See Me for Who I Am

  

Annoyed_WomanI am a lot of things in this diverse world. I am a female, a daughter, granddaughter, sister, fiancé, niece, friend, Catholic, dietitian, animal lover, coffee and chocolate enthusiast… in no particular order. While I identify as many different things, there are many things I am not and won’t try to be. As I continue to grow and navigate through life, I am finding that the way I define and present myself to the world is more important than the way someone else defines me. However, when someone tries to define or label me differently than how I see myself, it can be hurtful.

I have had so many positive experiences over the last several years as one half of an interfaith couple. I have had the opportunity to learn so much about the Jewish faith. I have embraced Jewish traditions and culture and continue to learn ways to incorporate these new traditions into my life. I have been welcomed with open arms into a Jewish family that I will officially be able to call my own family when I say “I do” in an interfaith wedding ceremony six months from now.

Unfortunately, when small, negative experiences occur, they can put a damper on even the most joyful occasions, just like a rain cloud can ruin a beautiful sunny day. These negative moments can linger causing sadness and frustration. I have encountered very few negative opinions in response to my interfaith relationship but that doesn’t mean it hurts less when these situations do arise. My hope is that individuals today can continue to become more open-minded and non-judgmental. As the Catholic half of a Catholic/Jewish interfaith couple, below are some experiences I’d like to avoid repeating in the future.

For starters, please do not call me a “shiksa” if you would like to maintain a friendship with me. Calling me this term will not make me laugh and I will not think it’s funny. The word “shiksa” means “non-Jewish female,” however, other translations for the word include “impure” and “abomination.” This word is not a term of endearment and every definition I have ever read for this word describes it as derogatory. Most definitions even directly indicate that this word should not be used as a label or reference for someone. It is 2016, I am a Catholic woman who fell in love with a Jewish man and there is nothing forbidden about our love. If you are a person who identifies as Jewish who is not aware of the correct definition for the word “shiksa,” please take the time to research the word and then ask yourself if the person you’re referring to would be offended by this.

I am Catholic. I am “of a different faith background” but would prefer not to be called a “non-Jew.” I have read articles about the controversy of the term “non-Jew.” It made me stop and think about my feelings toward this term. I get it. I’m not Jewish and I’m not trying to be. I am marrying someone who identifies as Jewish while I identify as Catholic. To me, this is very concrete. The problem arises when someone else starts identifying me by what I am not rather than what I am. When someone calls me a “non-Jew” it makes me feel like I’m on the outside looking in or excluded from a group. The term “non-Jew” also makes me feel as though the person referring to me as a “non-Jew” feels superior because they are Jewish and I am not. Individuals should be identified as what they are rather than what they are not to avoid hurt feelings or discomfort.

Finally, I have been asked on a number of occasions since my engagement if I plan to convert to Judaism. While I respect the question and a person’s interest in our different faith backgrounds, I don’t feel as though I need to convert to my partner’s religion in order for it to be acceptable to get married. Don’t get me wrong, I love that conversion is an option and that in the future, if I feel conversion is right for me, I can make that decision. On the other hand, I love that intermarriage is accepted by many today and that I can continue to practice my personal religious beliefs while building new traditions with my partner who has personal religious beliefs that are different from my own.

I don’t know what the future holds for my partner and me as we move closer to our wedding day but my hope is for continued acceptance and respect for individuals of different faiths and interfaith couples. We will continue to surround ourselves with friends and family who accept and embrace our different faiths and support us as we build this new life together!

Surprise! It’s a Rabbi!

  

Wedding rings on the Torah

In the days after our engagement, we began to imagine our wedding. I had thought about a possible future wedding many times in the past, but the realness of that imagined wedding became heightened by our official engagement. Distant ideas like, “getting married outside might be nice,” were suddenly translated into Google searches for “outdoor wedding venues.” One of the first questions we asked ourselves was, “Who do we want to officiate?” I was actually surprised by how quickly the answer came to me. After flipping through the various options in my mind, I knew a rabbi was the right choice for us. I asked Amma what she thought of the idea, and without skipping a beat, she completely agreed.

