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
Originally published at Alef, the Next Conversation. Reprinted by permission.
April 26, 2010
Emily and Sarah are 20-something Jewish women living in New York City. In spite of the odds, their love of Judaism has not translated into a love of Jewish men.
Growing up, did your families impose expectations that you should marry Jewish?
Sarah: I think my parents always wanted me to marry a good person. The focus was never on the person's religion. My father was Catholic when he married my mom (he later converted to Judaism), so it would have been hypocritical for them to pressure me into a Jewish marriage.
Emily: My mom wasn't Jewish when she met my dad, so my parents were in sort of an opposite situation. She converted before they were married and my brothers and I were raised secularly so there was no discussion at all of religion playing a part in who I decided to be with.
Have your respective family situations affected your dating histories?
Sarah: I haven't been in a serious relationship with any Jewish guys. I met my first boyfriend in high school – he wasn't Jewish. In college, I dated a tall, skinny redhead from the suburbs of Milwaukee – definitely not Jewish. After graduating, I dated another tall, skinny redhead (I guess I have a "type") from rural Minnesota--also not Jewish. I thought we might end up getting married, and he was fine with the fact that I wanted to have a Jewish family. I did date two Jewish guys casually, most notably another redhead (seriously) who I met on my Birthright Israel trip senior year of college. We visited each other a few times after the trip, but it never got serious. I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for those fun few months. Now, I'm single…
What’s your number?
Just kidding…[smiles; scratches chin; looks away] Right…So Emily, what about you?
Emily: I've only been in two serious relationships in my life. I suppose I know what I don't want when I see it and tend to shut it down as soon as I know it won't work.
My two brief experiences with Jewish men, incidentally, both ended badly. One of them dumped me after a couple weeks of casual dating to immediately begin pursuing my roommate, the other led me to believe he wanted an emotional relationship when all he wanted was a physical one.
My first serious boyfriend was Albanian, Eastern Orthodox, and knew very little about Judaism. Even though the relationship lasted almost two years, we always knew that the difference in religion was going to have a detrimental effect on us. He was happy to celebrate Hanukkah and Passover with me, but his ideological issues with some aspects of Judaism gave him cause to debate me on several occasions.
My second real relationship is only just beginning, and although he has one Jewish grandparent, he too was raised with little knowledge of the religion.
Does his Jewish ancestry make you feel any different about him?
Emily: I think what's more important to me is that he isn't tied to a religious philosophy that I fundamentally disagree with.
How, if at all, do you want Judaism to play a role in your current relationship?
Emily: I hope that he understands and appreciates it as a part of who I am. We already share the same set of values, regardless of our religious upbringings, so that's not an issue. I want him to be willing to celebrate with me when I am moved to celebrate.
Sarah: If I fall in love and marry someone who isn't Jewish, this is how I would want it to be too.
Sarah, so why do you think you've mostly dated non-Jewish guys?
Sarah: I really don't know why I've dated mostly non-Jews–they just happen to have been people I've been drawn to. As I get older, I'm starting to think it's more important for me to intentionally date Jewish guys, since I want to marry a Jewish man eventually. This is a challenging situation. It feels wrong not to date someone I like just because he isn't Jewish. But I'm also at the age when, any day, I could meet the person I eventually end up marrying.
Have you ever put yourself in a situation where you could be intentionally meeting or dating a Jewish guy?
Sarah: I'm cringing at this question, because the answer is "no." Outside of work, few of my friends are Jewish, so I'm rarely in a situation where I meet Jewish guys. I don't really want to join a synagogue. I'm not interested in meat-market mixers. Should I join J-Date? That doesn't sound all that appealing either…I think I've been hoping that I'll randomly meet a Jewish guy someday. I live in New York City, so there's a good chance it could happen.
So who do you want to end up with?
Sarah: I want to marry someone Jewish, have a Jewish household and Jewish children. I'm not at all religious, but I love being Jewish. It would seem tragic to me for my children to not be a part of such a rich tradition.
Emily, what about you? Who do you want to end up with and why?
Emily: One thing you said [Sarah] really resonated with me: I'm not at all religious, but I love being Jewish. I once found myself excitedly describing Shabbat to my current boyfriend as if I were a five-year-old on Christmas morning. At the same time, and after lots of consideration, I've decided that I don't need to be married to a Jewish person to live the kind of Jewish life that I want for myself. Being the product of a mixed marriage myself, I know that it can be difficult to impart some of the traditions on your children when both parents are not Jewish, but I also found that, being in that situation, I was able to find and choose Judaism for myself.
Sarah: I liked what you said about how having parents from different backgrounds led you to "find and choose Judaism for yourself." I wonder if the same thing happened to me as a result of growing up in a mixed household. They say that children of intermarriage generally aren't raised with a strong sense of Jewish identity, but you and I seem to be exceptions to that rule.
Emily: If only there were a formula!