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
"Don't worry, Mom . . . she's only a friend . . . I'll marry someone Jewish . . . I promise." How often I had heard Barry say those words. When my son invited Teresa to our home to meet us, however, it didn't take us long to realize that we had never seen him happier, and it wasn't long before Barry asked Teresa to be his wife.
Barry and Teresa, both exceptionally bright young adults, did much soul searching before they married. One of the most important decisions they made was to raise their children in a single faith, and I was relieved and delighted that they chose Judaism. As educators, they would teach their children about all holidays. Out of her own beliefs and out of respect for her parents, however, Teresa chose not to convert. That wonderful consideration she showed for her parents made me admire her and love her even more. It was important to both Barry and Teresa that their children should understand their mother's roots as well as their dad's. And after almost nine years of marriage, Barry and Teresa, and their daughters Claire, six, and Emily, four, know more about Judaism than most of the Jewish couples we know. As the grandmother of children with intermarried parents, I couldn't be more proud.
What a thrill it is for us to see several mazuzot (plural of mezuzah, the vessel affixed to the doorposts of Jewish homes that holds the handwritten scroll of the Sh'ma,) in their home, as well as one on their doorposts. Claire and Emily even placed one on their playhouse door in their backyard. The girls help their mom light the Shabbat (Sabbath) candles, and they recite the blessings over the bread and wine on Friday evenings.
One day I got a phone call from Claire asking me if I knew her Hebrew name. She knew it, but she just wanted to make sure that grandmom knew it as well. Both Claire and Emily had beautiful baby namings in their home. Family and friends gathered, and the rabbi called on each grandparent, both Catholic and Jewish, to read selections during the ceremony. Because it was a mixed marriage, the rabbi, as well as Barry and Teresa, was very careful (and thoughtful) to include everyone and to explain the meaning of just what was taking place. I remember feeling how difficult it must be for Teresa's parents, who are devout Catholics, to accept Teresa's decision to raise her children Jewish, but they did so with grace. I felt so proud of Teresa for the way she handled what could have been a hurtful situation for her parents. I remember leaving their home on the days of the baby namings with a very warm feeling.
Towards the end of Hanukkah this year, Claire and I were once again speaking on the phone. She informed me that her family was getting ready to put away the menorah and the dreidels, and that then they would take out their Christmas decorations. Since they live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and we live in Florida, I never knew whether or not they had a Christmas tree . . . and I made a conscious decision never to ask. When Claire continued by saying, "And after Christmas we will celebrate Kwanza," I chuckled to myself. I thought, "Here are children who are being exposed to all holidays and all kinds of people, yet they truly understand that they are Jewish." How can anyone argue with that! This is the way Barry and Teresa decided that they were going to raise their children almost nine years ago, and they have abided by that decision. The children have prospered in a home filled with love and respect.
Both Claire and Emily are avid readers. One of their favorite books is What the Moon Brought by Sadie Weilerstein. I was given this book when I was a little girl, and I passed it on to Claire and Emily. The book is about the Jewish holidays, and how young Ruth and Debby help their mother prepare for each holiday. While doing so, they learn what each holiday means, why we celebrate it, and the distinctive ceremonies and beautiful stories connected with each one. Since this book belonged to me when I was young, it has a special meaning to Claire and Emily. Each time I visited them in Ann Arbor, I read them the story of the approaching holiday. This was my way of bringing some of my traditions to them and at the same time teaching them about things that I wanted them to be sure to learn. Then, when they came to visit us this summer, they brought the book with them, along with a tape recorder, with the request that I tape each chapter. That way, grandmom could "read" bedtime stories to them and they would hear my voice as if I were sitting in their room with them.
This Christmas my children and grandchildren are coming down to Florida to visit us and to enjoy the Bar Mitzvah of their second cousin. I know that they prefer to be in their own home for this particular holiday and I also know that being in my home for Christmas might be stressful for them. Teresa and I began to talk about this. She told me that on Christmas Eve the girls are used to hanging up stockings and on Christmas morning they are eager to rush to see what is in them. She wondered how I would feel, or better yet, how she would feel about following this tradition for the girls in my home. My first response was, "Let's think about it and talk more at a later date." I have thought more about it, and here is my feeling. To me, the hanging of stockings has no religious significance, but it is a fun thing to do. Why, as a grandmother, should I make an issue of it when I am so proud of the way Claire and Emily are being raised. It is not that I avoid issues, but I see no point in stirring up problems when in my eyes there are none.
To me, being the grandmother of children with intermarried parents has been a beautiful and joyful learning experience, and I have my children, Barry and Teresa, to thank for that.