Just a couple of years ago I don’t think either of us would have guessed that we would be married by a rabbi. For starters, neither of us is technically Jewish (depending on how you define Jewish). One could argue (and I often do) that I am Jewish because my grandparents are. Whether or not that argument wins, depends on the audience. Because I wasn’t raised Jewish, and whatever lineage I do have is on my father’s side, some would say I’m a far cry, but that has never stopped me from feeling Jewish! And that isn’t the only reason we want a rabbi for our ceremony.

As Amma and I examined our decision, we discovered our desire for a tie to something greater than ourselves to play a meaningful role in our wedding. We may not be religious, but we do feel a strong spiritual connection to humanity, the universe and God. It was clear to us that we wanted the person leading us into our marriage to be someone who is dedicated to that greater spiritual connection.

Sally Jane Priesand, the first woman in the United States to be ordained as a rabbi.

Sally Jane Priesand, the first woman in the United States to be ordained as a rabbi.

Also on a spiritual level, being two women, we felt that our union would be best endorsed and honored by the heart, experience and wisdom of a woman. Reform Judaism has not only been ordaining women and LGBTQ rabbis since the early 1970s but also supporting its followers in the LGBTQ community. This history of equality and acceptance was yet another great reason for us to adopt Judaism into our wedding and our lives.

So we knew we wanted a rabbi, but we still had to find the right one. I didn’t know what I would find when I started my search. Not only had we just moved to Philadelphia, but we also weren’t part of a Jewish community. I went online and Googled “Philadelphia rabbis,” and up popped an ad for InterfaithFamily. I didn’t know what InterfaithFamily was, but it sounded inclusive and open-minded, so I clicked. I liked what the InterfaithFamily community stood for and it seemed like it had grown from a wonderful place of wanting to bring people together. The fact that they had a rabbi referral service was more than I could have dreamed of.

The referral service was exactly what I needed, and my request was handled with care and attention. When I received a response from Rabbi Frisch, it felt like a gift. The questions on the referral form were used to compile a list of potential rabbis who were appropriately matched to our needs. It was fun learning about all these different rabbis. I did an Internet search for each candidate to find out more.

After narrowing the list down to a handful of rabbis who I thought might be a good fit, I sent out initial emails. I felt hopeful as the responses began popping up in my inbox. There were two or three who, through the tone and wording of their emails, felt like they could be “the one.” But over the next week or so, each conversation resulted in a dead end due to various issues, and there I was back at the drawing board, feeling defeated.

Rabbi Frisch must have heard my prayer, because the next morning I received an email from her asking how my search was going. I wrote back describing my fruitless efforts. In my reply I also felt inspired to talk about my strong desire to have a rabbi marry us, and why. Much to my surprise, but true to her generous nature, she offered to be our rabbi. I can’t begin describe my delight. Not only did I already feel like I was getting to know her through the emails we had written back and forth, but I absolutely knew she was a perfect fit for us.

There is something about the way everything worked out that just feels like fate. Since Rabbi Frisch agreed to officiate, we have met in person to chat and get to know each other better. Suffice it to say, we all hit it off wonderfully! We plan on meeting a few more times before the wedding to talk about the ceremony in more detail, and we can’t wait to see her again.

An Inter-Faith Yom Kippur in a Time of Weddings

  


This year may have been the perfect snapshot for our inter-faith life together.

As Friday settled in and the sun began to set, we began to prepare for the weekend. I was preparing my body by beginning my fast. Lisa was preparing for a busy Saturday.

One thing that makes Lisa a wonderful inter-faith partner is that she asked me before she made dinner if I minded. Since to my knowledge, there is not a lot of fasting in Catholicism, she wanted to be respectful for my decision to practice faith in a way that was meaningful for me. I never once expected her to fast with me because our relationship is based on encouragement and not on forced decisions.

When we rose on Saturday, it was going to be a busy day for the both of us.

We both attended the Saturday morning services for Yom Kippur.

