Not Interfaith, Our Faith

By Susan Goldstein


I met Aniq in the spring of my junior year at college. It is now exactly a year since graduation and we are still together. I am from New York and Jewish, had a bat mitzvah (I can still remember a little of my haftorah if asked at the right moment). Aniq is Palestinian and Muslim, though non-practicing, as am I.

Born in Lebanon and having lived through a war fought mainly for religious reasons, Aniq’s earliest memories of religion are of division and violence. For him, it is what many close to him fought and died for.

My earliest memories of religion are of time spent sitting with my Hebrew school principal, after getting in trouble in my Hebrew school class. A typical misbehavior was to pretend not to know what the Passover afikomen was (so the other kids could have a chance to answer correctly). I also remember sitting with the cantor during my bat mitzvah lessons — his voice often sounded like a pre-adolescent dolphin.

And then my mother died. Judaism was important to her and had been to her parents. But it didn’t mean to me what it did to her, and I felt guilty. I remember her pine box sitting in front of the bimah (podium) and wishing all of it — the temple, the rabbi, the blessings, the rituals — meant something to me. Well, it did because I love her and she loved it, but I didn’t love it.

I am in a relationship now, not with the Jewish medical or law student my grandmother down in Delray Beach would love to kvell (swell with pride) over around the pool with Florence and Sylvia, but with someone I think my mother may have not completely accepted at first, though I wish she had had a chance to meet him anyway.

And what does it mean to his family that he is with a Jewish American? Aniq’s father is in the United Nations, and his immediate family is pretty neutral. His extended family’s feelings, however, are a little more difficult to define. His uncle, jailed in a military prison in Lebanon for spying for Israel during the war, and his other cousin, a former Arafat militant now banned from Lebanon, represent the two poles of his family. Certainly, when I go to Lebanon I leave my Teen Tour Israel ’94 T-shirt at home, the same way Aniq doesn’t argue with my grandmother from Delray Beach when she tells him it is awful what “they” are doing to Israel. We do these things out of respect and can do so knowing inside ourselves that we are not going to change the world. For us, religion has come to represent a system of stereotypes and ignorant assumptions, set on dividing and justifying violence and borders.

But non-practicing to us in no way means religion hasn’t and doesn’t play a role in our lives, that it isn’t a part of us, part of our upbringing and etched in our memories. Jewish culture in New York, like being Muslim in Lebanon, certainly brings along with it holidays and foods and days off from school, as well as opportunities for parties, fasts and family gatherings. It is in the traditions, the culture of our religions, that Aniq and I find personal meaning. Aniq doesn’t share memories of making hamentashen for Purim and potato latkes for Hanukkah, of begging to go to the bathroom during the adult service on the High Holidays or finding out that apples taste good dipped in honey, just as I don’t share the memories, food and traditions he grew up with or the war he witnessed in the name of religion.

So, sure, we are an interfaith relationship in every sense of the word, a Jewish woman and Muslim man living and loving together. And once all of the Osama and “are you a taxi driver” jokes have been exhausted and we are amidst family, at a company party, in a crowd or just alone, it is very clear to which faith we belong. One that cannot recognize difference the way the world chooses to, and one that cannot respect anyone who uses religion as an excuse to create differences, divisions, and even borders, geographic or social.

So, yes, I feel guilty that I have not taken in and found love in religion the way my mother did. But in the same way that she found something to love, something to have faith in, and something to celebrate, so have I.

About Susan Goldstein

Susan Goldstein is a pseudonym.