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
My husband and I are just like you. We're hardworking people, the parents of a son and daughter, temple members and givers of our time and energy to Jewish and non-sectarian causes.
Our daughter Judy is our older child. Six years ago she met and started dating a young man who comes from a fine, observant Catholic family. At the time we didn't think too much about it, because she was young and would meet and date other boys, or so we expected. As you know, things don't always work out the way parents expect them to.
Time went by, and Judy and Sean grew closer. After several years it became apparent that they were, indeed, a couple with no interest in going their separate ways. After another year or so, we were just waiting for their engagement announcement and an official declaration of their feelings and plans. We knew they would be getting married. My husband and I were happy, but we also had doubts and unsettled feelings about this relationship. I was more uncomfortable than my husband.
My daughter's happiness created an odyssey for me. I experienced a wide range of emotions, from true happiness to the depths of despair. There were nights when I could not sleep. I worried about what I had done wrong to cause my child to find happiness with someone who wasn't Jewish. I worried about losing my adult child to forces I could not control. I knew my future son-in-law probably had no interest in converting. What would happen when they had children? The thought of raising children outside of the Jewish faith was enough to make me sick.
Rifat Sonsino, the rabbi of our Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, Massachusetts, had already begun to address the growth of interfaith relationships. He asked Paula Brody, outreach director of the Reform movement in our area, to run a series of meetings at our temple for parents of children in interfaith relationships. I decided that my husband and I should join that group. The parents group was a support group rather than a therapy group. This group became my salvation. Through our discussions I realized that I was not alone. My worries and feelings of loss were felt by others. In the privacy of our group, we were free to share and bare our worries and fears, as well as our joys and successes in dealing with difficult issues related to holidays and rituals.
As the year went by I came to terms with my concerns. The most important things to me were our daughter's happiness and the fact that her future husband was such a wonderful person. Now that they are married, he has become a very valued member of our family, and we are comfortable with him and his family.
Because of my opportunity to be a member of our temple support group, I realized the value of having a group like this as an ongoing resource for others, and I attended a training program for lay leaders to become facilitators of parent groups like ours. Through discussion and analysis of Jewish thought and literature, we worked on issues that would help parents understand their feelings of loss when their children interdate and intermarry. We learned how to strengthen communication between parents and their children on complex religious identity issues. We learned how to help clarify Jewish values and encourage positive Jewish parenting and grandparenting.
Through my association with Paula and with the leaders and members of the Parents of Children with Interfaith Relationships group, I have come to see that we and the families of those our children love are tied together by many common bonds. We can all take comfort from knowing that we are not alone. All group members are able to share their experiences. We realize that our children are still our children. We have shared memories--of good times and bad times. Our group discusses the origins of our interfaith situations and what continues to hold our children to us and to our faith. We talk about new traditions and how to approach them. As the year progresses, people begin to relax and to enjoy the new experiences and interactions. We learn that we and our children who are sharing interfaith experiences deserve happiness and respect. This brings a great feeling of satisfaction.
Through membership in my group, I have come to terms with my feelings. I am comfortable now facing whatever will come with my children. I will try to be sensitive to their needs and will always try to communicate openly. A few years ago I did not feel this way. I have grown as a person as a result of this group opportunity, as a member and then a lay leader of my Parents of Children with Interfaith Relationships group.