Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
The main focus of my family this time of year is the Passover seders. My husband was never completely comfortable with his Methodist upbringing, and he's a little wary of organized religion of any sort. But we agreed that children benefit from a sense of identity within a tradition, and I felt strongly that this tradition be Jewish.
We've both hosted and been guests at several seders during our relationship. Taking turns this way has given my husband an excellent cross-sectional experience of celebrating Passover. Over the seven years we've been together he's started to develop not only a familiarity with the seder but also a discerning sense of what makes the seder both significant and comfortable for him. Every year, whether on the ride home or as we clean up, we discuss the most meaningful aspects of each seder we participate in.
The story of Passover is a rich one for renewal on multiple levels: not only as a time to recall slavery and the long journey to freedom suffered by the Jews and many other people, but as a time for reflecting on the subtle types of enslavement we experience today. The seder is a powerful opportunity to partake in the catharsis of symbolically acting them out with ritual foods, chants, and song.
We're fortunate to be an interfaith couple at a moment in history with such an array of theme-based Hagaddahs. Our friends have passed along many unpublished versions written and compiled by friends of friends (though there are many published ones out there as well). In our family several have particular metaphoric resonance. One is a hagaddah created by a rabbi for Jews in twelve-step programs. Enslavement in Egypt and the Exodus is compared to the slavery of addiction and the road to recovery. Another is a hagaddah written by a couple in Oregon that focuses on tikkun (repair), social justice and our stewardship of the earth and environment. I also attend a women's seder which uses a special hagaddah that affirms the powerful feminine energy of Judiasm.
But we don't ignore Easter. Even though my husband isn't a practicing Christian, he did participate in related festivities that were an essential aspect of his childhood and that are therefore, we feel, an important part of the legacy he has to pass along to his offspring. In past years we've attended a neighbor's Easter egg hunt. In preparation, we decorate hard-boiled eggs to bring to hide, and when the calendar works out just right, we set some of them aside for the seder. We talk about the hunt as a way to celebrate spring and the sense of renewal with our non-Jewish friends.
I'm inspired and delighted when I come upon Jewish and Christian rituals and customs that overlap in some way. Sometimes the intersection is because of the universal elements of Judeo-Christian spirituality, and other times it's because of how American culture brings the two together. Whatever the source, the intersection is especially welcome in my interfaith marriage.
This year, I've learned of another Judeo-Christian tie-in through gift baskets. Before our daughter was born, I used to make my husband an Easter basket each year filled with treats; one year it was a variety of black licorice (his favorite); another year it was a selection of exotic teas. I thought of it as a sort of appreciation gesture for his Valentine's Day gift to me.
In my preparations for Purim, the custom of visiting friends and giving baskets of such things as dried fruits and nuts came up. It's actually written in the Magillah that this is what Jews should do. So at this year's Easter egg hunt we'll refill our Purim baskets, thereby recalling that celebration as we participate in one of my husband's treasured childhood memories.
When our toddler is older we'll be looking out for children's hagaddahs. Then we hope to host a second night or weekend afternoon child's seder for her Jewish and non-Jewish friends in the same spirit of celebrating spring and rebirth (of the Jews out of slavery) as does the traditional Easter egg hunt.
I think it's because our daughter was born at this time of year that both of us not only feel compelled to honor familiar traditions and create new ones, but also to see them through the eyes of the blessing of our daughter: our young promised land, our growing holy spirit.