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 grew up in the suburbs of North West London. My parents are Reform Jews and although we're not very religious we are very Jewish. We had family dinners every Friday night for Shabbat, Sabbath, a circle of close Jewish friends, and I belonged to Jewish youth groups and went on holidays to Israel. As a result of all of this and much, much more, I have a very strong Jewish identity.
So when I went away to university and fell in love with Dan, who isn't Jewish, it never occurred to me that I would end up marrying him!
As we got closer I began to panic. I thought to myself, "he cannot be the one because he isn't Jewish." I ended the relationship...a few times.
When we were 26, Dan and I got back together. We both knew that it was the religious differences that had broken us up, so we decided that this time we were going to do everything we could to tackle the issue. Dan understood how important it was to me to have a Jewish home and raise a Jewish family, and that this was the only way we could be together. We agreed that he wouldn't convert, but together we would lead a Jewish life. He would learn about Judaism and participate in Shabbat and various festivals so that together we could raise a Jewish family and have a Jewish home, just as I had grown up in. I appreciated these were all difficult decisions for Dan, and that it was a huge decision for him to intermarry, as well.
In a way, we had to start planning our wedding and our future together even before we were engaged, as we felt it was essential that we resolve the religious issues in order to take the relationship further.
We studied books together and Dan learned about all the Jewish festivals. We went to synagogue together and to Shabbat dinners at my parents' house. I discussed with him all the things that made me, and my home, Jewish--everything from religious school on Sundays as a child, having a mezuzah on the door (a narrow case attached to the doorposts containing a parchment on which is written the daily prayer, the Sh'ma), to eating bagels with smoked salmon!
We had to discuss issues that most other young couples wouldn't even have yet contemplated--the religious education of our future children, circumcision (if we were to have a son) and even our own burials.
Compared to some interfaith couples we have been very lucky. Dan grew up without a strong religious identity and so the decision to live as a Jew was easier for him. Also, and most importantly, we had all of our parents' support, something that we realize was vital. Our parents agreed that our happiness was more important than religious differences, and they said they would be happy if we were happy. Also, we had each been raised with similar non-religious morals and values, such as the importance of family. I think both Dan and his parents could identify with the aspects of Judaism that valued family and home. They feel that it is important for a child to have a correct moral upbringing and that this can be found in many religious beliefs, including Judaism. All of our parents are very excited at the prospect of grandchildren!
We worked so hard to resolve all the questions of how we could be together and felt so positive about our decision. The more we studied, the more we felt "we can do this." The closer we got, the more in love we realised we were.
On January 4, 2003, whilst on holiday in Cape Town, Dan proposed... and I said yes!
After my father went to speak to our rabbi about our situation, I realised that we would not be able to be married in a synagogue or by a rabbi. This was very hard because as a couple we had decided to have a Jewish home and raise Jewish children, but it seemed we couldn't have a Jewish wedding. I had lived all my life as a Jew and now, on the most important day of my life, I wanted some Jewish elements in my wedding.
I didn't feel we had support from my parents' synagogue--they simply wanted to persuade Dan to convert. In fact, I found that the Jewish community in England is still very closed minded about interfaith marriage. I felt like I was the only one from my synagogue to "marry out" and that I was most unwelcome there.
My grandmother was also very disapproving. Although she liked Dan, she didn't want us to marry, and I found it very hard to disappoint her.
In my social circle my friends have all married Jews, and I was the first not to. On many occasions during the planning of the wedding I had the feeling that I was the only Jewish person ever to marry a non-Jew.
Eventually, on the advice of some friends, we turned to The Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St. Johns Wood, London. There we felt welcome and supported. Dan was not pressured to convert and we felt understood. We became members of the synagogue and we talked to Rabbi Solomon and Rabbi Goldstein about our relationship and our decisions for the future.
It felt wonderful to finally have some understanding, and through the community we met another interfaith couple that had recently married who gave us lots of advice on how to have a Jewish element on our wedding day.
Together with Rabbi Goldstein we discussed ways to include elements from the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony that had meaning for us both. We had a bedeken, a tradition where the groom officially identifies his bride before the ceremony, and our chuppah, the wedding canopy under which the bride and groom stand, had four poles decorated with flowers as is traditional, but no canopy over the top. At the end of the ceremony Dan broke the glass--the tradition where the groom stamps on a glass, which is to remind us of sadness even at times of joy. We even had an aufruf, where traditionally the groom is called up to do a reading on the Sabbath before the wedding day, and Dan and I read together in our synagogue in front of our community, our family and friends.
On December 14, 2003, Dan and I were married. After a civil ceremony in which we were legally married, Rabbi Aaron Goldstein blessed us in front of all our guests.
On our order of ceremony card we wrote:
We have sought to include Jewish customs and traditions into our marriage. Ancient customs add special meaning because of the history and tradition they represent and they provide us with a link to the past and a hand in shaping the future we will be sharing.
The build-up to my wedding day was filled with mixed emotions, but the day itself was perfect. Perfect for us. It was the happiest day of my life, and even my grandma agreed it was a beautiful wedding!