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
To say we are an interfaith family is one way to put it. I'm not sure if that definition fits. The way I describe our situation to friends, is that my husband and I were each raised without any religious or spiritual sense and realized we didn't like it. We were determined to provide for our children what neither of us had and embraced his religion, Judaism, as the right path for us.
Yes, I will admit, there are parts of my Christian background that were not easily left behind, such as Christmas trees and Santa Claus, but aside from that craziness in December we lead a Jewish life. So if that falls under the category of interfaith--so be it. Judaism, with its values based in learning, respect, and social justice, paralleled our values.
As a child, I remember never feeling like I really belonged with regard to religion. Friends would talk about religious holidays, religious school, rites of passage, and it all seemed foreign to me as a half-Protestant/half-Catholic who never attended church. Later, I went through difficult times during my teen and early adult life when I thought about praying, but wasn't sure how to pray or if anyone would listen to me.
My husband was raised by a Jewish father and a Christian mother but, again, there was much ambiguity in their home surrounding religion. When it came time for Hebrew school, he felt like an outsider, an imposter. The experience was negative; he didn't continue and never had a Bar Mitzvah.
So really when we were married (at ages 24 and 26), we were two young people searching for something. Don't get the wrong idea: getting religion wasn't the first thing on our list of things to do. We had new jobs, a new house, and long hours. We moved to Cincinnati, a new city where we had no roots. Before the move, my husband's grandmother passed away. After attending the services in Florida, my husband's father urged us to find a temple in Cincinnati where we could attend the High Holy Day services. We found ourselves in a wonderful congregation at the Isaac M. Wise Temple. What a special place.
We began attending adult Sunday school at the temple. We both enjoyed it tremendously. John started to attend an adult B'nai Mitzvah class and I did some volunteer work through the temple. Four years later I became pregnant. One Sunday morning after class the rabbi, seeing my large belly, asked me what we planned to do regarding the religion of our baby. I was surprised; I hadn't thought about it. I will never forget what the rabbi advised us that morning. She said, "You should decide now. Your child will pick up on your uncertainties very quickly. It could happen sooner than you think. Do not put this decision off."
Soon thereafter we made the decision to be a Jewish family. What did that mean? Not much really, because you see, we didn't know much. Soon after our son's birth we moved to Boston where, after all the relocation disruption was settled, we joined Temple Israel. Thank goodness for all of the classes and programs there and the caring guidance of the rabbis and educators.
John and I have been married almost fourteen years, so this has really been an evolution. We now have three children. The most beautiful thing I have witnessed is their growth. They have a very clear understanding of their Jewish identity. But they have so much more than that. They have traditions and structure and a kind of love in their lives that I cherish. They sing the Sh'ma before they go to bed every night. They help me set and prepare the table for Shabbat dinner. They cling to our Friday evening rituals as much as or more than I do. They come home from religious school full of stories from the Torah, they know the songs at the services, and my 6-year-old daughter tells me about God. The ease and comfort they feel with everything that I felt so unsure and uncomfortable about is wonderful.
Not to be forgotten, however, are the inner children, John and I have found and nurtured through this process. We have each discovered a spiritual side to our lives. For me, this has fostered an awe I feel in the world everyday and the thankfulness and love I feel for my family and friends. John has demonstrated spiritual leadership in our family and is a role model to his children in how to lead a balanced and purposeful life.
Our commitment to a Jewish life is not really a choice anymore; it is who we are.