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âWeâre not doing this!â Andy was visibly upset. âI wonât do it!â
It was a year into our relationship and we were in his car heading to his dadâs house in the middle of nowhere.
The topic that inspired this reaction was none other than kashrut, a set of Jewish dietary laws that I happen to follow. While I am not incredibly strict and will go out to non-kosher restaurants, I will only eat vegetarian, dairy and halakhically (by the law) approved fish.
Andy knew that I kept kosher from the very beginning of our relationship but because I still went out to restaurants, he never thought much about it. As we became more serious and talked about moving in together, he finally began to understand how dating a traditional Jew would affect him. I had explained to him that if we were to move in together, our kitchen, and everything in it, would need to be kashered.
Kashering is the rather intensive process of making a kitchen kosher and it was not up for negotiation. Andy was not particularly pleased when I explained to him what it would involve, and in particular, what he would have to sacrifice.
His protests were valid and I completely understood where he was coming from.
Food is a significant part of life and kashrut not only dictates the kind of food we can eat, but also its preparation, storage, separation of dishes, utensils and pretty much anything in the kitchen that touches food.
For a Catholic-raised atheist who is not Jewish and was not used to food restrictions, it was quite jarring for him to suddenly be told that he would have to abide by them.
Thankfully, a year later as we were preparing to move in together, we were able to talk it out and eventually, negotiations were made where we agreed to set up two âkitchensâ in our apartment.
We dubbed them: Kosher Kitchen and Catholic Corner.
Kosher KitchenÂ is the main kitchen in our home. It’s where the majority of the cooking is done. The dishes in our apartment are all his. We rekasheredÂ hisÂ dishes in a local mikveh so that they could becomeÂ ourÂ dishes. He even participated in reciting the prayers and dunking all of his utensils, pots, pans and well, pretty much everything kitchen related, into the mikveh pool.
“Can you kasher our kitchen every day?!” he had said incredulously as he watched me pour boiling water all over our counters, making them especially clean.
However, when he wants to avoid these situations, he always has the option of using his own kitchen space.
Catholic CornerÂ is a corner by our front window which has a convection oven and a hot plate. Andy has a separate set of pots, dishes and utensils and even a separate sponge at our shared sink for those times when he eats non-kosher food.
Originally, he had a separate fridge as well but I felt like that was overkill. As long he wrapped everything up and it was well contained within its packaging, there would not be a problem about cross contamination and in the two-and-a-half years that we have been living together, it has never been an issue for me.
It may seem unfair that Andy cannot cook non-kosher food in the main kitchen, but I am the one that does the majority of the cooking for both of us. I am also the one who brought my beliefs to the table from the very beginning.
Andy realizes how important my religious and cultural traditions are to me and since that fateful conversation in the car four years ago, he is my number one supporter and now practically an expert on kashrut.
Keeping kosher is not always easy but not because Andy isnât Jewish. Itâs because we have a fairly small kitchen and having two of everything means our space is extremely limited.
Thankfully, together, we make it work.
Before Jose and I got married, I wondered how marriage would influence our personal growth. I frequently heard the term âgrowing apartâ to describe divorce. I worried whether that happens to some extent in all marriages, that all couples drift apart in their natural self-evolution and whether some couples are just stronger at making the union work. Would growing alongside another person stunt personal evolution, constraining one to only grow so much? Or would a marriage stimulate more self-growth?
Even before setting off on a career as a yoga teacher, I was interested in the concept of self-improvement. I believe we must better ourselves to better serve the world around us. I always saw, and still see, only minor hurdles in Jose and I coming from different religions and cultural backgrounds. All spirituality teaches us to be compassionate and kind to others, and there are more similarities than differences. If our religions encourage us to serve and to love, then Joseâs Catholicism is not at odds with my Judaism in that sense. Still, what obstacles from our faiths might emerge within our continued growth?
As we sat outside enjoying frozen yogurt last week, I asked Jose to get a cup of water from inside the shop. He refused. I thought he was being lazy and I got annoyed, but he explained that he didnât feel comfortable asking for a cup of water when they sell bottles.
Wow, I thought. I was raised to not spend money unless I had to. Tap water is always free, so why buy a bottle? He was raised to respect a shop ownerâs right to sell a product and to buy the item they sell.
Part of the beauty of our interfaith, intercultural marriage is the subtle differences in values, opinions and behavior that shine light on our self-development. When youâre married, you allow yourself to be exposed and vulnerable, to reveal your faults and to be embraced by love. When you give your partner the chance to love you fully for your strengths and for your weaknesses, you become aware of how to grow as an individual and as a partner. When your starting point involves different backgrounds, you often face these opportunities for growth early on.
When you grow alone, you may shoot off in one direction, one path, and no one is there to reality-check you. You may have family and friends as a support system, maybe roommates you must learn to live with, but no relationship compares to a life partner in the way it forces you to face yourself. Thatâs part of the reason I was always afraid of marriage.
