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 am a rabbi and psychotherapist in Boulder, Colorado. Both my congregation and my counseling practice are filled with interfaith couples and families. It may strike you as odd, but my expertise in this area does not arise from any superior training or special technique. It arises from the fact that I have had my own powerful interfaith experience; I myself was married to a non-Jew for 15 years.
Our wedding began with the casting of a sacred circle around the room, using water, incense, and flower petals. Then Evan's family walked proudly down the aisle. Evan and I followed, arm in arm, accompanied by Samuel Barber's passionate and somber Adagio for Strings. We had chosen this unconventional entry to make up for the fact that no parents were there to "give me away." My family--all but one sister--had boycotted the event to show their disdain for my choice of husband.
Our homemade chuppah, or wedding canopy, was held up by four friends. Evan and I stood beneath it in a state of awe. We both knew that this was a moment of destiny. As we stood facing each other, with John, our non-clergy officiant at our side, I knew that our wedding pledge to the divine forces of transformation meant stepping into a holy fire. We were willing to be burned by it, and worked over by God's design for us, a design that we could not yet see. I did not know then that by virtue of this marriage to a Christian, I would find it necessary to journey back into my own birth religion to re-investigate my Jewish roots. I had no clue that this journey would result--years later--in my becoming a rabbi.
"This part of the wedding comes from the Judaic tradition," John announced. "A glass is smashed at the end of a wedding to remind us that even at the moment of life's greatest joy, there is still great brokenness in the world which we must continue to repair. May Evan and Tirzah strengthen each other in their love so that their healing influence in this world is profound!"
Evan raised his foot and stomped on the glass. A loud crunch was heard. A great roar of voices and applause went up from the crowd as we kissed long and hard. Then we were escorted to a private room to have a few minutes to ourselves. We had passed over the threshold and had survived.
Evan's and my marriage was, as our ceremony portended, transformative and life-changing. It was the beginning of a remarkable journey in which we learned how to negotiate the peculiar challenges of the interfaith terrain. Our marriage did not last "til death do us part," but it did transfom both of us in amazing ways. To this day I bring to my interfaith congregants and clients the highest degree of respect. I learned first hand that whether or not you are a religious person, interfaith marriage presents an ongoing challenge in remaining true to your individual self and roots while simultaneously learning to build the bridges of tolerance and understanding.
Excerpted from With Roots In Heaven: One Woman's Passionate Journey Into The Heart of Her Faith (Dutton:1998)