Although the services and sermon was great, it was the simplest things of the day that brought me the most joy. A year ago, I could not even enter a temple if I wanted to because major knee surgery had me laid up and streaming the services from my computer. And as we chanted during services, we would have been grateful and content. However, with so much changing over the past year, outside my relationship with Lisa, our temple was the only constant. And for that I would have been grateful and content. The last part I will say about services is that it was great to have Lisa there for me in the morning. When I attended the afternoon services without her, she was dearly missed. However, she was there in the morning for me and for that I am grateful and content.

When I asked Lisa about services, her first answer was the most important. She liked being there for me. It melts my heart a little bit even to think of it. However, her overall view was that a lot of things remained universal. There were songs to be sung, readings to follow, and a sermon to be heard. She was most fascinated with seeing the Torah scrolls being unveiled from behind the curtain and then carried around to be touched by tallit or prayer books and then kissed.

Lisa At Her Bridal Shower

Lisa also had a busy rest of the day preparing for the wedding. She needed to go purchase a slip for her dress and several other pressing wedding purchases. And this was before she needed to attend her own bridal shower that day. We know we should have planned better to not have it on such a big day, but that is when most people were available and since we do have not a very active Jewish circle of friends, no one really thought much of it until the date was set. Lisa was grateful for all those who were able to attend the event.

This snapshot of our day is very much what it is like to live in an inter-faith world; we all just need to be respectful of everyone’s decisions and try to be there in the best ways that we can.

Signing a Ketubah in a Sacristy

  

Cole Porter famously wrote, “What is this thing called love? This funny thing called love. Just who can solve its mystery?” It is hard to explain love. We try. Poets try. Scientists try. However, it all falls short in the actual feeling one gets while being in love.

One piece of spiritual advice I like to adhere to is that you should do what you feel connects you to G-D. When being a Reform Jew in my daily practice, the guidelines seem looser, and this allows me to find a Judaism that works for me on a daily basis. It is one reason why I eat “kosher”, but do not ask Lisa to do the same. (My definition of kosher is that I do not eat shellfish, do not mix meat and cheese, and no consumption of pork.)

These two ideas brings us to the Ketubah Ceremony. I cannot exactly explain why I feel the importance of the Ketubah. I hold the ceremony, the tradition in the highest regard not much dissimilar to a High Holy Day.

For those who are new to Jewish traditions, the Ketubah is a piece of art that is hung by the entrance of a Jewish or Inter-Faith home. It is there to remind you each day as you enter the home of that day and the happiness in your life. The art usually encompasses words that are very similar to traditional wedding vows. It also is the religious version of a marriage contract where it is signed by Bride, Groom, Officiate, and two non-family Jewish friends as witnesses. (There is a story about the witnesses, but I will save it for another time.)

The signing of the Ketubah is a short ceremony the couple does with a very small group (though some couples invite more of their guests to witness it) right before the big walk down the aisle. And in our true inter-faith fashion, we decided last weekend to sign the Ketubah in the chapel’s sacristy. The sacristy is where most items like the chalice, vestments, and altar cloths are stored for the priest before mass. It is a very ritualistic room and we feel it is the perfect place for an inter-faith Ketubah ceremony.

When it comes to the purchasing of the Ketubah, I felt strongly about spending a large but reasonable amount of money. Apparently, that is a trend of mine as I also purchased an original comic book page from a convention this weekend. And when this piece of art symbolizes so much importance, spending a little extra never hurt.

Our actual Ketubah purchase was easy as we looked on a couple websites like Etsy, but selected one from ketubah.com. Lisa and I have very different tastes when it comes to art, so we looked through quite a bit until we found something that we were comfortable looking at for the rest of our lives.

The most adventurous part of the Ketubah purchase was when selecting and editing the text. Although I can be wordy and passionate, Lisa plays the role of reserved and is not quite as flowery I am when it comes to language. Due to that, we are not doing vows during our ceremony, and the Ketubah will serve that purpose during our actual wedding. Therefore, getting the inter-faith language perfect was critical. We also had an in-between-the-planning moment recently which I talked about the importance of here.

