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
Yom Kippur 1996
The Day of Atonement. Two full days of making yontif (holidays) in a rural New Hampshire synagogue. I understood little of Hebrew prayer, even when the words were transliterated. Maybe Baruch Atah Adonai, Blessed are You God, was becoming familiar. I spent the day reading translations of teffilot (prayers of reflection and self-judgement). I cried during the yizkor (memorial) service, having lost my former partner to AIDS seven months ago.
I wanted to do my first "Highest of Holy Days" right: I fasted from all food and water for twenty-five hours; I wore leatherless shoes; I lit a yahrzeit (memorial) candle in Gil's memory; and I said "Gut Yontif " (have a good Holiday) to Jewish faces I did not recognize.
After sundown, I forced my way through the room, toward the table of food, to finally break the fast. I could see the young, handsome rabbi--the reason I was there. It would have been futile to worm my way into that circle of adoring congregants. I reserved our personal relationship for outside of synagogue. Reaching for the first morsel of food to touch my lips in twenty-four hours, the foreign delectable caught in my throat as I distinctly heard a fiftyish-year-old women loudly whisper, "So… call me old fashioned, but don't you think the Rabbi's boyfriend should be Jewish?"
Yom Kippur 1997
The previous year, I had been Rabbi Lev Baesh's gentile boyfriend. However, my presence one year later marked the signs of a lasting, gay, interfaith relationship. I was no longer the rabbi's boyfriend, but the rebbetzin, the rabbi's "wife." But is rebbetzin an accurate word for the male partner of a male rabbi?
Does our interfaith relationship differ from others? Is our relationship different because my partner is a rabbi? Is the gay issue affected because my partner is a rabbi? And how does being gay impact on these issues?
The Calendar of Holidays
I now have twice as many observable holidays in my life. When I left home for college twenty-something years ago, I abandoned my parents' religion. Spirituality took on a solitary peacefulness.
The Hanukkah vs. Christmas dilemma is usually an obstacle in any interfaith couple, either with or without children. However, after forty-something years of the commercialism, I was ready to take a break from it all. I respected my partner Lev's sanctuary of home and did not push my holiday traditions on him other than stringing mini-lights--one white, one blue--around our ficus tree. And in a mutual sharing of holiday ritual items, he presented me with a silver and brass Rosenthal Hanukkah menorah, for which I lovingly made 144 "diversity"-themed, rainbow-colored beeswax candles.
As for the other holidays, we have no conflict. I experience Judaism's religious festivals during a full year's cycle, essentially living a Jewish life. In turn, Lev participates in "my holidays" as I celebrate them, by sharing traditional meals with my parents.
My Congregationalist parents accept our gay, interfaith relationship. You may find them seated at the head table, next to their son and the rabbi, during the congregational Passover seder. Or I may be surprised to see them in synagogue, driving one hour to attend, accompanied by my mother's non-Jewish hairdresser, along with the hairdresser's inquisitive Jewish husband and their two children--the firstborn approaching Bar Mitzvah age.
I want to conquer this mystic tongue to appreciate more of the Friday evening service. You may find me occasionally struggling with a textbook, possibly receiving the benefit of at-home tutorial from my rabbi-partner.
Hospice awareness, gardening and writing are my passions. Rabbi Lev organized a group of temple congregants to train as volunteers with the hospice organization I support. I helped organize, dig, plant and maintain a city "Adopt-A-Spot" garden, identifying Temple Israel as its creator. Most of our joint and single endeavors exhibit a melding of our religious lives.
More of my non-Jewish friends than temple congregants ask me, "So, have you converted?" I believe I live a very Jewish life without the mikvah (ritual bath used when people convert to Judaism). However, someday I may take the plunge.
I have attended many weddings at which Lev has officiated--Jewish/Jewish, Jewish/non-Jewish, gay, straight, young, old, poor, and rich. Is his credibility compromised by our interfaith relationship that has not yet been ritually formalized? I feel as strongly committed to our relationship as I feel toward living a Jewish life. I am committed to both--at this time in my life--without any ritual ceremony.
Yom Kippur 1998
After listening to the haunting Kol Nidre service, I finally decided to personally address that woman's comment of two years prior. "You know, I wouldn't call you old-fashioned at all. And personally… affirming life's diversity… maybe the rabbi's life is a little richer with a boyfriend who's not Jewish. Gut Yontif."