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
Reprinted from the May 2006 issue of New Voices with permission.
We shiksas are a threat. We are WASP-y succubi sent to steal Jewish sons from their birthright. At least, that's the rumor. But this gentile jezebel would like to tell her side of the story.
Only by some random twists of fate and attraction has this blue-eyed, blonde-haired writer found herself with several Jewish men. Aaron drove his own car, long-lashed Jamie played the guitar, neurotic Ben made me laugh, and the Texan football player two-stepped in cowboy boots. From my perspective, all the relationships were more about good chemistry than any grand attempts to surmount a cultural divide.
When I started dating my first Jewish boyfriend, though, my mother referred to the pair of us as OTB and NTB--Old Testament Baby and New Testament Baby. Together we formed The Bible. Although this witticism embarrassed me to the point of tantrum, I realize now that it reflected what my mother thought of that Jewish boyfriend and those that followed.
For her, their religious heritage was in line with the foundation of Christianity, the path that led up to her Protestantism. She never worried that my love for them would seriously jeopardize the nature of my religious observance. After all, she was quick to remind me, Jesus was a Jew.
My experiences at Jewish services and rituals were similarly inclusive. At Passover seders I was always the most energetic singer of Chad Gadya, and when I was invited to Shabbat dinners, the prayer leader would repeat parts in English for my benefit. I often felt welcome as a cultural guest, giddy with the mysteries of lox and gelt.
But after one dinner conversation involved plans for unborn grandchildren's Bar Mitzvahs, I realized that the family did see me as a foreigner, a tourist who'd be gone when the season ends. For while I was tolerated at services and seders, I was not going to be the chosen partner for this chosen person. Eventually, my nice Jewish boyfriend would find a nice Jewish girl to settle down with.
But what would the family do if their son picked this nice girl? Could a shiksa ever become a daughter-in-law?
I recognize the fact that if your mother was Jewish, so are you. Therefore, a Jewish wife ensures Jewish kids. If I ever did marry a Jewish man, our children's status would then be that much more complicated. A mere baptism could undo the identity a circumcision confirms.
It seems that these issues are even all the more pressing considering that all of the men I have dated have been fairly integrated into American secular life. Although they kept kosher, observed holidays, and were unavailable for Friday dinner dates, they were still accessible and not insulated from meeting shiksa women like me.
At the same time, I also have many Jewish friends who do not actively practice their faith, representing an important portion of Jewish 20-somethings. Would a fiancé's family accept one of these nonreligious Jewish girls more willingly than say, this Protestant girl? In at least practice, how different would a shiksa wife be from a non-practicing Jewish wife? One could even imagine a situation where the family shiksa appreciated customs and values even more than the non-practicing Jewish alternative.
At this point in my life, I can't predict whether I would convert if I end up marrying a Jewish man. I do know that I would encourage him to teach our children the traditions he grew up with, just as I would teach them mine. In today's globalized mesh of cultures, I would hope we could empower our children with a fusion of religions that agree on the fundamentals of goodness, charity, and integrity. The Jesus detail can be figured out later.
This gentile is an optimist who believes true love between two people of any religion, gender, or race can only be positive. Just as dating a Jewish man doesn't make me any less of a shiksa, dating a shiksa doesn't make a Jewish man any less a Jew.