No clever ending today. Ready for the weekend. 57 days to go…

A Beautiful Shower

  
Since Chris and I have been planning our wedding for so long, it’s strange to think that it will actually happen–and soon! This weekend really put it into perspective how close it is as my bridal shower was this past Sunday. It was held in my hometown, at the home of a very good family friend. Four of my mom’s friends hosted the shower and it was amazing. They truly thought of every detail and made sure the women from both sides of our families felt included.As we’ve mentioned many times before, both of our families are large. So, as one may imagine, the shower was quite crowded with about 50 in all of family and friends–most of whom were meeting for the first time. The event began with lunch and schmoozing. After we ate everyone gathered in the living room to embarrass me (in the most loving way possible) with a quiz about Chris.

Then, some members from both families stood up and spoke. This part was so touching. My aunt Liz spoke about my grandmother, who passed 5 years ago, and how much she would have loved Chris. A few of Chris’ aunts read poems or blessings. My sister, who lives in Israel, sent something for my mom to read for her, and Chris’ sister, who lives in England, sent something for Chris’ mom, Judi, to read. Then, for the big finale, both my mom and Judi said a few words, both of which brought me to tears. Chris’ mom read the following poem:

A Mother’s Prayer

I prayed for you
Before I ever met you
And once I saw you
I knew I would never forget you.

There was something about you
That was special and rare
But I didn’t know yet
That you were the answer to my prayer.

You were the answer to the prayer
For the one my son would wed
I prayed for you from the time he was born
And this is where my prayers led.

I prayed for your health
Health of body, soul and spirit
And I knew always in my heart
That God, our Father, would hear it.

And now I know just who you are
And how you found your way
Into our hearts and homes and lives
And to your wedding day.

I have put together this little poem
To show you how much we care
How proud we are to celebrate together
The answer to a mother’s prayer.

Now…if that doesn’t bring you to tears, I don’t know what will! My mom also brought the place to tears, but mostly through laughter. She teased about how the key to a successful marriage is BreatheRight Strips and how it’s best to bake goodies when your children aren’t home so you can lick the batter, ha! Now I know why there was always banana bread and brownies around when I got home from school!

I truly felt like the luckiest person in the world, not only for the amazing gifts we got (!!!) but also for the immense amount of love that surrounded Chris and I. We are truly blessed.

110 days to the wedding!

Will We Raise a Future Olympian?

  

child skiingAs the Winter Olympics have been consuming our TV watching the past few weeks, Chris and I have been talking about our future children–particularly, our future children and sports. Will we raise a future Olympic athlete? Possibly, but probably not. We are both relatively athletic and played sports as children; Chris was an avid hockey player through high school and I took up rowing in high school and stuck with it through college.

I often ask myself how people get into sports in the first place (this came up often while watching many of the sliding events at the Olympics–how does one become a skeleton competitor?!) I imagine children are first exposed to the sports their parents’ were (or still are) involved with and then make choices from there. Of course, Chris is already talking about buying our future first child a pair of hockey skates, and I know I’d love my children to experience the lifelong friendships and physically active lifestyle I attribute to my years as a rower.  We both enjoy skiing and would surely expose our children to that at an early age. But…the rest is really up to them.

This made us think about how in many respects, religion parallels athletics, or really any interest that can be passed on from a parent. A child’s first exposure to religion is through their parents and the religion(s) they practice. Clearly this is more complicated when parents practice different religions, as we do. Chris and I do not happen to be the type of believers who find Judaism and Catholicism mutually exclusive, but we know that there are many among both faith groups who would say that you must pick a side.

So what do we do? Try to expose our children equally to both faiths and wait and see which they choose? Will our children have Bar or Bat Mitzvahs or first communions and confirmations? Is it possible for them to choose to practice both? We do not really know the answer to these questions, and in fact think that our kids will be infinitely more qualified to address them. We do acknowledge that exposing our children to our faiths will require us to make some changes, but we can’t exactly foresee what this will mean. Ultimately the best we can hope for is to raise our children with the values our religions have taught us; kindness, caring, loyalty, honesty, and generosity. And if they end up competing at the Olympics one day, we’ll be there to cheer them on.

