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Not Interfaith, Our Faith

I met Aniq in the spring of my junior year at college. It is now exactly a year since graduation and we are still together. I am from New York and Jewish, had a bat mitzvah (I can still remember a little of my haftorah if asked at the right moment). Aniq is Palestinian and Muslim, though non-practicing, as am I.

Born in Lebanon and having lived through a war fought mainly for religious reasons, Aniq's earliest memories of religion are of division and violence. For him, it is what many close to him fought and died for.

My earliest memories of religion are of time spent sitting with my Hebrew school principal, after getting in trouble in my Hebrew school class. A typical misbehavior was to pretend not to know what the Passover afikomen was (so the other kids could have a chance to answer correctly). I also remember sitting with the cantor during my bat mitzvah lessons — his voice often sounded like a pre-adolescent dolphin.

And then my mother died. Judaism was important to her and had been to her parents. But it didn't mean to me what it did to her, and I felt guilty. I remember her pine box sitting in front of the bimah (podium) and wishing all of it — the temple, the rabbi, the blessings, the rituals — meant something to me. Well, it did because I love her and she loved it, but I didn't love it.

I am in a relationship now, not with the Jewish medical or law student my grandmother down in Delray Beach would love to kvell (swell with pride) over around the pool with Florence and Sylvia, but with someone I think my mother may have not completely accepted at first, though I wish she had had a chance to meet him anyway.

And what does it mean to his family that he is with a Jewish American? Aniq's father is in the United Nations, and his immediate family is pretty neutral. His extended family's feelings, however, are a little more difficult to define. His uncle, jailed in a military prison in Lebanon for spying for Israel during the war, and his other cousin, a former Arafat militant now banned from Lebanon, represent the two poles of his family. Certainly, when I go to Lebanon I leave my Teen Tour Israel '94 T-shirt at home, the same way Aniq doesn't argue with my grandmother from Delray Beach when she tells him it is awful what "they" are doing to Israel. We do these things out of respect and can do so knowing inside ourselves that we are not going to change the world. For us, religion has come to represent a system of stereotypes and ignorant assumptions, set on dividing and justifying violence and borders.

But non-practicing to us in no way means religion hasn't and doesn't play a role in our lives, that it isn't a part of us, part of our upbringing and etched in our memories. Jewish culture in New York, like being Muslim in Lebanon, certainly brings along with it holidays and foods and days off from school, as well as opportunities for parties, fasts and family gatherings. It is in the traditions, the culture of our religions, that Aniq and I find personal meaning. Aniq doesn't share memories of making hamentashen for Purim and potato latkes for Hanukkah, of begging to go to the bathroom during the adult service on the High Holidays or finding out that apples taste good dipped in honey, just as I don't share the memories, food and traditions he grew up with or the war he witnessed in the name of religion.

So, sure, we are an interfaith relationship in every sense of the word, a Jewish woman and Muslim man living and loving together. And once all of the Osama and "are you a taxi driver" jokes have been exhausted and we are amidst family, at a company party, in a crowd or just alone, it is very clear to which faith we belong. One that cannot recognize difference the way the world chooses to, and one that cannot respect anyone who uses religion as an excuse to create differences, divisions, and even borders, geographic or social.

So, yes, I feel guilty that I have not taken in and found love in religion the way my mother did. But in the same way that she found something to love, something to have faith in, and something to celebrate, so have I.

Hebrew for "daughter of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish girls come of age at 12 or 13. When a girl comes of age, she is officially a bat mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bat mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The male equivalent is "bar mitzvah." Yiddish for "Haman's pockets," and shaped after the three-corner hat of Haman, the villain of the Purim story, these are triangular cookies with poppy seed, jam or fruit filling in the middle. "Dessert" in Greek, it refers to the matzah that is hidden at the beginning of the Passover seder and which, customarily, children look for and ransom back to the adults before the conclusion. A selection from the books of Prophets that is read following the weekly Torah portion. There is a Haftorah for each Torah portion. Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. The spring holiday commemorating the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The Hebrew name is "Pesach." A member of the Jewish clergy who leads a congregation in songful prayer. ("Hazzan" in Hebrew.) A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Yiddish word for a potato pancake, traditionally eaten during Hanukkah. Reform synagogues are often called "temple." "The Temple" refers to either the First Temple, built by King Solomon in 957 BCE in Jerusalem, or the Second Temple, which replaced the First Temple and stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem from 516 BCE to 70 CE. The elevated area or platform in a synagogue, from which Torah is read. Worship service leaders, such as clergy, may lead services from the bimah as well. Hebrew for "lots," referring to the lots cast by Haman, the story's antagonist, to determine the date on which to kill the Jewish people. It's a spring holiday commemorating the Jewish people's triumph. The story is told through the biblical Book of Esther; the namesake heroine, a Jewish woman, marries the Persian king. Their interfaith relationship is central to the story. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation.

Susan Goldstein is a pseudonym.

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