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
In 1953, my mother dressed me in a white lace gown made by my grandmother and brought me to St. Patrick's Church where, with holy water and oils, I was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. On that day, I entered into a relationship with the Trinity and my Church that is at the core of my being even today.
So why am I writing this essay? Because I am also the non-Jewish partner in our incredibly interfaith family.
We are members of two faith communities in Tampa, Florida: Congregation Beth Am--a Reform Congregation, and St. Timothy Catholic Church. I jokingly say we have two sets of services each weekend, two sets of "dues," and two sets of building fund pledges. But in reality, we have two sets of blessings.
While I could write a book about this "in progress" interfaith journey (and hope to do so), I am focusing this essay on life after Bill and I said, "We do" (with both a priest and cantor officiating). How two faithful worshippers, one who remembers the Latin Mass and one who stills worships in Hebrew, made the choice to raise our daughters in the Jewish faith, while sharing the life cycles, liturgies, and traditions of Roman Catholicism.
I am most often asked. "How could you raise your daughters Jewish?" Sometimes that word "how" is said in disbelief. Or worse, asked in pity by a misguided zealot of one faith or another. But lately, either we have been hanging around with more enlightened folks, or times have changed, because now when asked, the person really seems interested in our decision process and the day-to-day implementation of such a responsibility.
I say responsibility because that is what Bill and I feel about raising children in any faith. Such a responsibility is not to be taken lightly--so ours was an important and difficult decision. We each valued our faiths and certainly expected our children to follow in them.
So we spent hours role-playing our feelings. "How will you feel at a baptism?" "How will you deal with a bris?" "How will you feel when your niece will make her first communion and your children never will?" "How will you feel at Mass--Crucifix in plain view?" "Will you resent doing 80 percent plus of the schlepping to Hebrew School?" "How will you feel having a Christmas tree?" "How will you feel telling people your children are Jewish?" "How can your kids not know Jesus?"
King Solomon proved to be a fairly good resource to reach this compromise. Not because we were going to split each kid, but because we couldn't be selfish in our decision. We had to reflect on our love, yet somehow ensure that our own needs were met. But what were those needs and how do you get to them?
Basically, it came down to one question for us. How can we best worship as a family? Talk about discernment! We had to search our own hearts and identify our personal faith needs before asking each other for support. Bill and I had to clearly define our personal guidelines for how we would become an Interfaith family. How would we measure success?
What comfort level with each other's religion did we bring to our relationship? Catholicism has its root in Judaism. I knew some of this. Before Bill, I "knew" about Jewish holidays, traditions, and the "secret" to making matzah balls "float". Bill enjoyed going to Midnight Mass in college. Christmas meant heading to his friend's house to check out the new toys. Certainly not solid theological grounds on which to base this life-changing decision. And what about that oft-felt Jewish and Catholic guilt?
Slowly, we began to shape our compromise. Talk until we exhausted the subject. Stop for a while. Agonize. Come back. Talk more.
The key was communication. Feelings revealed created our compromise. Two such feelings were made known by the two most significant men in my life: my dad and Bill.
My Sicilian father's feelings were spoken during a friend's Jewish wedding. Wearing a kippa (Jewish head covering) for the first time, surrounded by unfamiliar words and ritual, he turned to me and said, "Your mother and I know how hard it is for you and Bill to decide how to raise your (yet unconceived) children. We want you to know that it is fine with us if they are Jewish." Dad's poignant gift still brings tears to my eyes! We weren't seeking their permission, yet my parent's understanding of the depth of our dilemma touched my sul.
Then, Bill's words, "Moms usually get to be "hands-on" with kids' school lives. I really want to be "hands-on" in their "religious lives." None of his four brothers are raising their children Jewish. I knew we wouldn't be celebrating the life-cycle events of nieces or nephews.
Always seeing the "glass as half full," we never gave in to the many nay-sayers. To the best of our ability we made our decision, keeping sight of our goal of worshipping together. We are raising our daughters, Stephanie and Danielle as good, faithful Jews, while Bill and the girls participate and share in my Catholicism as respectful, knowledgeable, and caring supporters.
We do this through our involvement in our dual congregations: Bill--Congregation President; Stephanie and Danielle--Youth Group Leaders. I coordinate a community interfaith couples group and teach 10th grade religion for our parish. We share our Jewish traditions with Christian friends; we invite Jewish friends to parish events.
Our family rewards are many. Our daughters became Bat Mitzvah under the proud, loving eyes of their Jewish and Catholic grandparents. Comforting prayers at my father's memorial Mass in New York, a respectful recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish for him in Tampa. Two perspectives of the same Scripture reading: one from Friday night's pulpit, one during Sunday's homily.
My Catholic faith is based on Scriptures, good works, and community worship. So when people ask how can I, as a practicing Catholic, raise our daughters to be Jewish, I want to ask back:
"So, you are really asking me (according to the Gates of Prayer), how can I raise our daughters to honor father and mother; perform acts of love and kindness; attend the house of study daily; welcome the stranger; visit the sick; rejoice with bride and groom; console the bereaved; pray with sincerity; make peace when there is strife; and study the Torah?
In my good faith, how can I not!