Meetings with the Monsignor

  

In order for my marriage to Sam to be recognized in the Catholic Church, I have to request permission from the Diocese for a special dispensation in order to marry a non-Catholic who was never baptized.

Anne’s Baptism 

This document also requires my signature under this statement: “I reaffirm my faith in Jesus Christ and with God’s help intend to continue living that faith in the Catholic Church. I promise to do all in my power to share the faith I have received with our children by having them baptized and raised as Catholics.”

Crap! While we have discussed it on numerous occasions, Sam and I have yet to decide in which faith to raise our children.

With that in mind, we arranged to meet with Monsignor Hopkins, the priest at my family’s parish, to talk about this special dispensation. We also wanted to discuss Pre-Cana, a Catholic pre-marriage course that discusses spirituality/faith, conflict resolution, careers, finances, intimacy/cohabitation, children, and commitment. In addition, we were looking for advice on how to incorporate both religions into our ceremony.

A few months ago, we had met with Father Hopkins to start talking about these issues. He advised us to hold the ceremony in a “neutral site”, neither a synagogue nor a church. As a result of this discussion, we arranged to hold our ceremony at the country club where our reception will take place.

Last Saturday, we met with Father Hopkins to discuss the dispensation in further details. He gave us some really great advice that I would like to share with you:

- Deciding which religion to raise our children in is a very large, important decision that does not have to be decided right now, as long as we are seriously talking about it.

- Even if we are currently leaning more towards raising our children in one faith or the other, that may change once there is a baby in the picture.

- In talking about children, faith and our lives together, we should not “minimize or trivialize” the other’s religion or beliefs.

- “Everything will be fine as long as your family loves and accepts Sam and his family loves and accepts you.”

We talked about Pre-Cana. I have heard the amazing revelations (and some horror stories) of going through these Pre-Cana classes. I also feared the number of miles that we would put on our cars if we drove down to Delaware every weekend for 6 months to attend these classes. We floated the idea of taking Pre-Cana in New Jersey; however, I wanted to take the courses with a priest that I was comfortable with. Father mentioned that the class is mainly about communication and because our communication with each other is strong and we have started to incorporate the families into our decision making process, he is not requiring us to attend Pre-Cana.

We then discussed how to blend the different Jewish/Catholic symbols and rituals into the ceremony without offending anyone. Father Hopkins gave us some examples of programs from Catholic/Jewish ceremonies in which he officiated, and a list of readings and blessings to consider.

We still have a lot of decisions to make, and we are just about to hit the 8-month mark!

And so it begins…

  

Chris and Dana here; the new couple for InterfaithFamily’s wedding blog. We’re so excited to share our experiences with you.

Let us begin by introducing ourselves. Dana is originally from central Massachusetts and Chris is from southern New Hampshire. We met in Boston after college while working as Americorps volunteers for a non-profit called Playworks and have been together for over five years. Dana was raised conservative Jewish and Chris was raised Catholic but currently neither of us attend service regularly. We still live in Boston in our newly purchased condo and are both still working in Education; Chris as a first grade teacher at a Boston Public School and Dana as a school administrator at a private school in Boston.

It has certainly taken us some time to get used to our different religions and traditions, but we have both been very open-minded throughout the learning process. We have each tried new things and gotten involved in one another’s faith. A key element of this is that we participate when we feel comfortable to do so and ‘sit it out’ when we don’t.

Now…about our wedding! We got engaged in November of 2012 and are getting married next June, 2014 at Dana’s parents’ home. The ceremony will take place in the front yard and the reception will be in backyard under a tent, in what Chris likes to call a “mullet wedding…business in the front, party in the back.” We will be married by a mutual friend and plan to incorporate aspects of both religions into the wedding ceremony. While we are not entirely sure what that will look like yet, we do know a few key details: there will be a chuppah, designed by Dana’s mother (more details about that later) and we will undoubtedly dance the hora, we will have a few Bible readings of Chris’ choosing and Chris is extremely excited to break a glass and give guests custom-made Boston Bruins kippot.

