Two Faiths Becoming One Family

  
Zach cooking latkes

Zach making curried latkes for Hanukkah

I recently joined a Facebook group that InterfaithFamily started to connect couples planning interfaith weddings (join here!). As I’ve mentioned in a few of my posts, Zach and I have our wedding pretty well planned already, and we’ve been working with great officiants to create a beautiful, meaningful and inclusive ceremony. I joined the group because I’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.

I’ve mentioned a book called Being Both by Susan Katz Miller that solidified our decision to marry. The book isn’t about weddings; rather, it’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 “being both” 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 Miller’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.

couple standing in front of a lit-up Christmas tree

Laura and Zach by her parents’ Christmas tree, 2015

I’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. I’ve already written 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 can’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 family’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. That’s been the biggest realization for me in this process–we’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 “Free” 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. I’m not saying it’s the right decision for all couples, but I feel it’s the right decision for us–it’s the first step toward the new family that we’re starting. I’m thankful to have this community to support us and show us the ways they have chosen to create new families and traditions.

Family Acceptance & Testing the Breaking of the Glass

  
two men stand ready to sand some wood

Zach works with my dad to build a stand for our photo booth

Over the July 4th weekend, Zach and I spent some time with my family in the Philadelphia area. As mentioned on my previous post, we got ambitious with some DIY projects, so we planned a few (three) weekends to go home and visit (work) with family to complete those projects. The first weekend in July was one of those weekends.

In thinking about blogging for InterfaithFamily, I’ve thought about what readers might be interested in, and family acceptance probably ranks pretty high. It’s an obstacle many couples (including some of my friends) struggle with, but luckily, we did not—my family loves Zach. Loves him. This cannot be stressed enough. They ask about him all the time.

While it doesn’t surprise me that everyone loves Zach (I do, after all), it did surprise me how that affected their reaction to us getting married. No one was disappointed that I wasn’t marrying another Catholic, because they all knew and loved Zach. They knew how well we worked together, they knew how well he got along with the rest of the family, and they knew how well he complimented my strengths and weaknesses—and same for me to him. They got to know him as a person so that by the time we announced our engagement, everyone was on board. They knew I could not find anyone who complimented me better, challenged me more and treated me better than Zach.

That’s not to say that this path has been super easy. It took some time for my parents to understand that my family life probably wouldn’t look like the one they had provided for me—with private Catholic school and a strong rooting in Catholic parish life. I loved growing up with that setting, but it might not work for our family-to-be. That’s a struggle that Zach and I, along with our extended families, will have for the rest of our lives. But I feel that both families see the love that we have for each other and know that for us, the struggle will be worthwhile.

Readers, excuse the interruption, but Zach has something to add!

Hi, this is Zach. While Laura’s been doing most of the heavy-lifting around here, I wanted to insert myself into this post to say that my family also loves Laura a ton. We’re more of a secular bunch than her family, but there was still somewhat of an expectation that I would end up with a Jewish spouse. But they’ve been nothing but supportive of our relationship, and everyone can see how good we are for each other. So there’s excitement on both sides for us as we begin this journey together.

Back to Laura:

One of the most fun parts of being an interfaith couple is learning, with your entire family, new things from your significant other. One year, Hannukah started while we were home with my family for Christmas. Zach led the family in prayer in lighting the menorah, and the next day my Grandma called to make sure that we had gotten home in time to light the menorah. Zach taught my family to play dreidel by the Christmas tree, and everyone had a great time (while he hustled us). We’re taking the same fun, learning approach to our wedding. Below is a video of Zach explaining to the camera and my parents the significance of the tradition of breaking the glass after the wedding ceremony. We were testing out a glass to make sure it would actually break!

Not Saying “I Do”

  

By Karl Gierach

Karl & Sherrita didn't grow up Jewish, but are planning a Jewish wedding

My fiancé and I did not grow up in different religious traditions. Sherrita was raised in Detroit as a Christian, attending Episcopalian, Baptist and Pentecostal services. I was also raised as a Christian—a Lutheran in the Detroit suburbs with a very conservatively evangelical upbringing. I attended 14 years of Lutheran school and during high school, I started having doubts regarding several aspects of the Christian faith. In college, as those doubts intensified, I felt drawn to Judaism. Upon introspection and research into the religious traditions, I ultimately converted to Judaism in 2007.

A decade of various levels of observance, becoming a member of congregations and attending a Birthright Israel trip led me to feeling confident and positive about my Jewish identity in the face of family disapproval. Overall, the Jewish community has been warm and welcoming with occasional mild confusion, typically from younger people.

Because I had struggled with acceptance both outside and inside the Jewish community, I wanted to date and ultimately marry a Jewish woman. After all, I wouldn’t want my children’s Jewish identity questioned the way mine had been, but I realized that my Jewish faith and personal practice had less to do with creating Jewish babies than with encountering and struggling with the divine and engaging the outside world. And then, I met Sherrita online in 2014.

