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
My whole adult life has been interfaith, though my parents were both Jewish. I married a Lutheran, and during the Vietnam years our shared spiritual life centered on the Quaker peace movement. We divorced as the war ended, and I took an Eastern mystical direction. There were plenty of Jews at my ashram! Although going East ultimately led to my return to Judaism, I never fit in or felt welcome at mainstream synagogues--either philosophically or as a formerly intermarried single parent with a young child.
My daughter Sarah felt even less at home in synagogue. Her father, who had become Sufi, had married an African-American woman. They were leaders in their Sufi Center, and Sarah often experienced prayers with them. Sometimes her stepmother took her to the Black Baptist Church where they both loved the singing. In the meantime her father and stepmother had become foster parents for two brothers who were Vietnamese boat refugees. I am related to all of them, on my daughter's side of the family. Today Sarah finds a deep richness in the diversity and complexity of her background.
Meanwhile, I had found a home with Jewish Renewal, but back in those days there was little available locally, and little for Sarah. I yearned for a soul mate with whom to share Jewish religious, spiritual, and communal life. Having come out in 1990, it was not a surprise that the right person would be a woman. It was a surprise that she was from the Bible Belt of Appalachia!
Having known my in-laws for almost a decade now, I appreciate that when Sharon was growing up with her eleven siblings, they were in church whenever they weren't eating, sleeping, or going to school. I had always felt that Sharon's dedication and activism in the gay community were very similar to her mother's dedication to church. In spite of our difficulties with fundamentalism, we both have grown in our appreciation of her mother's commitment to her faith, and genuine living of it.
Among Sharon's family are Bible-thumpers who think we are going straight to hell for being a same-sex couple (not to mention my being Jewish!). Then there are those in her family who love us as a couple, and are happy for her that she is finding a spiritual home in Judaism.
A turning point in Sharon's and my relationship with Judaism came after my daughter Sarah (also intermarried) was pregnant with Noah, now eighteen months old. Sharon wanted us to be good Jewish grannies to Noah. We joined our local Reconstructionist congregation, which provided much more structure than the Jewish Renewal minyans (quorum of ten adult Jews needed to read from the Torah) we had been sporadically attending.
Coming from a wonderfully musical family who spontaneously sing hymns in four-part harmony at all their family gatherings, the first thing Sharon did was join the choir. The liturgy got to her at a gut level. Music packed a punch like nothing else! This year she has been in the conversion class. The Tikkun Olam (repair the world) Committee was a natural for her, since she had always been a social justice activist. Next year she will be the new co-chair of the Membership Committee. We are the only members of our Women's Havurah (study and/or worship group) who participate with their partner . . .
When I was coming out, being Jewish was a touchstone that helped me to understand being gay. For Sharon, being gay has helped her journey to becoming Jewish. Not being part of the dominant culture, and being part of a misunderstood minority--even being hated or discriminated against--are not new experiences. The embracing of what feels right and feels like home, despite obstacles, is familiar . . .
By our tenth anniversary, we will probably no longer be an interfaith couple. But we will always be an interfaith extended family, on both sides. The relatives cover the spectrum, and it's all as American as apple pie. Noah has four grandmothers. He will grow up knowing two of them to be a committed Jewish couple.