Rosemary DiDio Brehm is the Catholic spouse in a Catholic/Jewish Interfaith Family. She lives in Tampa, Florida, with her husband, Bill, and daughters, Stephanie and Danielle. The Brehms are members of Congregation Beth Am and St. Timothy Catholic Parish in the Tampa area. Rosemary leads an Interfaith Couples group and she is President of Partners in Training, a Training and Instructional Design Consulting Company.
Educate, Connect, and Exemplify
"Did you try to Jew them down?" I heard after I bought something at a yard sale.
"Crucify Him, Crucify Him," we recited during the readings of the Passion during Holy Week, mimicking ancient Jews who, we were told, had demanded Christ's death.
"Let us pray also for the Jews: that our Lord and God would draw aside the veil from their hearts, that they also may acknowledge Jesus Christ, our Lord. ...Almighty and eternal God, who art ready to extend thy mercy even to the Jews: hear the prayers which we offer for the blindness of that people." We would read in my 1961 Pre-Vatican Council Daily Missal, a prayer book used at Mass, that I still own.
"Jews are cheap; Jews are outspoken and pushy; Jewish women are JAPS; Jews eat weird food; Jews had Christ killed": These are all messages that I heard and still hear.
Before I had any connection to Judaism, I didn't directly apply these messages to real people. I didn't know anyone who was actually Jewish until I was about 12. But the cumulative effect of hearing these words and viewing these negative stereotypes imprinted a picture of a flawed people in my mind. These are the people who rejected Christ. I mean, after all, I was taught that Catholicism was the "one, true, faith."
But just because I heard and thought (and maybe even said) some of these things about Jews, didn't make me anti-Semitic or insensitive. I mean that was the general view wasn't it. It wasn't personal.
But to borrow a title from author, S.E. Hinton, "that was then, this is now."
Now I am married to a Jew. Now, my daughters are Jewish. Now, I wonder if people say those things about my husband, about my daughters, and about me!
Now, it is personal! And my perspective has vastly changed. Not just because such media images can hurt my family, but because I have to be okay with my daughters being a part of what I had been taught was a "flawed faith." What I heard in school won't work now.
No longer can I think only like a "Catholic" and conversely, can my husband think only like a Jew. Now we are intertwined. What hurts one, hurts all. What insults one, insults all. Now we are an interfaith family and we are extra aware of and sensitive to factors that most intra-faith families wouldn't think of. We develop a different filter to process the outside world.
Before marriage, there was no need to filter information about other religions. I wasn't really affected by negative images toward Jews. But now we are like a neighborhood watch group. We look and listen for things that people say that might insult or hurt our family neighborhood of beliefs.
So it is not unusual that we sense issues before others might. And, it is not surprising that the recent media coverage of Gibson's The Passion entered our interfaith filter. Reading that Gibson is a "Traditionalist Catholic" (far from my Catholic perspective) and hearing that the film could promote anti-Semitism definitely activated our filter.
Where I used to just relate the Passion story to the sacrifice of Jesus dying for my sins, I now wonder how this movie is going to impact my family or the interfaith couples group that I coordinate.
But it is not the major news stories presenting negative Jewish images that have the greatest impact on our interfaith family life. It is the everyday interactions that are can be the most troubling.
I am furious when one of my tenth grade students in the Catholic religion class I teach tells me that her mother says it is a sin to marry a Jew, because "they are bad." I am appalled that my Church used to pray for the "blindness" of Jews to end, and my tenth grade student is an example of how that perspective continues--although Vatican II doctrine was supposed to have negated that thinking. I may not be able to change this student's mind, but I can neutralize her image and provide a different perspective through educating my students about who my family is and who Jews are.
And it is not only the negative reaction of non-Jews that we encounter. As children of a non-Jewish mother, our daughters are considered Jewish in Reform Judaism. However, our family has been personally told by Conservative rabbis (and the students they influence and teach) that our daughters "really are not Jewish."
So, at times our interfaith filter goes into effect when we least expect it.
And that may include internalized negative Jewish images faced in the past, those we face now, and those we will face in the future. We filter the messages we receive from all sources and perspectives--even those from our internal mental message center--and we evaluate their impact and our ability to do something about them. Then, if we are able to, we educate, connect, and exemplify our interfaith life; especially when it means we have to change our personal views. It is the perfect role for an interfaith family.