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
"If you do not understand God, then you will not understand the Trinity" [a Christian concept of the three aspects of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit]. This statement, uttered by my Anglican priest, crystallized my spiritual discomfort, and became the motivation for my eventual journey to Judaism.
I heard the priest's words while attending a service at an Anglican [Episcopalian] church, just weeks before Dave and I were to be married.
I had grown up in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, an only child whose extended family--cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents--lived nearby and actively belonged to our small neighborhood Anglican church.
During my teen years I tried to find faith and forgiveness within Christianity. For me, it did not work. This was disappointing, as I knew many other Christian women who believed deeply.
As a student nurse I encountered life and death on a daily basis. However, I was usually too fatigued to contemplate deep religious questions. I met Dave during my second year of nursing school. After graduation we married, and I moved away from my parents and their religious associations. Although religion had been a significant part of both Dave's and my early lives, we rarely discussed religious issues and didn't join a church.
Then, five years after marrying, I went back to university. Attending a humanities course afforded me an opportunity to engage in the God question. I began to read extensively about various Eastern religions, as well as about Quaker, Unitarian, and Humanist groups.
When I gave birth to our daughter, my father asked if I planned to Christen her. I had to answer no. I could not do a Christian affirmation ritual, or commit myself to educating a child religiously, and then not follow through. I had the simple excuse during those early days that our children could make up their own minds about religion "when they grew up."
As our daughter grew older, I began having second thoughts about foundational religious education. I thought more about my life and our child's development. I felt that I would not be fulfilling my parental obligation by neglecting to provide religious education. I was thankful that my parents had provided that for me. But still, I wasn't sure what sort of religious education we should offer her.
I was working part time when I met my Jewish friend, Miriam. As our friendship developed, I inquired about Judaism over many pots of tea. Miriam and her family belonged to a Reform congregation. Since I was so interested, she extended an invitation to attend a service one Friday night. I accepted out of curiosity, but was soon looking forward to going regularly.
I was moved by the prayers for peace and justice--these Jewish values that expressed my deepest wishes, and in such a poetic way. Friday night services soon provided an oasis in my runabout life: Shabbat, the Sabbath, what a gift!
I observed that Bar and Bat Mitzvah (when someone assumes the obligations and privileges of an adult Jew) celebrations gave a young teen a positive sense of mastery, and a sense of support from the community. The young adults read publicly from the sacred text at a time when their lives surely were in flux. This moment then anchored them with the confidence of a solid identity for the adult journey they were about to begin.
I decided I would like to become Jewish, but Miriam had doubts. She said I would have to convert, but that this was probably out of the question as Dave was not Jewish. I was very disappointed, but decided to call the rabbi and ask directly. I was startled by the rabbi's first comment: I could not have a Christmas tree if I became a Jew. Well, this was not a problem for me, I responded. I had been having negative feelings about pressure to buy gifts and have a tree when, clearly, I was not a practicing Christian.
The rabbi asked to interview Dave. He did not want to sponsor me for conversion if it would create family problems. The rabbi's second appointment with Dave confirmed that my husband was supportive of my decision to convert and to later enroll our daughter in religious school.
Finally, after all these years of questions about God and theology, I was able to wrestle with many different answers from rabbinical sources. I could dialogue, engage in debate, and study generations of interpretations! It had become more than asking questions and receiving answers. It was an intellectual challenge, and I loved it!
Upon completing the classes required for converts, and after several discussions with the rabbi, I went to a mikvah (ritual bath). This water immersion ritual transformed my identity status from questioning searcher to Jew. I was named officially in Hebrew: Shira Aliza. I had joined more than a Reform Congregation, I had adopted a people, and they have nurtured me spiritually for the past twenty-three years.
This has been my journey to Judaism. Today I feel contented and "at home," spiritually and socially. My family was introduced to the traditions, holidays, and home rituals. Six years later, just before our daughter's Bat Mitzvah, Dave also became a Jew. He, too, had been quietly working out his relationship with God.