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
One evening last summer, Andrew, then-boyfriend, and I visited my grandmother for dinner. It was their first meeting; I was in agony beforehand, wondering what my grandmother would think. Would she like him? Would they have anything to talk about?
For that matter, would my bubbe be able to understand my boyfriend's thick Scottish accent?
Despite initial worries, the dinner went well. Later on in the evening, Andrew excused himself to go the bathroom. "Oh, he's adorable," my grandmother gushed between bites of kugel. "I don't even mind that he's not Jewish."
This was, in my mind, shocking. For days I repeated her words over and over to myself. Ironically, it was in the very moment of my grandmother's acceptance that I began to consider his not being Jewish as problematic. My grandmother didn't mind, but I did.
And I began to wonder why.
I am, after all, the product of an interfaith (or some might say, interfaithless) marriage. My father is Catholic, my mother is Jewish. I was raised primarily by my mother, in a very culturally Jewish, very secular home. My only knowledge of Catholicism came from my classmates. I grew up with a respect for all religious beliefs, but very little firsthand experience with any one, Judaism included. Sure, we lit candles at Hanukkah and fasted on Yom Kippur and participated in my grandparents' Passover seders. But we didn't keep kosher or light candles at Shabbat or attend services. I never went to religious school or learned Hebrew or became Bat Mitzvah.
Growing up, I always considered myself to be half-Jewish by reason of ethnicity, but having no religion or faith. But this all changed when I started college. I began to meet more Jewish people, which led me to think more about my own background and upbringing. The more I was exposed to different elements of Judaism, the more I felt that I'd missed something in not being an active member of the Jewish community. I wasn't comfortable joining a temple at first, but slowly, I began making changes in my daily life. I began to light candles at Shabbat. I started to keep kosher. I took courses in the Judaic Studies department. I began to wear a Mogen David (Jewish star), and led my own Passover seder, with other Jewish students. I still don't attend services regularly, or understand Hebrew, but these are goals.
As my identity as a Jew has strengthened, and as I've transitioned into my twenties, I have begun to think more about my future in terms of personal choices, career goals, and starting my own family.
In the past, I have had only interfaith relationships--three longterm relationships with wonderful young men who were thoughtful, intelligent, witty, attractive and spiritual. All were raised in Christian denominations (Catholic, Presbyterian, and Unitarian Universalist) and I am happy to know and to have gone out with each one of them. My earlier experiences with dating non-Jewish men have been interesting, and I would not change any one of them.
I still have not been in a long-term relationship with anyone Jewish. Nonetheless, I know that for myself, at this point in my life, it is dishonest to be in an interfaith relationship. I believe that the decision to engage in an interfaith relationship is a deeply personal one. I believe also that interfaith relationships can and do work, and that the success of any relationship, interfaith or otherwise, lies primarily in the effort of the people involved. And as I've said, I've had good relationships with non-Jews.
Now, though, in considering the future, I realize that I need to follow a different, more conscious path. I once had a boyfriend who tried to convert me to Christianity. I once asked a boyfriend if he wanted to go to synagogue with me for Friday service, which he misinterpreted as "would you like to go to Senegal with me on Friday?" and responded with an emphatic no, causing an unnecessary argument. Another person I dated, a graduate student in political science, took every reference to Judaism as an opportunity to debate Israeli foreign policy, which led to more arguments than I could count, and quickly ended the relationship! One potential partner sported an addiction to bacon and shrimp, which made for awkward times.
My best friend, who is Jewish, thinks my new relationship philosophy is crazy. "Adina!" she shrieks. "There are so few decent guys out there, why do you want to limit yourself?"
I don't view my decision to only date Jewish men as a limitation, but as a freedom--a blessing rather than a curse. For me, it is about continuity and tradition, and I envision my future as a full one. I hope to have a fulfilling career, good friends, and a close and loving family of my own. And when I picture this, I imagine Shabbat (Sabbath) dinners and Passover seders, Friday night services and trips to Israel. I see a Jewish man with whom I'll share a life and children who'll be raised with Jewish traditions, customs, and values.
So, while there are lots of great non-Jewish guys out there, I'll only be on the lookout for a Jewish one.