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
This month will mark twenty years since Tim and I became engaged and July will be nineteen years since our marriage. Back then, we were young and unaware of what lay ahead. But that was all right, because what more could I have asked for out of life than to be marrying my best friend? This meant a lot to me, since my family seemed to be plagued by divorce. They believed in marrying for certain credentials, like religion, family and money. Their belief was that with these requirements fulfilled, the rest would follow. I observed, however, that after the novelty of marriage wore off, the rest never seemed to follow. I decided I was going to do it differently. I would marry for love and friendship, shared morals and values, and hope that the rest would follow.
Tim and I were raised with different religions, but we did not see why we should not marry. We were young and naïve and believed that neither of our families had any business voicing their opinions or opposing our wishes. After all, we would not be the first Jewish-Catholic couple to walk down the aisle. Though I did not realize it at the time, in hindsight I know that it was just the beginning of an adventure, perhaps even an epic, that has continued with every life-cycle event, starting with the six months before our wedding.
We had heard how difficult interfaith marriages were, but did not think the hardships would apply to us. During the five years we dated everything worked out harmoniously. I would go to church with Tim on Sundays, and he would accompany me to temple the few times I went. As for the holidays we shared, our families loved having the extra faces around the table. However, the day we became engaged, everything changed...
Even before the engagement, there were warning signs from Tim's family. When Tim told his mother that he was dating a Jewish girl, this woman, who very rarely left the five-mile radius around her Framingham home, ventured the thirty miles into Boston to drag him out of his dorm at Boston University and give him a little talking to. Her other children were all either involved with or married to devout Irish Catholics, like themselves. To her, Tim's choice of a girlfriend was not acceptable. I can remember the first time I went home with him to meet his family. Rather than get into details, let's just say the welcome mat was not out. My family, on the other hand, loved and accepted Tim with open arms until the day we told them of our engagement.
Though my grandparents were Conservative, the rest of my family is Reform. For the most part, religion in our family is derived more from traditions and heritage than anything else. However, after the announcement of our engagement, my family became overwhelmingly religious overnight. They began sending me articles on the downfalls of interfaith marriages and books on Jewish history. My mother would warn me that I didn't understand what I was "getting into" and then proceeded to send me books on Catholicism.
Through all the commotion from both families, Tim and I figured that if we kept things in perspective we would be fine. But as the wedding grew closer, we realized that it was becoming increasingly difficult to have a ceremony that would satisfy all and not offend anyone. My mother wanted the wedding in Florida. Tim's mother wanted to make sure the wedding would be considered a sacrament by the Catholic Church, and my father said he would not come if there was a visible cross anywhere. The Herculean task of attempting to please everyone was going nowhere and we were becoming increasingly unhappy. Everyone else's needs and desires seemed to supercede ours.
Tim and I decided that if we were going to survive this wedding, we had to stick together and not be divided and conquered. We saw an advertisement in the paper for rabbis who specialized as interfaith marriage counselors and it seemed like the lifeline we needed, so we made our appointments. The meetings that followed, however, were not what we had hoped for. Rather than counsel, the rabbis tried to convince Tim to covert. This was not what we were looking for. I was marrying Tim for who he was and not what I could change him into. Needless to say, we were disappointed.
The next step, which was also a requirement for Tim's family, was to talk to his priest, Father Betelli. His counseling was wonderful and surprisingly supportive. However, Father Betelli had Tim sign a document stating that to the best of his ability, he would raise his children Catholic. Though we did not feel it was set in stone, we knew it was something that had to be done to appease Tim's mother and fulfill one of the requirements for this marriage to be seen as a sacrament by the Church and to get out the door that day.
Another one of the Church's requirements was to take a premarital course. The course, a weekend retreat, was one of the best things we ever did. We spent three full days listening and writing about every aspect of a relationship, and we learned so much about each other. Now, when I look through the booklets where we discussed various aspects of relationships, from finances to sex to household responsibilities, many of the issues we had twenty years ago still hold true today. However, through the years of our marriage we have learned to compromise for each other's happiness, although we still remain successful at making each other crazy at times
At this weekend course we met a couple who told us about the support the United Nations provided for interfaith and interracial marriages. I contacted the United Nations and received a packet on a Jewish-Catholic service, which contained many parts that were beautiful and worked for both of us. When we met with the priest and the cantor prior to our wedding, we gave them the parts of the United Nation's service we loved, which they incorporated into a beautiful service that worked for not only Tim and me, but made both families feel at peace with our union.
There were many detours along the way to planning this wedding, including the fact that in Florida we were told that it was the temple's requirement that we be married in a house of worship. No temple would have us because it was an interfaith marriage, and my family would not accept a wedding in a church. So Tim and I were married in a Quaker meeting house, basically a simple building with no markings on any walls.
The big day finally came and we actually pulled it off. Everyone was happy. The wedding was beautiful, the service was perfect, and Tim and I were relieved and ready to begin our life together.
Next summer will be our twentieth wedding anniversary, and if life is good to us and we see that day, we have decided to take our vows again. This time we'll use our own words and the setting will be the beach in Martha's Vineyard, where we have had our most magical family moments.