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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.
As 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. Â 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, weâ€™ll be there to cheer them on.