How Religious Differences Came Between Us

By Elyn Perzley

October, 2005


The romance was a whirlwind. I am an observant Jew, he is Catholic; I’m a Democrat, and he is a Republican; I come from a small Jewish family, and he comes from a large, close, Catholic family. We spoke of our differences and what we have in common and decided we could make our relationship work despite the differences.

Rod and I were married on a Sunday by a mayor in my brother-in-law’s home. My parents agreed to come and accept us as a couple. Rod agreed we would keep kosher in our home and celebrate the Jewish holidays and Sabbath. Unfortunately, this became an issue with my in-laws, for they felt that I was forcing my religion on my husband. Rod’s dad was accepting of our life choice, but his step-mother and siblings began to show their dislike of me and resentment of the fact that we keep kosher. They had been happy with me when I agreed to marry in the church (but it didn’t work out due to the church’s demand that I have my first marriage annulled) but were not pleased when they learned I would continue to practice my religion.

It was easy at first with all the holidays. We spent Christmas with his family and Hanukkah with mine, Easter with his and Passover with mine. The issue of food was a problem, but I managed.

My belief has always been that my husband has the right to celebrate his holidays, as I celebrate mine. The one thing I insisted on is that we not combine Christmas and Hanukkah. I did feel the coldness of my family and their disappearance during the holidays, for they refused to come to our home for fear of seeing that tree.

I knew in my heart that I needed to raise our children Jewish, but that they also had to have knowledge of their father’s religion. Rod and I talked about this and he agreed, more because of the relationship he had developed with my parents, for that relationship was extremely important to him. My parents treated Rod as a son, and Rod felt close to them. While his parents had been nicer at first, while my parents withdrew, after our marriage my parents reached out to Rod and his family withdrew.

We baptized the girls first and my husband’s family was present while mine were absent. Then our children were converted to Judaism and named in the synagogue. We planned it this way to please his family while also ensuring that our children would be Jewish. My husband’s family was invited but only a few showed up, and the absences of the others were felt. The conversion became the dividing line between his family and any acceptance of our daughters and me. The baptism of our oldest daughter was the last time his family ever stepped foot in our home.

Rod’s family wanted the girls raised Catholic and able to eat anything. In fact, one of his sisters made a statement that she could not wait to get the girls alone to have them try ham or bacon. Rod tried to explain to her that keeping a kosher home was a decision we had both made, but she refused to hear it. It did not matter that I went to RCF classes to learn about Catholicism in order to teach the children about their father’s religion.

I felt freer from family conflicts once we moved to a different part of the country. As the children grew, we celebrated all the holidays in our home. We taught the girls that we were Jewish and Daddy is Catholic. The girls from the start were taught to accept all people and to understand that we are all different.

Even coming home for visits divided the families. Rod’s family refused to step into my parents’ home and they refused to invite my side of the family into their home. We felt divided. We would have a get-together at my parents’ home for my side of the family, and then go to Rod’s family and have a get-together. We kept the families separated, for this was the only way to see Rod’s family. They felt I robbed Rod of his beliefs and did not want to hear how we were raising the children, nor did they want to hear that this was their brother/son’s decision.

Then we had to move for Rod’s job again, back to within two hours of both of our families. Issues developed around holidays, since Rod’s family would not come to our home. I knew the issues were due to us keeping kosher and that our home seemed like a Jewish home. We had nothing in our home, such as a cross, that would say a non-Jew lived here, but there were lots of mezuzahs and Jewish objects.

The children never understood why their father’s family didn’t acknowledge or accept the fact that they were Jewish. We explained to the children that Daddy’s family did not celebrate the Jewish holidays and that they felt that we should only acknowledge the holidays Daddy celebrated.

At Easter time I would buy kosher-for-Passover candy and place it in plastic eggs so my husband and the children could participate with his family in an Easter egg hunt. Our children’s eggs were always decorated differently from the others in order to tell them apart. I would make up an Easter basket using Passover candy and educational toys. I would ask my in-laws not to give our children candy, but instead books, stuffed animals, etc., but they would make sure the girls’ baskets were filled with candy.

The issue of food began to tear us apart from my husband’s family, but it also began to tear us apart from each other. My husband is extremely laid back and refused to speak to his family regarding food or any other issues. But after every visit with his family the girls would be crying because they had not eaten and upset that their relatives had tried to force non-kosher food on them.

I was not ready to let the food issue destroy us, and I began to try many ways to work this out with Rod’s family. I offered to have everyone at our home for the festivities. I offered to buy the turkey or chicken. I offered to do all the children’s Easter baskets. No matter what I did or said the answer was always NO! I sat down with one sister-in-law and discussed at length what we could eat and what we couldn’t. She said there would be no problems, but when we came to dinner there was pizza with meat and no plain pizza. The noodles had meat sauce and my daughters were hurt once again. I suggested that I could bring food so that our girls would eat this and it would solve the matter. This went well for three visits and then we were told this was no longer acceptable. Rod’s one sister spoke with her siblings and their spouses and convinced them that I need to do things as they do in their home, and that I should not be allowed to bring food. She felt this would force me to allow the girls to eat the food being served–that the girls would annoy me or Rod, and that we would give in. Rod supported our decision for the girls to keep kosher and we never gave in.

My side of the family, who were oppositional at first, has gone out of their way to make Rod feel comfortable. They continue to invite Rod’s family to their seder, but are always turned down. When Passover falls on Good Friday, they make Rod fish. He is Irish and they make him corned beef and cabbage. They send him appropriate cards for the holidays. Rod’s family has stopped sending cards for birthdays and holidays to the girls and me, but I continue to send cards to them.

Two years ago I put my foot down and told my husband that the girls and I would no longer be going to his family for the holidays, as it was just too hard on the girls. He accepted my decision. I have told him many times to go without us, but he refuses. At Christmas time we visit his older sister on the weekend following Christmas. At Easter time we continue to invite his family down and they continue to decline. Unless Easter is at Rod’s older sister’s home, we are not invited to anyone else’s Easter.

Our oldest daughter graduates this year from elementary school. We are planning a party for her. There will only be one party, not two, and Rod’s family will be invited; however we know they will not come. In two years our daughter will have her Bat Mitzvah and again Rod’s family will be invited. Our rabbi has promised they can participate in the service, but we doubt that will matter to them. We are now preparing her not only for her Bat Mitzvah, but to understand that religion is so important to some people that they are blinded by it and unable to accept others for what they are.


About Elyn Perzley

Elyn Perzley is a social worker (LCSW DSW) raising her children in the Jewish tradition.