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
January 8, 2010
For those of you who might have read my story about getting engaged, you know that for my partner and me, the path to marriage was like Heavenly Hash ice cream with chocolate chips. In other words, a rocky road.
As the wedding day approached, we had our concerns. Would my mom approve of the tableware? Would my bride's father say something alienating about Jesus in his toast? But when I look back on the day, which was the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I see a montage of moments so precious that they could have been frozen in time, airbrushed and sold as actual Precious MomentsTM. However I'm happily--shockingly, even--able to report that getting hitched went without a hitch.
In that montage there plays an image of my bride's brothers, who hadn't seen each other in five years, sitting side by side in front of a roaring fire. I see my divorced parents sharing a hug, something that probably hasn't happened since my bar mitzvah. I see my father-in-law, an evangelical minister by trade, being hoisted in a chair during the wedding dancing with a look on his face somewhere between terror and ecstasy.
If the engagement was a catalyst for conflict, which it was, the wedding was the resolution. All of the issues we raised by announcing our intention to wed had either been worked out by the big day or resolved themselves before our very eyes during the reception. Despite religious differences, strong opinions, and harsh words between us and members of our families, we lived to see our fathers stand together in a joyous joint toast.
But what was perhaps the highlight of the day occurred during a different toast, when our good friends, a same-sex couple who were actually married by my wife, said something like the following:
"At first we were worried about this being a mixed marriage. I mean, how would the children feel having one parent who is a man and one who is a woman?"
As half of the crowd burst into applause (the other half nervously glancing at my father-in-law), it was as though a weight had finally been lifted. With those words our fears that our families would object to our religious differences were gently but thoroughly lampooned in a moment of perfect satire, and we all had a good laugh.
I can't speak for the future and can only imagine that the hard conversations might one day recur, but if they do, we'll just think back to that moment when we and our 115 closest friends and family joined in warmth, celebration and solidarity to feast on compostable plates. Despite the trials of our engagement, the wedding itself was completely and utterly devoid of negativity. Perhaps it was the hard cider.
Which brings me to the menu. As a food writer and an ethical eater, I paid special attention to this aspect of the festivities. We struggled to achieve a balance between budget, appeal and sustainability. For instance, we couldn't have Maine shrimp because, though sustainably caught and utterly delicious, they would offend many Jewish guests and would be too pricey in comparison to, say, eggs. On the other hand, we couldn't serve cardboard because no one would appreciate it besides my vegan friends. (For the record, they were well taken care of with a black chick pea curry.)
In fact we had chosen the time and date largely based on how these factors would influence the meal. A fall brunch seemed ideal, and so we made our relatives come from Florida, Missouri and France during that awkward phase in which the foliage has died but the snow has yet to come. But that way we could serve smoky sweet potato and peanut soup, arugula salad and leek and ricotta salata strata with a clear conscience.
The service was predominantly Jewish but also featured elements of the pluralist humanism that best describes our spiritual life. We made efforts to put personal touches into the event without driving ourselves crazy doing so. We cut the poles for the chuppah from the woods behind our house, wrote our own vows, used rings that had already been in our families and had a (non-Jewish) friend paint our ketubah.
I've been to weddings that have too few elements of the couple's personality and I've been to weddings where it's laid on a little thick. I've been to weddings in which friends are not at all involved in the planning and execution, and I've been to weddings where friends are asked to do so much that the event feels more like a job than a party. I like to think that ours struck a balance.
We walked away from the wedding as deeply satisfied as though stepping from a hot bath. Driving away to our short honeymoon in Portland, ME (we're planning a longer hiking/camping trip out West during a warmer season), we left secure in the knowledge that we had done everything within our power to create an experience that was Jewish enough for the Jews, comfortable enough for everyone else, and meaningful and enjoyable for all.
I'm sure that at some point in our life together we'll experience difficulties around the fact that, like many wines, our spirituality is not just one kind of grape. But I have to say that I can't imagine a better way to have started our combined life. I can only hope that just as our compostable tableware will eventually break down into nutritious soil, the immediacy of our event will over time yield rich memories, creating a fertile place from which to go forward.