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Within a month of my first date with Sarah, she invited me to attend her family's seder (ritual Passover meal). Though somewhat surprised by the offer, I was quite flattered by her request and told her that I would be delighted to go with her.
Upon arriving at her aunt's house that night, I was immediately inundated with friendly handshakes and smiles. I had never met any of her extended family before, but they immediately welcomed me and put me right at ease. Indeed, the entire night emanated with that same sense of warmth: Sarah's family was friendly and funny, the food was great, and the prayers were beautiful. To my surprise, I felt right at home in a house full of strangers.
My feeling of comfort that night was actually all the more remarkable considering that it was my first time attending a seder: I am not Jewish like Sarah. I am Catholic.
That evening last April was the first time that our religious differences made themselves so apparent. It doesn't happen often: in fact, in our usual day-to-day lives, our different faiths are very rarely an issue. We go about our lives as young adults in New York City, and we are there for each other when dealing with all of the joys and hardships inherent with that lifestyle.
I certainly know that when I look at Sarah across the dinner table or in the movie theater seat next to be, I don't think of her in the context of her religion. Instead, I simply see her as a person that I care very deeply about and want to spend as much time as possible with.
However, despite the surface tranquillity, I am not naive enough to think that our differing faiths do not affect our relationship. Sometimes it produces silliness, like when I make her laugh by using a Yiddish word like schlep, and sometimes it produces support, like when she attended Easter Sunday Mass with me so I wouldn't have to go alone because my family was back in Massachusetts. But other times it does create a sense of tension that is not usually present in our relationship. For example, this past December we had jokingly decided that we would celebrate the holidays by exchanging presents, with the twist being that I would give her a Christmas gift and she would give me one for Hanukkah. However, Sarah decided at the last moment that our plan was making her uncomfortable and to my slight disappointment simply gave me a "holiday gift" instead.
While that was a minor discomfort, it highlighted the undercurrent of tension that definitely exists, and I believe that it affects her more than me. I am a practicing Catholic--I go to Mass every Sunday when I am home and as many Sundays as I can during the school year--and while I may not agree with everything that the Church does or preaches, I certainly consider myself to be a believer and relatively religious.
On the other hand, Sarah, while certainly spiritual, is not nearly as active in her own faith. Despite this, however, she is much more troubled by the potential conflicts that our respective religions might bring: not only does she bring up the subject for discussion considerably more often than I do, but whenever we do talk about it, she always takes a much more pessimistic approach. In fact, whenever we even whimsically talk about our future together, she always seems to be very inflexible about her inability to compromise about any aspects of her faith. Naturally, this saddens me, though I try to understand it the best that I can, and I certainly know that for a Jew in a serious interfaith relationship there are different considerations about the future than there are for a Catholic.
However, more than even the strictly religious origin of our differences, I believe that the real source of any potential trouble will be from our different upbringings. Clearly, the traditions and lifestyle that she is used to from growing up Jewish are vastly different than the ones that I have experienced as a Catholic. I understand her reluctance to give her traditions up--after all, while I try to believe that I will be as flexible as possible in the future, would I really be willing to go through a month of December without a Christmas tree?
The answer is that I don't know. However, despite this uncertainty, I am still optimistic for our future. I truly believe that if two people really care about each other, even the most daunting of obstacles can be overcome. While it certainly won't be easy, I do think that Sarah and I can continue to grow in this relationship and hopefully manage our differences to enjoy a bright future.
And though I don't know what the outcome of our attempt will be, I definitely know that I want to give it a try.