Amy took an interest in Jewish issues seventeen years ago, when she first related to Mary.
Mary likes it that Amy relates to her Jewishness in light of her own exploration of her identity as a white-looking woman of African and European ancestry.
- Mary had some fears about Amy's relationship to organized religion, but Amy is a very active secular Jew.
- Being a lesbian who is active in the lesbian community gives insight into the struggles and blessings of being Jewish.
- What being Jewish means is even more important now that Amy and Mary have a child.
- Amy and Mary feel that their child has to have a very strong Jewish identity, especially because the baby is African-American and most Americans will assume that she isn't Jewish.
- Various members of Amy and Mary's family, as well as the community at large, accept them at different levels, including being an interfaith family and a lesbian couple.
- You needn't look "out there" for diversity; it is within families themselves as well as many Jewish families.
When Amy and Mary first got together seventeen years ago, Amy was becoming more active around Jewish issues. She began reading a number of Jewish books, and Mary read them right alongside her. They often talked about Jewish issues. Mary is clear about being an ally and a partner to a Jewish woman; a "ger toshav"--someone who puts their fate in with the Jews. As a lesbian, Mary understands oppression, making it easier to understand Jewish oppression.
Amy and Mary feel that the importance of community has a similar recognition in both the lesbian and Jewish communities. They see both communities as more isolated and united than some other communities.
Mary did have some initial concerns with what "kind" of Jew Amy would be. Mary was raised Catholic and left Catholicism at twenty-one; she has strong feelings about organized religion and feared Amy's relationship to "organized religion." Amy, however, turned secular Jew. Amy and Mary still frequently discuss how to express Judaism, especially now that they have a one-month-old daughter. They feel because their daughter is African-American, she has to be really strong in her Jewish identity. Her Jewishness, they feel, has to be "in the roots of her soul." She must never be confused about being Jewish. Of course, she needs to feel that way about being African-American also, but that raises yet another issue.
Having a child has led their families to talk extensively about Judaism and lesbianism. Amy and Mary feel that their families have been accepting of them as a couple over the years. However, Mary's brother just recently asked for some books about Judaism. Despite the fact that Mary feels he should have done this years ago, she's glad her brother at least now feels he needs to know more about Judaism to relate fully to Amy and Mary's daughter. One of Amy's siblings and her family have been entirely supportive of their relationship. They want Mary to convert to Judaism, which Mary sees as a welcoming gesture, and which Mary is considering. Amy has wanted Mary to convert because "... I feel we have a Jewish household and family and she [Mary] does everything a good Jew does... it doesn't feel right to think of her as not Jewish anymore... I've thought about wanting to do an adoption ceremony, my community of Jews adopts her..."
However, for most of Amy's family her sexual identity has been the overriding issue. Amy and Mary feel that if they weren't lesbians, Amy's family would exert more pressure over Amy's male partner to convert. Ironically, the "acceptance" of their interfaith relationship is due to homophobia--not having their relationship taken as seriously as a heterosexual relationship. As lesbians, Amy and Mary often experience a devastating non-acceptance of being a family at all, whether in the Jewish community or elsewhere; whether interfaith or not. However, their struggle as lesbians also bonds them, as does their knowledge of many types of oppression.
Amy and Mary's recognition of their family's multifaceted identity is obvious. Mary points out that "... so many people talk about diversity like it's something you have to try for, when in fact there are many families and people who don't 'fit,' aren't just one thing... that's so simplistic.. look at the richness of culture my daughter has surrounding her... the big American lie is that things are not complex, but we are living proof that things are complex; people can stop taking the easy way out about who people are."
Amy talks of the "... deeper level of understanding I've gotten about how people can be Jewish and something else; not another religion, but another culture and heritage. Before, I couldn't quite incorporate being Jewish AND... but now it's so obvious that Jews are often multi-cultural--I'm American and Jewish; my brother-in-law is Moroccan and Jewish; my daughter is African-American and Jewish. It seems obvious that it's possible."
It's obvious too, that this is truly a family rich in caring.