So how is our relationship different than a same-faith couple? Well, we don’t have to split holidays, which is pretty nice, and we get to celebrate both Christmas and Hannukah. In the beginning we often had to act as ambassadors for our respective faiths, explaining a lot and trying not to assume that the other knew things. We began the discussion of how to raise our children very early on and continue to give it a lot of thought. We both feel that religion is an important element of our lives both culturally and spiritually, and want to pass on the values we’ve received from our families and upbringing. However, we’ve also had to do a lot of self-reflection and think about how much of a role religion plays in each of our own lives at the moment.

It has certainly been a journey to get where we are now and we have learned a lot along the way. We are very excited to share our wedding experience with you readers and to see what our future brings!

Cheers,

Chris and Dana

Rabbi Freedman on Interfaith Marriage

  

Rabbi Eli Freedman came into my life just as I was beginning to explore the possibility of converting to Judaism. I first met him at a Shabbat dinner when he handed me a beer and said, “The synagogue’s men’s club brewed this.” That’s when I thought, “I’m going to study with this guy.”

Rabbi Freedman, to me, is an embodiment of the notion that Judaism is a lived religion. In addition to his pastoral role at Rodeph Shalom, Rabbi Freedman is involved in various social justice initiatives, particularly P.O.W.E.R. (Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild). Rabbi Freedman lives by the words of Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not up to you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:16.) I’m pleased to share a few words with you from Rabbi Freedman about intermarriage.

Rabbi Freedman at Matt and Shannon's wedding. (Photo by Kirk Hoffman.)

I was touched by the words of Matt Rice, my student, my teacher and my friend. I could not agree more with Matt’s view of intermarriage. I truly believe that the problem is not intermarriage—it is apathy.

I like to call this the “Brandeis Syndrome.” I went to Brandeis University for my undergraduate studies. You may have heard of it—there are a couple Jews there! But I have never before seen so many apathetic young Jews in my life. When I asked my friends why they weren’t involved in Jewish life on campus, their response was usually something along the lines of, “I go to Brandeis; isn’t that Jewish enough?!”

Rabbi Leo Baeck once wrote, “A minority is always compelled to think. That is the blessing of being in the minority.” Just like those Jews at Brandeis who took their Judaism for granted, I find that Jewish/Jewish couples take their Judaism for granted as well. They figure that because they are both Jewish, they need not do anything else and that their family will automatically be a thriving Jewish family. Whereas, interfaith couples are forced to think. Because of this, they often make much more conscious decisions of how Judaism will be practiced in their home and they are much more mindful of their children’s religious upbringing. That is the blessing of being an interfaith couple.

The key to this, however, is that congregations and clergy reach out and help those who want to make educated decisions. As Matt writes, “Embrace loving couples and they will respond.” We must strive to welcome interfaith families into our congregations and give them the tools make Judaism a part of their lives.

Shalom,

Rabbi Eli Freedman

(Matt’s note: Rabbi Freedman serves at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadlephia.)

Let Us Now Praise Famous Mensches: Celebrating Interfaith Marriage

  

This morning I put a cross into a drawer. It was a cradle cross that Leacock Presbyterian Church gave my parents when I was born. My mother returned it to me on the day of Shannon’s bridal shower. “I wasn’t sure if you’d want it or not,” she said. I wasn’t sure either. It’s the symbol of a tradition I left behind. If it ever hung over my crib, which was its intent, I don’t remember it. My earliest memory is of being held by my mother and draping a handkerchief over head like it was a tablecloth. There’s a picture of that moment: I was proud of myself, smiling ear-to-ear. That I remember the moment at all might be a result of its having been caught on film. Memory is like that: fluid, permeable, changing over time. Our memories shift to better inform our narratives of who we are and who we want to be.

