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
"Wait, I'll walk you to your car," our son had said.
It had been a lovely visit with him and his Christian wife. She was struggling to get into her coat, not easy since she was eight months pregnant.
"Don't think this is a rejection of you," our son continued, "but we have decided not to raise the baby Jewish."
The world stopped.
Oh, we managed to put a good face on, saying good-bye in our usual manner, but once we were driving down the road, we anguished: There would be no child to name for my father. There would not be Jewish descendants named in memory of us. What of my grandfather's piety and sacrifices? Who would make the seder (ritual meal) when I was gone? What would keep the family together? And who was to blame?
Was it our fault, because he hadn't lived in a Jewish neighborhood? Not easy when you're the only Jewish family in Oakfield, NY, halfway between Rochester and Buffalo. Or when the nearest synagogue's youth group has nine boys and one girl. (Try organizing a dance with those demographics.)
We had kept a Jewish home, observed the holidays, have always been temple members, sent our children on every possible Jewish outing, and even researched colleges for religious breakdowns. Yet, each of our children, two boys and a girl, had married "out."
Was it our fault, because both my husband--a Jew-by-choice--and I are products of three generations of interfaith marriages? Was it, as our younger son once stated, my fault because: "You betrayed Judaism first when you married Dad. What did you expect?" (Three years later that son would himself be engaged to a Christian girl.)
Our family joke was that mom's first question is always: "Is she Jewish?" But my opposition stopped once each child declared his or her intention to marry. I never wanted anyone else to experience the rejection I was subjected to as a fiancee, when the only one who welcomed me was my husband's Jewish grandmother. She had grasped my hands and whispered in amazement, "You're Jewish?"
Was it the fault of rabbis? When our oldest son and his fiancee were planning their wedding, they talked with our rabbi. He agreed to participate in their marriage ceremony along with the bride's uncle, a Catholic priest. But two months before the wedding, the poor man died. When we tried to replace him, we hit cruel refusals including, "A Christian and a Jew, that's water and dirt; and I don't do mud." We finally found a rabbi to perform the Jewish part of the wedding, but the damage had been done. Our son never entered a synagogue again.
Still, we hadn't expected his children to be baptized.
I try to see the positive. So my daughter-in-law isn't Jewish; less chance for Tay Sachs disease, which disproportionately afflicts Jews. She certainly treats my son well. Since the holidays are different, we won't be competing with her family for their attendance.
As I hugged my daughter-in-law good-bye that evening, I dropped a hand to her stomach. I felt a fluttering, my first contact with my grandchild.
Later, I remembered my husband's Jewish grandmother. When she married out in 1899, her family declared her dead and recited Kaddish (a prayer extolling God that is said by mourners). Yet, she only had one grandchild, my husband. He was dating Jewish girls when I met him in 1951. In his Irish-Catholic world, his wanting to teach school wasn't considered manly. Because teaching children was an acceptable profession for a Jewish male, he had felt more comfortable dating Jews. When we began dating, he spoke of converting and agreed to raise our children Jewish. So, his Jewish grandmother's grandchild became Jewish, and all of her great grandchildren were Jewish.
Maybe I should concentrate on what was truly important. I wanted a normal, healthy grandchild who would grow up to be a decent person. Perhaps I had to trust that the child would have a Jewish heart, and that she might be drawn back, like my husband was. Or that her children would be.
And I would have to be the best Jew I could because I had now become a living example of this religion I so love. Besides, one day my granddaughter would choose a husband. Her standard would be her Jewish father. And her mother had shown her that marrying a Jew was a good thing.
We are all in God's hands. I will leave it so.