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
This article is reprinted from the Boston Jewish Advocate with permission of the author. Visit www.thejewishadvocate.com<</a/>.
Two weeks ago "Single Situations" covered a very difficult topic: "The Interfaith Marriage." In the July 1 edition, "My Cousin's Wedding" took a closer look at one single situation that affects us all in some way. "Single Situations" has received a number of responses, two of which I'd like to discuss.
Danny Alexander, from Lexington, Mass., wrote a response to my question "should we as Jews be mourning the loss of one of our own, or should we be happy my cousin found true love?" Alexander's response is that "mourning is in order," but not in the sense I had considered. Rather, with the wedding too recent to predict its success, he felt the fault was mine for not having shown cousin Heather the light.
"Possibly indeed the subject of commitment to her ancestors' faith did arise in conversation with Heather," Alexander commented. "Perhaps Greene felt constrained from saying anything that might be taken as laying on guilt," he wrote.
Alexander faulted me for not "selling" Judaism to my cousin when he asked, "would there have been no opening at some point during the last decade to suggest to Heather the value of the responsibilities she holds towards the future through her own children?"
"From a tender age," Alexander responded, "Heather clearly had her eyes fixed on the future--and Dana Greene should have done whatever she reasonably could to help direct her cousin's gaze to a Jew who could be her partner in that future," he wrote.
Danny Alexander has written a very thought-provoking letter. Obviously, he doesn't know the distance--both physically and philosophically--between Heather and myself. However, no one can argue when he reminds us of the Talmud tract that teaches "All Israel is responsible for one another," and he hits it right on the head when he states: "Heather's parents' original decision to raise their daughter in a wholly unaffiliated framework is profoundly unsettling . . . "
Yes, it is, as Danny Alexander stated, "hard to see how Heather's parents equipped her with anything at all to bring to the marriage, and readers can only assume that the co-officiating rabbi was brought in for reasons of 'showing the team flag' vis-à-vis the Catholic contingent more than anything else."
I can certainly agree with Alexander that "as a religious blank page," one has to hope that Heather can "fall back on colossal reserves of her love, because beautiful character notwithstanding, she is otherwise a Jewishly deprived and Jewishly isolated individual."
Alexander spelled it out, more than I did in my column, that Jewishly, Heather is a blank page. Her marriage isn't a blending of religious faiths, customs, traditions and cultures. Heather doesn't have any of these to share with her new husband. It's hard to mourn something that hasn't been lost. On the other hand it was Heather's potential to be a young Jewish wife and mother that has been buried by her marriage. The rent-a-rabbi not withstanding, Heather will undoubtedly raise her children in the Catholic faith, which she no doubt will embrace in time and practice. That's the true loss to the Jewish people.
A cousin can only influence by example, but can't replace the lack of a Jewish education or a Jewish upbringing. I could be a friend, but not a parent to my cousin.
I don't see Alexander's letter as an attack. I see it as a thoughtful response to a painful situation that was raised--one that is being raised more and more around the nation as more Jewish singles intermarry. This is why I'm including a response written by Hal Katzman from Newton. He wanted to comment on the same interfaith marriage story in the Jewish Advocate.
"Your words," Katzman wrote, "are well taken, as I, too, have looked long and hard at the issue. I have seen friends and relations marry out of the faith, and though their spouses and families are always among the most wonderful people, it touches on emotions quite complicated. As a single person, never married, I am often consumed with the idea of finding the perfect person to marry, whether Jewish or not. Whose happiness do we grant, our own or our family and our people? Is it possible to satisfy everybody?"
He asked how I felt about the issue personally. "If you couldn't marry Jewish, would you marry a non-Jew and hope he'd convert, or would you try to marry the best person you could and not worry about religion?"
Hal Katzman has brought up many relevant issues. I'm certainly not an expert on whom to marry, nor am I in a position to advise him on his value system. He should marry the person who helps him be the best Hal Katzman.
As for happiness, it's a state of mind. You make your own happiness. If you value heritage, tradition and family togetherness, you'll only be happy being with someone who shares the same values and who makes your family comfortable, as well.
Hal asked if it's possible to satisfy everybody? No, it never is, but families can adjust to children's life choices.
Personally, I am close with my family and know how wonderful it is when a Jewish boyfriend is welcomed at gatherings. It's just a nice feeling of acceptance. At 30, I'm still young enough to continue my search for a Jewish partner. My idea is that marriage is hard enough (and there are already enough issues to disagree on) that eliminating the religious difference can only make things easier within the relationship.
Katzman asked if I'd date someone non-Jewish? It depends on my state of mind at the time I'm asked. If I couldn't find the right Jewish man to marry, Katzman asked what I would do. I'd search for the best partner who would balance my weaknesses and be a good life partner. It would be a requirement that the person be open-minded enough to commit to raising our children Jewish. That means Jewish education, Bar/Bat Mitzvah and setting Jewish examples. Children need to feel a sense of inclusion, to know where to hang their hat, so to speak.
It's impossible for me to not worry about religion. Even though I'm not religious and consider myself culturally Jewish, I have Jewish guilt ingrained in my upbringing. And I do not want the ideas, lessons, and cultural traditions of Judaism to die with me.
All singles have a story to tell. What's yours? Greene is an award-winning columnist based in San Diego. You can email her at email@example.com.