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
Sitting in a small Catholic church on a warm summer Saturday afternoon for the wedding of some friends, I am reminded that I haven't been here in a long time. It's a nice little church with simple wooden benches and lovely stained glass windows. It's the windows that fascinate my youngest daughter. My husband teases that of course she'll like the church, and that after our careful decision to raise her and her sister Jewish, she'll marry a Catholic! Maybe, who knows, after all, she's only two. Right now our biggest concern is getting through the wedding without her screaming.
Still in the quiet peace of this space it's makes me wonder how I will feel when my daughters get married in a temple, not a church. Who knows for sure, but ultimately, if my experience with our interfaith family is any indication, I will be happy for them if they are happy with their spouses and really love them, regardless of their religion.
Whenever there's a holiday or a reason to go to temple or church, for that matter, I always think about how complicated our life is in this arena. I look around at our friends and wonder if they've got it easier. One decided to convert, one doesn't practice any other religion, one doesn't have kids, one doesn't do anything… the inventory list goes on. Ultimately, after running through my mental rolodex, I usually decide that while it's a bit messy, ours is the only path we could have chosen. I could not convert and my husband needed to raise his children Jewish.
Soon summer will be over and it will be fall. Within a matter of weeks, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and my oldest daughter's first days of first grade will be upon us. Our life is busy and full with all the Jewish holidays that are celebrated at her Jewish day school. In fact, it reminds me of my Catholic grade school. There was always some holiday or saint's day for which we would practice songs that we could march into the church and sing for our parents. Ironically, that's what I like about my daughter's school, the similarity to my Catholic experiences in which the church and the school were connected, and holidays were special and fun times because everyone came together to celebrate.
At my daughter's Jewish day school, they connect life and spirituality in everything they do. It's more intense than I think it was when I was growing up. Hopefully my children will feel grounded and won't be wandering around the world looking for a place to belong.
The rabbis who teach my two daughters, Emily and Alexandra, are more spiritual than the priests and nuns who taught us. My daughter's teachers inspire all of us to push the limit of our holiday experiences and really make them special times. Even though it's not my religion, the message resonates because our time as a family is special and all too limited.
Perhaps my greatest frustration around the Jewish holidays is that my husband doesn't make enough time, in my opinion, to really enjoy the days with the children. And to complicate matters, his parents and immediate family don't seem to celebrate in a spiritual way. This is especially poignant to me on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, since the message of forgiveness and rejuvenation is so central to these days. I find it painful that holidays are sometimes used to express disapproval of our marriage and choices, when his parents won't come to our home for holiday celebrations. On the other hand, I suppose one benefit of not having observant in-laws is they can't tell you what to do. Still, it seems sad because they are missing this annual opportunity to start over and try to get it right next year.
While it often feels that I am the only one who is contemplating and "celebrating" these Jewish holidays and I am the least qualified to do so, I must say that each year I find I get more and more confident that I will give my girls the sense of belonging and joy that can come from these special days. This sense of belonging and joy is a gift that my parents gave me, in a different faith. I have learned to adapt my spirituality to these occasions, to find a middle ground for all of us to stand on while filling the void my husband's family eaves.
Instead of relying on my husband's family's traditions, I have chosen to find ways to celebrate and enjoy these holidays without feeling left out. I am becoming an expert at creating my own family's holiday traditions. With the help of both my Jewish friends and our interfaith friends, we enrich our holiday experiences from year to year by sharing the traditions of others, doing it more ourselves and getting better at it, and learning more each year as our children learn more in school. In doing so, we have made many good friends who share these events with us. We all struggle together to balance our expectations for each holiday with the reality of spending time with our less-than-perfect families. I think this struggle is the same no matter what your religion.
Ultimately, as parents, each of us reviews what we bring to the table --religion, life skills, coping strategies, family traditions, etc.--and we try to pick only the best things to share with our children. Being in an interfaith family means that we must examine the things on the table more often, and sometimes we have to find ways to celebrate someone else's ideas as our own. Occasionally, it's very hard, but the most difficult part is that it's never over. There's always another holiday or a wedding, something to remind us that we have to keep working on it.