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"You're so lucky, honey," said the Catholic mom of one of my male friends back when I was in high school. "You get to date Jewish boys." (I took this as a subtle hint that she didn't want me to date her son.)
"I dated a few Jewish boys," she confided, "and they really know how to treat a girl." As far back as I can remember, it seems that everyone--not only my family--had a reason for wanting me to date, marry, and start a family with a man of my own faith. To tell the truth, it would have been an easier route, but that's simply not what life had in store for me.
When I was entering fourth grade, my family moved from a largely Jewish suburb to one that was predominantly Italian-Catholic. My three-street subdivision was jokingly referred to as "Little Israel," because virtually the entire Jewish population of the city resided there.
As a result, most of my early crushes--except for those couple on a neighborhood boy or a boy from Hebrew school--were on the dark-haired, dark-eyed Italian boys I grew up with. I don't think this made me more likely to marry a non-Jew, but it did make me accepting of and comfortable in a multicultural environment.
I truly tried to date Jewish guys when I headed off to college, as the pool there was larger than in high school. I hated to disappoint my high school friend's mother, but I didn't find any Jewish boys who treated me particularly well, and certainly not better than any non-Jews I dated. College guys were simply college guys. Notwithstanding their religion, not one boyfriend lasted more than a couple of months.
Shortly after college I met the man who eventually would become my husband. When he told me on our first date that he had attended Catholic school his whole life, I was disappointed but not disheartened.
Nor was I discouraged by other people's reactions to my new relationship. While I expected my parents to be concerned that I was involved with a Catholic--a German one, no less--I was surprised by the comments made by even casual acquaintances. A Jewish friend of my cousin, both about 10 years old than I am, actually said to me, "Well, have fun with it. It's not like it can last."
For some people, the friend included, that may be true. Marrying outside of their religion is something they just won't do. (The friend did end up finding her Jewish prince, although she did have to wait several more years.)
I, on the other hand, was willing to put my faith in my partner and in myself, believing that through love, respect, and compromise we could make a life together.
I have to admit, when I say compromise, it has been mostly on my husband's part. We are raising our children as Jews--by his choice, ironically, as much as mine. I'd always said that if I married a non-Jew, I would have to raise my children Jewish, but before we got engaged I found myself hesitantly offering to raise our future children in both traditions. I knew I'd feel hurt if I couldn't share my beliefs with my children, and I felt uncomfortable asking the same of my partner.
He, however, had the wisdom to believe that children need to be raised in one faith. They may choose their own path someday, but we, as parents, should provide them with a solid foundation in their childhood. My fear, realistic or not, that non-Jewish children might someday worry that their Jewish mom was going to Hell tipped the scales in favor of Judaism.
I did get my happy interfaith ending, but not everyone is so lucky. One friend of mine who married a non-Jew set out to raise her kids in both religions and now finds herself, and them, practicing nothing at all. Another acquaintance married a non-Jew who, at least in the time I've known the couple, never seemed to fully support her efforts to raise their son Jewish. They recently divorced, and her ex-husband has successfully prevented her from continuing their son's formal Jewish education. By emphasizing sports practice over Sunday school and asking his son, "You don't really want to go to Hebrew school, do you?" he has negated the importance of religion for this child.
Everyone's experience is different, but interfaith relationships are, by nature, tricky. If you decide you're willing to date people of other faiths, be sure you first know where you stand on these and other important issues: If asked to, would you convert? Would you ask your partner to? Would you be comfortable having symbols of another faith or practicing another faith's holidays in your home? Would you be willing to compromise on your children's religious upbringing?
These obviously aren't questions to ask a potential mate on your first date, but be prepared: any new person you go out with has the potential to be "the one." Somewhere between date two and the altar (or the huppah) you'll eventually need to address these issues if your relationship is to last a lifetime.