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We Have Similar Personalities, Passions and Beliefs, but Different Religions

May, 2001

Jon and I met last spring at a voter registration drive in Harlem. As we worked that day we began to chat, and soon to discuss, debate and laugh. I quickly realized that we had many things in common; both tangible things, such as our deep interests in cities and politics, and intangible things, like our sarcasm and the extremely close connections we have with our families. I think that the similarities in our personalities, passions and beliefs made an impression on both of us that day, and we began dating soon after.

Jon has been everything I could want in a boyfriend, except for one thing: he is Catholic and I am Jewish. Being raised in a fairly religious Conservative Jewish home, I never thought I would be in a serious relationship with a non-Jew, and certainly not with someone who had attended Catholic school for most of his life. I thought that my lifestyle and beliefs would clash too much with those of a non-Jew. But this has not been the case with Jon at all. Somehow we seem to think exactly the same way ethically, intellectually and even politically.

But despite this, our relationship has been problematic for me because Jon is not Jewish. Initially I thought our differing religions would preclude him from being able to truly understand me and the role Judaism has played in my life. Because Jon had never had any close friends who were Jewish before, I was concerned that he would not understand, or maybe even be interested in, the specific ways that Judaism affects my life.

For this reason I invited Jon to my family's traditional seder (ritual Passover meal) after we had been dating for only three weeks. Even though he had not even met my parents yet, let alone my entire extended family, I thought it would be the best way to show Jon the parts of Judaism that I value the most--the traditions and the history. I now think that subliminally I was also trying to show Jon that I am not a typical "American"--that I'm not Christian but Jewish, and not just in name but in practice--to see how he would react.

The seder was a great success. Jon sat, patient and interested, through the hours of reading, singing, talking and eating. I think he really enjoyed it, and it was apparent to everyone there that he was not at all uncomfortable.

His comfort with my religion has not been limited to the seder. He loves learning new Yiddish phrases, trying traditional Jewish foods, and talking to me about my conception of God. It makes me so happy that for him, my being Jewish is just one more interesting thing for him to learn about so that he can understand me better.

Unfortunately, my relationship with Jon's Catholicism has been more complicated. While I have really enjoyed discussing Jon's beliefs about Jesus and attending Mass, I am also somewhat frightened by Jon's commitment to his faith. I know this is not fair, but I also know that as our relationship grows more serious I wonder a lot about how Jon's Christianity will affect my life. I wonder if, like most things in a relationship, religion is something we can compromise on, and whether that will mean I have to give up part of my identity as a Jew.

The major challenge for me with interfaith dating has been that because Jon and I have barely been together for a year, it sometimes seems unreasonable to ask questions about the future out loud, such as, "What religion would our children be?" or "Could we have a Jewish home someday?" But these questions are ever present in my mind, as I am certain that I want to raise Jewish children in a Jewish home. To me, these thoughts don't seem premature because I grew up fearing that I would lose my Jewish identity and assimilate into "normal" Christian America. But for a Catholic like Jon these thoughts are foreign, and though I know he's happy to talk to me about them whenever I want, I'm sure they also overwhelm him, especially since our relationship is still relatively young.

So, at the moment I don't know where our relationship is headed. I do know that I love Jon and that we have something unique and wonderful between us. I also know that I am tremendously lucky that my parents respect me enough to support the decision I have made to date a non-Jew. But I also know that an interfaith marriage is challenging and may require compromises that I may not be willing to make. I guess for now I am just grateful to have found Jon, and I have every hope in the world that we will be able to make our future work.

 

The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." A language, literally meaning "Jewish," once widely used by Ashkenazi communities. It is influenced by German, Hebrew and Slavic languages, and is written with the Hebrew alphabet. It is comparable to the language of many Sephardi communities, Ladino. Hebrew for "order," refers to the traditional course of events, or service, surrounding the Passover and Tu Bishvat meals.

Sarah Smith is a pseudonym. Sarah grew up in the Boston area and graduated from college in 2000. She currently works in New York.

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