The foundation of Jewish peoplehood is our historical memory. From the hasidim who believe literally in the revelation at Sinai, to secular Yiddishists who recall the travails of Ashkenaz, or, like most Jews, somewhere in between, we are united by our shared memories. The Hebrew calendar is structured around our stories: we are liberated during Passover, wander the wilderness during Sukkot and receive Torah on Shavuot. The irony of Jewish time is that, although we were among the first peoples to insist upon a linear, rather than a cyclical, view of history, we relive the same events from year to year. Perhaps that’s why, despite our disagreements, we persevere, why we remain one people. It reminds me of Romi Somek’s “A Poem of Bliss”: “We are placed upon a wedding cake/like two dolls, bride and groom./When the knife strikes,/We’ll try to stay on the same piece.”

The sense of foreboding evident in the last lines of Somek’s poem looms large in Jewish memory. The Shoah casts a long shadow over us all, as it rightly should. So too do other tragedies, from the expulsion of our people from Spain in 1492, to the Munich Olympics, to the countless injustices done to men and women long gone to dust. The price of Never Forgetting is Eternal Vigilance, necessary but wearying to the psyche. Watchfulness has engendered in some quarters of the Jewish community a sense of permanent crisis, that the “knife” of Somek’s poem is always poised to strike. We see bogeymen at every turn: the president’s policy towards Israel, Muslim immigration to the West, Iran, assimilation, intermarriage. For some Jews, intermarriage is the most insidious crisis of all, “perpetrated” by its own “victims.”

That attitude toward intermarriage is further exacerbated by nostalgia. Some Jews shield themselves against the anxieties of the present by retreating into sentimentality. Informed by wisps of history, family memory, and pop culture (think Fiddler on the Roof), we have constructed a dreamworld alternative to the present, an eternal shtetl cast always in the golden sunlight of American afternoons. We smile at the women baking challah. We nod at the old men praying in shul. We’re comforted by the singsong strains of Yiddish bubbling forth from homes. But to remember it thus is to do our ancestors a disservice. The shtetlach were nothing like our dreamworld; rather, they were characterized by poverty, wretchedness, superstition and filth. Walk the cramped and muddy streets. Here women served men, for they had no choice. Here bellies growled for want of food. Here the rebbes studied while their people suffered. If you ever hear anyone hearken back to how it was in the Old Country, ask them if they’d really like to visit. They may: There are haredi communities here and in Israel in which one may readily access “the world we have lost.”

Cross

The cradle cross given to my parents when I was born, and the Star of David I wear every day.

American Jews have no need to retreat into fear or sentimentality. We’re thriving. We’re more accepted than we have ever been, anywhere, at any other time in history. That you can no longer identify a Jew by peyot, by curly hair, or by surname, is not a cause for alarm, but for excitement. We’re not disappearing; we’re diversifying. Our contributions to American society speak to our success. We were at the forefront of white support for the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, when Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. Now we’re leading the charge into ethical and sustainable foodways through organizations such as Hazon and, in Philadelphia, Cafe Olam.

I’ve written this blog to demonstrate one thing: that we who intermarry are in no way enemies of Judaism or the Jewish people. We are individuals who have fallen in love with other individuals who are not themselves Jewish. Our partners love us, in part, because we’re Jewish; after all, it’s part of who we are. Writing in The Forward, Yoel Finkelman notes that the argument against intermarriage is a difficult one “because it’s hard to muster much moral indignation against a loving, caring couple whose differing religious convictions are an accident of birth.” Finkelman goes on to advocate synagogues’ acceptance of homosexual Jewish couples as an antidote to intermarriage, but his argument is weakened by his previous statement. Finkelman, and all those who rant against intermarriage, should come to a hard stop: it is not ancestry or religion (or sexuality) that matters in a relationship, but love. Embrace loving couples and they will respond.

A Jewish friend of Shannon and I volunteered to teach our families the hora at our wedding party. Consider the image of dozens of non-Jews celebrating by learning a Jewish dance. Our union is but a tiny thread in the grand tapestry of our people’s history. How lovely, and how appropriate, that it is a wedding that will bring Jews and non-Jews together, if only for a moment. We’ll be wed the evening of Saturday, October 26. You’re welcome to dance with us.

L’shalom,

Matt

P.S. Please check back later for some final words from my friend and teacher Rabbi Eli Freedman of Congregation Rodeph Shalom.