I used to think of marriage like a sandbox: You build the wood planks around the outside to set clear boundaries for your wishes, desires, dislikes, hopes and dreams, and you try to keep the sand inside because thereâs a finite amount of it. You can play with the sand, shaping and molding it in different ways as you grow and learn together, but the sandbox itself never changes shape, unless you break it down and start from scratch. Thatâs the other reason I feared marriageâwhat if we grow out of the sandbox?
I realize now thereâs a much better metaphor for marriage. The marriage itself can grow; itâs not a sandbox. The two partners grow as individuals, but at the same time the union itself grows with life experiences, hurdles overcome and shared memories. I see marriage now as a garden. What grows each season may change. Sometimes you have a fruitful harvest because you have tended your garden with care, while other times the external factors like too little rain, sun or warmth prevent growth. Ultimately, each season is new, a new beginning for you to replant and learn from your mistakes.
Our interfaith and intercultural marriage is a beautifully varied garden. Together we have more seeds to choose from, more lessons from our ancestorsâ cultures and religions to explore. We can plant something new, something uniquely blended to our garden, when we have children. Most important, if the harvest of our self-evolution grows beyond the perimeter of our garden because we tended to each other and ourselves with care, we can expand the garden.
Our marriage, still in its infancy, has taught me that growing alongside another person is in fact a greater, more rewarding challenge than growing alone. Marriage forces you to grow to the very edges of your comfort zone, expanding within the shape you and your partner design. That allows you to grow fully in all directions, becoming a well-rounded individual and a loving, supportive partner. And just like a garden, marriage grows when seeds are planted for the future, and that growth happens when you arenât looking.
When I was single, I spent a lot of time on OKCupid. But when I got Jeanâs message, Iâd never seen her profile before. My filter was set to see only women up to age 33. I was 37. Jean was 36.
I wasnât ageistâat least thatâs what I tell myselfâbut I want to have kids. When I did the math in my headâ1 year minimum dating + 1 year minimum engagement + 1 year minimum to have a babyâthe 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: âCatholic.â
When youâve spent enough time on dating sites, you know what it means (or what you think it means) when someone who isnât Jewish mentions their religion. Itâs 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 âJewish.â But âJewishâ comes with a lot more useful flexibility than âCatholic.â When people write âJewish,â 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 âJewishâ for other Jews on the site who will only date Jews, as a way to make it through their filter. Occasionally, people write âJewishâ because theyâre actually religious. Then againâmost of those people are on JDate instead.
I wasnât against dating someone who wasnât Jewish. But I want to raise my kids Jewish. âCatholicâ signaled a different intention.
But she was cute. She was rock-climbing in one picture. She held a (good) beer in another. There wasnât 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 âdouchy.â (Iâm a business strategy consultant for the telecom industry. It does sound douchy.) I liked that. Also, I had recently broken up with somebodyâa âperfect on paperâ and Jewish, but not so perfect a match in reality, somebodyâand was still kind of beat up about it. So I wasnât 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.
âIâm sorry, Iâm a time optimist,â she said, a little out of breath. She didnât seem sorry.
âItâs OK. I used to be a punctuality Nazi,â I said. âBut Iâve mellowed.â
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 didnât fit my script. The age, the profession, the religion, a vegetarian to boot. It sounds shallowâand it is. But online datingâs 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.
âSooooâŠ,â I said, turning toward the ceiling. âThis Catholic thing. What does it mean for you, in terms of how your kids are raised?â
She sat up. She seemed intrigued, not anxious, about the serious turn the conversation had taken.
I wasnât sure what answer I wanted to hear.
âWell. When a guy says theyâre Jewish on their online profile, I know it usually means he wants to raise his children Jewish. I wouldnât have sent you a message if I werenât prepared to do that.â
âSeriously!â she said. âI 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.â
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 theyâd be willing to make before they hit Send? I knew she was thoughtful, but this was another level.
But this wasnât just a hurdle cleared, or even just a deep source of potential future conflict addressed early on and head-on. It was a gift, yesâas 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 âCatholicâ on her OKCupid profile says, âI just want my children to be raised in a religion,â 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 â Jewish upbringing. This means Hebrew school, bar mitzvahs, weekly Shabbat perhaps, talking to your children about GodâŠ
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 CollegeâŠor so I thought.
A few weeks later, I was out to dinner celebrating my roommateâs 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 didnât love the idea of staying out late on a weeknight. I told her I was tired and didnât think I was going to make it. She responded with, âbut there is someone here that wants to see you.â Curiosity got the best of me and after all, it was Saint Patrickâs Day. Being a redhead of Irish descent, I couldnât disappoint my ancestors on this holiday, right? So, I finished up dinner and headed to CafĂ© 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 JarrettâŠ.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.Â 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 wasnât 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 Iâm a spiritual person, my Catholic faith background wasnât 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 wasnât 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 âtougherâ 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. Â I was offered a new job in Philadelphia (a short drive away) on the same day that our offer was acceptedâŠthey say timing is everything!
Just in case we didnât 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.Â 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 dayâŠtiming is everything!
We will tie the knot in an interfaith ceremony in October 2016. I look forward to sharing our interfaith wedding planning journey!