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
I am a Reform Jew, belong to a Reform temple, and attended a Conservative summer camp for nine years. My parents and my grandparents are all Jewish and their circle of friends were mostly Jewish. A few years ago, however, my family experienced a severe financial crisis, which led to my parent's divorce. Some time after that, my father became involved with a born-again Christian. This put more stress on an already stressed family.
My father was in a vulnerable state as a result of the financial crisis and divorce. He experienced a loss of faith after our Jewish community displayed little compassion for him during his difficulties. My conception of Judaism also changed dramatically at this time. Nevertheless, I still retain my strong faith and connection to my Jewish identity.
After my parents' divorce, my mother remarried a Jewish man and moved away. I continued my college education and moved to Boston. My father changed careers and began dating. I discovered after a few months that "Dana," the woman he was dating, was a "born-again" Christian.
My first response was to wonder about the appropriateness of my father's involvement with Dana and her appropriateness as a potential member of the family. Having studied cult religions in college, I feared any extremist religion that depended exclusively on the guidance of God and/or Jesus.
However, I also understood that the emphasis on material possessions that often corresponds with a "Jewish lifestyle" appeared to have contributed to both my father's initial success in the community, and also to his eventual ruin in its eyes. Dana offered a refreshing acceptance of my father as a man rather than a "provider." With her, he was able to communicate his aspirations and desires in life without worrying about high material expectations.
Many problems however, surfaced during the first year of my father's relationship with Dana, mostly stemming from different conceptions they had about the role that God should play in a person's life. Dana was uncomfortable being involved with a Jewish man who was so far removed from a life involving God. My family, while deeply connected to our Jewish life, rarely referred to God as an influential voice in our decision making and felt uncomfortable with Dana's focus on God.
Dana usually interpreted any problems she had with my father to be a result of his insufficient "spirituality." Her comments about my father's religious views were difficult for my family to understand. They hurt me because they caused my father pain. I never doubted the strength of his Jewish identity, but there were many instances when I felt uncomfortable hearing her views and questioned their future. However, over time, their level of involvement with their own religious backgrounds seemed to decrease. This helped them become more comfortable with their religious differences. Finally, last year they married.
Although Dana had previously devoted herself to God, she now lives a more "spiritual" life, rather than a strictly religious one. She attended and continues to attend temple with us on the High Holidays and helps my father prepare Passover seders. My sister and I do miss the level of comfort that can exist within a homogeneous group of friends and family, yet that family cannot be reincarnated.
Dana has never attempted to change any of our customs, and has actually made them more interesting. Dana's Christian nine-year-old daughter and Dana's mother attend our Jewish holiday meals, and the process of explaining our religion and religious customs to them has made us think more about what we do and why. The result has actually been to make me more aware and proud of my own religion. Also, Dana prints up holiday menus with a Jewish prayer she has found, and we say that prayer at holiday meals. We never would have said that prayer on our own, but it is something I find I enjoy.
My father now lives with a Christian wife and her daughter, and although Dana doesn't regularly attend church anymore, I believe they celebrate Christmas and Easter in their home. I have not participated in those celebrations and, in fact, regularly visit my mother in another state during those holidays.
I have learned that changes within a family happen and can foster learning. Dana has learned about Judaism and our family traditions. I, also, have been stimulated to learn and cherish more about my religious background.
Dana has now relinquished all signs of wanting to return to the Christian Church and seems satisfied to be my father's partner. I am thankful that I have gained a supportive and loving friend and stepmother.
My father is happy and moving forward. This contentment is all I have ever wanted for him. He already passed on the crucial Jewish traditions, lessons and practices to his children, and he continues leading a Jewish life himself.
Whether or not I end up marrying a Jew, my future husband will not affect my Jewish identity because it is already firmly established. I am committed to raising my future children as Jews and to giving them the values and strengths of a strong Jewish identity.