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Lessons of Respect from My Year of Marriage

August 26, 2009

As my husband and I approach our one-year wedding anniversary, I have begun to reflect on the past year of our relationship and how marriage has brought new challenges to our family.

Champagne glassesAfter more than six years of dating, I honestly didn't think a wedding would change us much. We met on the decision about raising Jewish children long before we met beneath the huppah. We spoke about what it meant to keep a Jewish home long before that gorgeous diamond ring found its home on my finger. We discussed the place my Christianity would have in our lives long before our clothes, dishes and politics found themselves sharing space in our tiny apartment. We had all of the will dos and won't dos in order before our I dos. But I didn't account for these new attitudes from our loved ones after the wedding ended.

I have found myself constantly protecting and defending our marriage, more so than during any other time in our relationship. Christian friends and family, who have always been warm and inviting toward my husband, now tell me in private they are praying for his soul and just know he is close to converting. Jewish friends and family call into question the validity of our relationship, secretly passing my husband books on why he shouldn't marry a non-Jew. My anger churns and fear swells. New feelings of panic arise over the prospect of having to protect our children from our own family and friends.

While I am willing and open to talking about the decisions we have made for ourselves, I find myself constantly on the defensive and not ever having a two-way conversation. My Christian friends and family don't ask about how I feel about our decision or how we came to it, they simply hand down their final judgment on our marriage. I am never asked about my faith or encouraged on my path by my Christian brothers and sisters. They have simply written me off as a lost cause. Our Jewish friends and family doubt. They doubt I can or will raise Jewish children or keep a Jewish household "the right way." They call into question my husband's commitment to Judaism and regurgitate statistics of intermarriages and its effect on the Jewish community. They never reach out to help, but always to question.

None of these reactions are healthy or productive, neither to my own personal relationships nor to the broader discussion of interfaith families as a whole. When I seek fellowship and guidance in my faith and am met with only antagonism, I feel resentful and alone. When I seek help from the Jewish community and am met with only doubt and negativity, I feel rejected.

Resentment. Loneliness. Rejection. Are these really the feelings that our faith communities, friends and family are supposed to engender? I am not a statistic, I am your friend. I am not a lost cause, I am a child of God too.

Like my personal relationships, the interfaith community still has a long way to travel on this journey. I can only hope that the key to building healthy relationships in the interfaith community is the foundation of every healthy relationship: respect. My husband and I are not asking others to agree with our choices, but simply to respect the personal decisions we have made in our lives. I find that many in interfaith families are merely asking for the same.

It is easier to judge, to question and to find fault than it is to respect. I know this and I am working on my own reactions to people whose decisions I do not agree with. We all need to step back and reevaluate how we react to the decisions interfaith families make. My husband and I have several friends in interfaith relationships--and none of them have made the same choices we have made for our family. One has decided to raise their children in both faiths, another has decided to raise their children in the Christian faith and the third couple has yet to decide at all. I readily admit to handing down my own judgments, but over this past year I have realized through my own experiences that it is not my place to tell them my opinions, but rather to support them in what they have decided is right for their families.

Our one-year anniversary will be celebrated over a bottle of champagne, the photo album of our wedding day and a renewed appreciation of how respect for each other has strengthened our relationship. It is the same hope I have for the entire interfaith community.

Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles.

Cassie Havel Morgenstern is a writer from Atlanta.

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