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
"I'm getting married"! The words rang out as I announced the news to my parents. "Mazel Tov!" (Congratulations!"), my father exclaimed. My mother scoffed, "I'll believe it when I see it." There was a reason for mom's disparaging remark. I had been on the verge of getting married once before. Three months before that wedding was set to happen, I called it off. Now, at 42, I am heading into this next phase of my life with joy and a little more grace.
Ted, my fiancee, and I talked about marriage a lot. The more we talked, the more we realized that it was important to have a ceremony. We wanted this ceremony to be a celebration of the community that we have built together. So, we're planning a wedding. There is nothing quite like the planning of a wedding to make you examine your values and expectations. My thoughts went first to "where." We knew exactly where we wanted to have the celebration--a spot in a park near our home where we walk and take the dogs. Next, we decided "when." The first day of summer seemed perfect. I called and reserved the site for June 21, 2003. We were well on our way. When I told my mother the date, she was silent for a moment. Then she said, "That's a Saturday. You won't find a rabbi to marry you on a Saturday." The first unforeseen complication had surfaced.
To be honest I was not thinking about having a Jewish wedding. To be really honest, I didn't know that we couldn't marry on the Sabbath (Shabbat is a holy day of rest ushered in on Friday at sunset with prayer and the lighting of candles. In the Bible God rested on this day after creating the world).
O.K. "Mom, we need to talk." First I reiterated to my mother that Ted is not Jewish. His family is Methodist. They practice their religion in a secular way. It's just Christmas trees and Easter bunnies for them. My mom's all right with this, which is why she presumed we'd have a Jewish wedding. After some talk and thought I told my mother that we would be amenable to having a rabbi perform the ceremony if we could find one who would perform an interfaith marriage, with no conversion, on a Saturday afternoon. Low and behold she found one (never underestimate the will of a Jewish mother). There is a Humanistic Jewish congregation here in town, and the rabbi there would do it. The second unforeseen complication--did Ted and I want a religious ceremony?
Whether this question came up because we are of different faiths, I don't know. We were now placed in the position of looking at this issue in a much more discerning way. The rabbi provided us with a pre-marital questionnaire. Ted and I, for the first time, were discussing the importance of religion in our childhood, our parent's reactions to us marrying someone of a different faith, if we were to have children how important would religion be in their upbringing, and our perceptions of each other's religion. All of this stuff suddenly surfaced and needed to be contended with.
We learned a lot about each other. I learned a lot about myself. I am much more rigid than Ted. He would be compliant if I really wanted Judaism to have a larger role in our lives. I would not so readily embrace Christianity. Ted graciously attends Friday night (Sabbath) dinners at my parent's house. He has participated in the Passover seder (Passover is a celebration of the Biblical escape of the Jews from Egypt. The seder is the Passover meal). I have shared the Christmas turkey and gift exchange with Ted's family and participated in the annual Easter egg hunt with his niece and nephew. But I would be uncomfortable at any of these events if I was asked to pray or if the name of Jesus was expressed. I do not practice Judaism religiously myself. But I do feel very Jewish. Religion has a way of creeping into everyone's make-up. Being raised Jewish transcends the walls of the temple. For me being Jewish is cultural, political, and social. It is a way of thinking and responding to life.
Back to the wedding. Ted and I are getting married on the summer solstice. Someone other than the rabbi is performing the ceremony. We came to this decision after much reflection. We see our union as something very spiritual. Neither one of us holds religion as something sacred. While I feel very Jewish, it is not the religious piece that I hold on to, but the identity. And given that half of the people who are to be present with us at our wedding would be unfamiliar with Jewish customs, it seemed unnecessary and unnatural to have a rabbi perform the ceremony. We were introduced to a woman unaffiliated with any religious institution who is licensed to marry people. She works with couples to help them create just what they want for the occasion. The celebration will be of us, our union and the Earth. Our individual and collective spirit will prevail throughout.
This discussion about the meaning of religion in our lives will continue for us. We are smarter and closer because of it. Who would've thought that planning a wedding could produce so much soul searching? We have relished the challenge.