After talking online for about a week, we were smitten and went on several amazing dates in rapid succession. We were engaged two years later in March of 2016. Happily, and newly, cohabitating in Detroit’s Cass Corridor/Midtown area, we unexpectedly learned that Sherrita was accepted at the Drexel University College of Medicine and would start the next week. We hurriedly said our goodbyes because I had to stay on to finish my semester of culinary school and work at a country club. I planned to join Sherrita in Philadelphia in the last week of 2016. The time apart only intensified our love, making us realize the gift of supporting each other in pursuit of our goals. Getting married was the best possible decision!

Once we entered the planning stages of marriage, Sherrita did not hesitate to say that she would like to have a Jewish wedding. She knew that it was important to me and wanted to support this new interfaith family that we were starting. I began the search for wedding venues in local churches, wanting to express my love and commitment for Sherrita more than any particular religious or cultural sentiment. However, the further along we got in planning, the happier I was with the Jewish direction we were taking.

We had vastly differing experiences in attending weddings—mine were more religious and hers were not. In both of our experiences, though, there were readings of the vows and both partners saying “I do” once the clergy said their part.

Once we found the rabbi who would perform our ceremony, we both learned what was involved in a Jewish wedding. As a person who loves to learn, Sherrita was excited about new terminology and traditions that were going to be a part of our family and that we could share with our extended family.

But the one thing that Sherrita wanted for the wedding was to say, “I do.” She didn’t know that it would not be part of a traditional Jewish ceremony. It seemed so trivial, but it made her wonder: Had she ever actually stopped to think if she really did want to have a Jewish wedding ceremony?

Sherrita had not been a practicing Christian in recent years and neither of us were interested in having our wedding co-officiated. But Sherrita hadn’t fully reconciled the idea of our wedding being the start of an interfaith family. We both thought that it would be easier to only have one religion present in the ceremony, but Sherrita was getting concerned that she could be losing part of her identity. After several meetings with our rabbi, she suggested we change the wording of vows in the ketubah so that they could be answered as questions with “I do.”

Even though our concerns are often still present as we continue planning for the big day, we are always able to work through them. We continually commit to hearing each other and compromising when necessary. And now, with just over a month to go until our wedding, we could not be more excited!

Getting Married and Keeping Our Religions

  

As a Catholic teen and young adult, I never imagined I would be planning an interfaith wedding. Even though I was preparing to leave for college in Washington, D.C., I imagined I would be married in my local parish church, by one of the priests I had worked with as a receptionist at our parish center. And here I am, nine years later, planning a life together with a man who completes me and compliments me in the most important ways—and, oh yeah, he’s Jewish.

I’m so happy with the path I have chosen, but it’s different than what I imagined for myself. The saying goes that humans plan and God laughs, but I also believe that God has an infinitely better plan.

My fiancé Zach and I met on the university shuttle on our first day at college. He was rooming with a guy I knew from high school. We went on a few dates, but were ultimately reluctant to jump into something immediately. Five years later, we started dating after attending Preakness (for the music, not the beer or the horses).

A few years in, we started to seriously think about our future. Could we get married and raise a family where he could still be Jewish and I could still be Catholic? Our spirituality, traditions, culture and history make us who we are and shape our families.

Being a planner, I did the only sensible thing to do: I researched. Other people must have had similar challenges or questions, right? We weren’t the first ones to consider doing this. In my research, I was amazed at the resources and communities available to interfaith families. (Side note: What did people do without the internet?) I found great references about what to expect on InterfaithFamily‘s website, including this post about a Catholic priest’s perspective on interfaith marriage. Following a couple’s story was incredibly powerful and made me feel less alone—I saved a few posts from A Practical Wedding (this one brought me to tears and made me realize that I could plan a beautiful and meaningful interfaith wedding). I connected with the challenges and vulnerability that authors shared in the stories I read. We started looking for examples of what we were looking for: a family where the beauty of what we each had experienced as children could be imparted to our kids; where both partners’ beliefs were treated equally; where no one felt excluded.

Reading Susan Katz Miller’s Being Both helped us make our decision. The book explores interfaith families who have chosen to educate their children in both traditions. Some kids choose to continue in both; others make an informed choice about which tradition is right for them. It made us realize that we didn’t have to choose between our traditions; we could share the beauty of both in an authentic way and that others had, in fact, already done it.

Fast forward a few years, and we’re less than six months away from our interfaith wedding in September. We are planning a beautiful outdoor ceremony with a priest and a rabbi both officiating. We have incorporated elements of both our faiths that are particularly meaningful to our family and us. While it has not been easy to plan, it’s been an experience that will stick with us as we begin our married life, and it’s been a good testing ground for our problem-solving and communication as a couple. So far, we’ve aced it.