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
American consumers love hybrids. Whether marketing a newly developed rose or a newly blended coffee combo, an adjective indicating that this variety is different from others that preceded it, stronger than either of the strains which produced it, and, due to its uniqueness, a new "whole" intrinsically more valuable than either of its "parts"--that retail strategy will almost surely vault sales from acceptable to phenomenal. And all of this happens because Americans love hybrids.
Except some Americans. Except when the hybrid is a human being created from one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent. As the adult child of an interfaith marriage which took place right after World War II (and was, therefore, astonishingly ahead of its time) I know from first-hand experience. And, to muddle the matter further, I, a Catholic from birth, am happily married to an observant Conservative Jew. My marriage, I suspect, gives ammunition to the "hybrid-haters," but I prefer to believe it gives testament to the inherent ability of love, strengthened by intellect, to create wondrous order from familial chaos.
Rather than causing me to stray from the roots of Roman Catholicism, my Jewish father instilled a respect for my obligation to adhere to the standards of the day. My younger sister and I were raised during the era of "no meat on Fridays" and "no movies that don't have the Catholic Light's stamp of approval." As my Irish Catholic mother practiced her faith with joy, determination and constancy, we followed her path--because, in those days, there was no other choice. Our father had signed his declaration of intent to raise any children from his marriage as Catholics; a momentous choice, of course--but he did it for love. Whether he regretted it--we never knew. For at no time during our lives did he ever make us feel that we had caused him to lose anything. He maintained his Jewish identity and his religion until his death. I now know that it could not have been easy for him, but he did it.
My husband grew up in a household whose Conservative roots tended to lean toward Orthodoxy. Since our marriage is a second one--and all of our parents are deceased--we have not had to wrangle with their attitudes or feelings. However, my husband's children have presented a different challenge for us. His daughters range in their observance from "casual" to "frum." The Orthodox daughter's reaction to her father's marriage has been to obliterate him from her life--and the lives of her children. While she calls him yearly right before Yom Kippur, her attitude (as well as that of her husband and his extended family) is crystal clear: she would prefer that I not be anywhere in her father's life. My very existence renders me unfit to even be near her children, and so, reminiscent of the oldsters from generations ago, she gave her father the ultimate choice: his wife or his grandchildren.
He chose me.
There is no joy, no sense of victory, in that statement; it is fact. I imagine it would be amazing for his estranged child to know that--in addition to struggling to maintain my Catholicism (and that, gentle reader, has all to do with the present day Church--and nothing to do with my interfaith marriage!), I keep a kosher home, light Sabbath candles each and every Friday evening and holiday, have learned the traditional Hebrew blessings, and have become not at all unfamiliar with both the daily practices of living a Jewish life as well as the underlying theology. I volunteer for the area Holocaust education efforts; I donate my professional expertise to the area Jewish Federation; I speak (when asked) about the challenges and joys of being an adult child of an interfaith marriage.
It is our home to which friends and family come for the Passover seder each year. Our home. An interfaith home. A home in which the essential truth of the "foundation religion" is honored--as much by practice as it is by custom. The mezuzah on our doorpost signals our statement of identity: within this home people practice a Jewish life. Within this home, the overarching goal of shalom bayit (peace in the home) means everything. Within this home are people of God. Their paths toward Him may diverge in some places, but their compass is set squarely toward Him, and toward home.
I am from an interfaith marriage--I live in an interfaith marriage. I am living proof that love, can--truly--conquer all.