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I didn't grow up hearing any remarks against someone's race or religious beliefs. Not from my family.
We are a Hindu Indian family. Although most of our relatives are in India, my parents, my sister and I, and a few aunts, uncles and cousins, reside in the New York area. My sister Meena and I were born here. All other relatives moved to America as adults. Preserving the Indian culture was important to them, but they welcomed the cultural diversity of this country. As a devout Hindu, my mother always boasted about how the Hindu faith accepted all religions. We even had paintings in the house of different religious figures: Jesus, Moses, and Buddha.
So when my sister became involved in an interfaith relationship, I didn't think it would be an issue.
Meena met David in college, a nice Jewish young man, pre-med like my sister. He was well liked by my parents, both of whom are physicians. Meena and David spent their college years frequently visiting my parents' home. And David's family liked Meena. Even I, the kid sister, spent time with his family. I remember a trip to the beach. Although David's family was Jewish, they were not Orthodox. We all got along very well. I thought it was fun to have them around my family--a delightful integration of culture and religion!
So when they decided to marry, we were all happy. It was a beautiful and fantastic wedding. There were two ceremonies. There was a rabbi and a Hindu priest. Meena wore a wedding gown, then a sari. A glass was broken, a conch shell sounded, they were lifted and carried in their seats, they were tied together with a cloth--all the rituals of both religions. I remember dancing at the reception with both sides of the family. And everybody was laughing.
That was ten years ago. Now Meena and David have careers, a home and two children--a girl with an Indian name and a boy with a Hebrew name. Over the years I see the families at holidays and social events. I always enjoy everyone's company. But I am not so involved in their lives.
I began writing this article on interfaith relationships with the notion that I would hear wonderful stories about more holidays and funny characters amongst the relatives. But after speaking to my family, I got a different perspective.
When I asked Meena how she feels being in a Hindu/Jewish marriage has affected her, I didn't get too many details. She said that the families were different. She then paused and commented how there are a lot of Jewish comedians who use humor to make light of more serious issues. I remember, vaguely, when Meena was getting married and sorting out the details of her wedding, her mentioning "Maybe things would have been easier if I was marrying an Indian man." That was when she was young and revealed more of herself to me. That was when I dismissed the comment. I was too caught up by the excitement of the wedding.
When I spoke with other members of my family, I found they wished Meena had married an Indian man. They feel the problems that have arisen through the years between the families are from differences in the two cultures and religions. They think David is disrespectful toward his in-laws. He forgets polite gestures like offering refreshments when they visit. But when his friends from out of town visit, his hospitality is remarkable--food, drinks whatever they need. And David's family prefers that everyone, particularly the children, visit them. However, my family does not think their house is a good environment for two small children. It is an unkempt household with too many pets. Any they never have any healthy food.
My family equates these traits with being Jewish. I think about my family's circle of close friends, but I don't recall anybody Jewish.
I have a friend, Sonia, who is the best host at parties. However, around friends she sees often, she gets comfortable and often slacks off on her manners. Sonia is Indian.
I try to think of Jewish stereotypes regarding junk food and pets. I can't think of any.
There seem to be less members of David's family at our get togethers. I never asked them any questions. I think I heard somewhere that Meena causes friction in David's family. I wonder if anyone thinks it's because she's Hindu/Indian.
I am still a part of family functions--holidays, birthdays, showers and weddings. And I am the life of the party, everybody's friend. I am an adult leading a separate life. I am a guest.
Families and marriages can be complicated. That's how I see Meena and David's situation. But I am not in it.
I didn't grow up hearing any remarks against someone's race or religious beliefs. Not from my family. We celebrated Christmas so that as children we wouldn't feel Santa Claus had left us out. I played the dreidel game with kids at school using M&Ms. I read the Bible because I liked the stories. And I went to pujas, the Hindu celebrations.
I think of the Jewish friends I care about whom I met as an adult. And I think of my family's comments, like unhealthy seeds trying to plant themselves now that I am grown.