Judaism has always been a large part of my identity. Growing up, I attended synagogue every Saturday because I wanted to â€“ not only to gain guidance from the Rabbiâ€™s sermons or to enjoy the serene satisfaction of the silent Amidah (one of my favorite prayers), but because it was the center of the social circle for my friends and I. Go on a date? Having family drama? Meet at synagogue and we can discuss it.
But going to synagogue and practicing Judaism were also integral to my identity in part because of the climate in which I grew up. I am from Riverdale, NY â€“ home of eight or nine different synagogues and many many Jews. Nonetheless, my synagogue was swatstikaed one weekend when I was in Hebrew School. On the night before Kol Nidre (the holiest night of the year) a year or two after September 11th, our synagogue was firebombed with Molotov cocktails. We attended services while eager news crews waited outside to interview us and have gone through metal detectors and pat downs with varying regularity ever since. So my Judaism and its essentialness to my identity came in part from the fears to my safety that came with it â€“ and the way those fears bound my group of close friends and I together to the community and to each other.
That said, it was never essential to me to date a Jewish guy. I greatly enjoyed learning about different religions and cultures and watching people experience aspects of Judaism for the first time. I always had a strong opinion about how I wanted to observe Judaism and had my own relationship with God. I knew that my kids will be Jewish, that I am Jewish, that my family is Jewish, that I will never be anything but Jewish. And honestly, I knew I needed a laid back low-maintenance sports fan kind of guy â€“ I wasnâ€™t sure I would necessarily find that within the Jewish community.
You can say â€śOh, but traditions! But continuity! But faith!â€ť but I have also found that Derek has been much more respectful of my faith and practice than the Jewish guys Iâ€™ve dated. One got mad at me for not answering the phone while I was at a Friday night Shabbat dinner. I got in a heated argument with another who asked, â€śBut WHY do you believe? WHY do you have faith? Whereâ€™s the rational proof that God exists?â€ť Both were the moments when I knew the relationships wouldnâ€™t work out. The Beerorah was one of the first examples of Derekâ€™s openness and respect of my faith. And when we light it together each Hanukkah (this year was its fifthÂ iteration), it reminds me of that â€“ that we can meld what matters to us together to create something just as wonderful (or more wonderful) than the original. I havenâ€™t compromised anything â€“ Iâ€™m still Jewish, and I still have my love of God and my observance. He still has his love of beer. And we both have each other.
In the middle of the grueling Intro to Judaism class, I decided to devote yet more time to the synagogue and take the Beginner Hebrew class, taught by the Rabbi’s wife. We met on Sunday mornings, which meant I could go to the synagogue directly after the earliest Mass. The beginner class focused on the letters, pronunciation, and meanings of some basic root words and the intermediate class focused on the Hebrew in some of the common prayers. I ended up taking both Hebrew classes. For the last session, before summer hiatus, I read the Avot to both the Rabbi and his wife. The Rabbi would fix my pronunciation without even looking up and I would have to repeat the word until it was perfect. At the end of what seemed to be the longest hour of my life, the Rabbi asked me why I am taking all of these classes.
Without even thinking, I responded, “I’m not doing it for Sam. I’m doing it for me.” No one had ever asked me this question before and I hadn’t really thought about it, so I was shocked at the automatic response. It’s true; Sam was not pressuring me into taking any of these classes. He didn’t even ask me to take any of the classes. I took the initiative and signed up for the classes on my own, did all the reading, and practiced all the Hebrew, (and sometimes even refused Sam’s assistance).
“I’m doing it for me.” I want to learn about Judaism because it’s such a big part of Sam’s life. He devotes his Friday nights, Saturday mornings, and his life to Judaism and I want to understand why. I want to understand him better.Â IÂ want to help Sam choose the Hebrew text for our Ketubah, and then be able to read and understand it. And, if we do decide to raise our children in the Jewish faith, I would like to be able to help them.
Throughout this quest of understanding why Sam is so devoted to Judaism, I am finding the religion, culture, and the language to be fascinating. The prayers, songs, and rituals of Friday night service are incredibly rich and deeply rooted in history. I find Sam’s synagogue to be a very peaceful and comforting place. Going to services regularly is spiritually fulfilling (to an extent). I feel a sense of belonging in his congregational community, and I also play on the temple’s softball team. I enjoy the home rituals, especially the challenge of finding Kosher for Passover recipes. However, in learning about the Jewish faith, I am reminded that it is not the religion for me.
As Sam and I plan our lives together, I will continue learning about what makes him tick. I will take my time and go at my own pace to find where I belong in the religion aspect of his life. (Religion is one of those things where you have to find it at your own speed and enjoy it.) I do not plan to convert to Judaism, but I plan to continue learning about Sam’s religion, for myself.
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