Taking the First Step: Realizing I’m Lucky to Have to Explain Why Judaism Is Important to Me

By Julie Slotnik Sturm

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In her monthly column, “Taking the First Step,” Julie Slotnik, a Jewish woman, writes about her experiences in the Introduction to Judaism class she is taking with her Lutheran boyfriend.

Our class tonight started off like a rainy Friday afternoon in grade school; we watched a movie. Not a movie exactly, more of a visual aide. Our teacher showed an old episode of the television show “Thirty-Something,” which explored a prime dilemma for an interfaith family.

The main characters are a married couple: Michael is Jewish and Hope is not. They have a daughter and have just had their second baby, a boy. Up until this point they haven’t participated in Jewish rituals or religion in general, but now Michael wants a bris for his newborn son. Hope isn’t necessarily opposed to the act of circumcision and the Jewish ceremony that accompanies it, but she insists that Michael explain why it is important to him before she agrees to have one. For Michael, this demand is different and more challenging than a typical argument would be; he has to search for answers from within. After doing some hard thinking about himself and his own upbringing, he comes to understand why establishing a Jewish covenant between his son and God is important to him.

After watching the episode, Marc comments to the class that the Michael character is lucky to be with a non-Jewish woman. Because of Hope, he re-examines who he is and what being Jewish means to him. This is so true, and I feel proud and happy to be with Marc when he makes this observation. I, also, had realized that I’m in the same boat as Michael. The reason I am attending this class is to learn and grow because of a challenge placed before me, the challenge of an interfaith relationship. By having a man in my life who is not Jewish, I no longer find it acceptable to just say, “I’m Jewish, and I want a Jewish home and Jewish children and that’s the way it is.” Now I have to know why. And the reasons and answers don’t come easily. I am thinking and studying. I am choosing to be Jewish.

Being with Marc and thinking about a future together has made me more aware of and interested in my Jewish identity. If I were living with and loving another Jew, I wouldn’t be taking this class in the first place. I wouldn’t be actively looking to fill in the Jewish blanks that fell out sometime between ages 13 and 30. I probably would have continued to float through my Jewish life based on the fact that I was born and raised that way. That would have been simple, but would not have compelled me to truly understand and to engage myself, as I am trying to do now. With Marc in my life, my choices and actions are more deliberate, more thoughtful. Kind of ironic that it took someone outside my faith to prompt me to get more interested and involved, or maybe it makes perfect sense.

Some people say that its easier to marry within the same faith. And they are probably right, but to quote Marc’s father, “Nothing easy is interesting.” Plus, it may also prove more rewarding and exciting to be with the person you love, regardless of religion. If Marc and I choose to make a life together, I know there will be challenges, but I think they will be worthwhile ones. Everyone faces obstacles at different times in their lives. I’m thinking about my friends: Karen’s father died two months after her 13th birthday, Ashley has been trying to have a baby for two years, and Jennifer grew up on welfare. They have their challenges, I have mine. Maybe God is challenging me to live happily and thrive in an interfaith relationship. Or maybe this is one I’ve chosen for myself.





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About Julie Slotnik Sturm

Julie Slotnik Sturm is a freelance writer and producer in New York. She has been part of an interfaith relationship for over four years.