When my husband and I got engaged, the first question my dear grandmother asked was, "Is he converting?" I told her, "No, he is not, but we plan to raise our children Jewish." I don't know if that was sufficient for her or if she just decided not to make any additional comments, but she has not said anything to me about it since. Was she thinking something else that she never said? Probably.
Are most people thinking something when they ask me what my married name is or about our future children? Probably. What are they thinking? Thoughts like, "I can't believe she married a non-Jew," "Her poor parents, they must be devastated," or "Thank God my children didn't do that to me."
Does it bother me? Sometimes. But it is not because I am embarrassed or ashamed for having married my "lapsed-Catholic" (as he says) husband. I am perplexed, however, at how some people still think, even today.
Let's just picture what could have been. It would have been great to meet and fall in love with a Jewish man--no issues, no conflicts. We could have had a beautiful wedding with no worries as to who would marry us, children with no question of how to raise them, and no doubt as to what holiday decorations would adorn our home.
But that didn't happen. I fell in love with a wonderful, caring, funny, intelligent man, who happened to not be Jewish. We had the endless discussions about religion, marriage, children, families, holidays, the list can go on. But those conversations helped us both to understand so much about each other. I went to church with his family on Christmas and I visited his Jesuit alma mater. He went to Passover seder with me, and I took him to his first Jewish wedding. When it was time for us to make a decision about our future together, we were able to make it rationally and intelligently. Deciding to have a Jewish wedding and raise our children Jewish was the result of an intense amount of study, talking, and even laughter.
There was a time early in our relationship when I was concerned with what people would say. I grew up in a Conservative home, where we celebrated Shabbat (the Sabbath) every Friday and kept kosher. I worried about my parents, what people would say to them, or about them. I worried what my friends would think of me. I lost a very close friend who didn't agree with my dating a non-Jew. I worried because for a long time I had been one of those people who would have said something if it happened to someone else.
Over time, I learned to overcome those feelings, because what my husband and I had together and what we were trying to build was truly more important to me. Now I look at our friends--Jews who married Jews, or Catholics who married Catholics, and wonder if they had those dynamic, emotional and confrontational discussions that we had for years during our courtship. I wonder if they know as much about the other's feelings on religious topics as we do. I wonder if they know as much about their own religion as we know about each other's.
I've learned to accept that I can't change the way people think or act about interfaith issues. I've learned to hold my head high, be proud of who I am, where I am going, and the partner I've chosen to take along on the journey.
Are there still going to be people who don't accept us because we're an interfaith couple? Probably.
On the other hand, we have also encountered many along the way who have learned to accept our relationship and many who never had a problem with it. We've found a synagogue in which we are welcomed, and we are comfortable in the surroundings in which we will raise our children. Now, my grandmother and I never have a phone conversation without her genuinely asking how my husband is. This small sign of her acceptance means a lot to me.