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The Accidental Intermarriage

Introducing your parents to your boyfriend is never easy. You're anxious and nervous. You hope it goes well and that they both like each other. In addition to all those feelings, throw into the mix the fact that your boyfriend is Catholic and your parents are Conservative Jews. Definitely not easy.

Growing up in a Conservative Jewish household, Judaism played a large role in my life. We kept a kosher home, had Shabbat dinners, celebrated the holidays and observed many other Jewish rituals. So, it should only be expected that in my adult and married life Judaism would continue to play that same role. That was the thought process of my parents and they felt that would only happen with a Jewish husband. I can still remember, during my teenage years, my father telling me that I would meet a nice Jewish boy to marry. Without really saying it, he was clearly stating there would be no other option.

Then I met Paul. We had the same interests, he made me laugh and we clicked. Knowing he was Catholic stayed in the back of mind, not really causing a concern, as I thought we were just dating and having fun. But after a few months, we both knew that it was leading to something more. So, I told my parents about him over the phone and answered their questions honestly, the first of which was "Is he Jewish?" They were not thrilled, to say the least, but I think they figured it wasn't anything serious. They didn't make a big deal out of it. A few weeks later, I told them I wanted them to meet Paul, and they were agreeable.

So we chose a date and had dinner at my parent's home. It went really well. Everyone got along and the conversation flowed easily. Nothing was mentioned regarding religion or the future of our relationship, and I was glad for that. However, over time, that changed. Paul and I continued to date and after some time, we realized we wanted to share our lives together. Once my parents realized this as well, they became more vocal and outspoken regarding our religious differences. They were concerned about what religion we would practice in our home and how would we raise our children. They also believed that it would be difficult to sustain our marriage with these differences. They felt Paul should convert.

Paul and I felt differently on some levels and told them so. Paul didn't want to convert just so he could marry me; he felt that to convert he must believe deeply in the tenets and beliefs of Judaism. At the time, he did not. Even though he was not a practicing Catholic, he felt that to convert to please my parents and get their blessing was wrong. I agreed. We did, however, agree that we should decide early on the one religion we would practice at home and the religion in which we would raise our future children. After much thought and discussion, we decided Reform Judaism would be the best choice for us.

My parents were accepting of this choice, but not without some reservations. Conservative Judaism was (and still is) a large part of their life and they had difficulty accepting another way of thinking. They did realize that they were not going to make us change our minds nor were we going to end our relationship over our differences in religion. They came to understand and were pleased that we would be maintaining a Jewish home and raising Jewish children. They began to help us plan for our future. On the flip side, Paul's parents really never had a strong issue with us being an interfaith couple or raising our children Jewish. At first it was difficult for them to understand our wish to raise our children in a different religion from theirs, but they decided their son's happiness was most important, and so they were okay with it.

Paul and I have just celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary and have two beautiful children who are being raised as Reform Jews. Paul is very active in helping to create a Jewish home and has very openly accepted many of the beliefs of Judaism. We are comfortable with the choices and sacrifices we both made to make our relationship work. Maybe someday he will convert, but that will be by his choice and no one else's.

Looking back on it now, I don't think I would have done it any differently. I think no matter how I went about introducing my parents to Paul, our religious differences would have been an issue for them and would have surfaced at some point. My parents have come to love and accept him for who he is and for the wonderful life we have built together. I am glad for the fact that we both stuck to our instincts and didn't allow anyone else to tell us how we should live our lives. Perhaps if we didn't things wouldn't have worked out the way they have.

The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws.
Abby Spotts

Abby Spotts lives in Harrisburg, Pa. with her husband and two sons.

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