Sometimes interfaith life can seem like we’re Sisyphus, where each time we think we’ve figured it out the boulder comes back down and we’re trying to figure it out again. We went from not caring about organized religions, to an almost Jewish couple, to decidedly interfaith leaning Jewish.
It’s been the leaning Jewish part that’s been a struggle.
You see, there’s a ton of interfaith websites out there to support you if you’ve chosen to practice Judaism. Interfaith resources where we are, despite an expansive Jewish community have proven to be hard to find. It seems like if you’re near a big city it’s easier to find interfaith communities. Even something like Honeymoon Israel which offers couples where at least one partner is Jewish a chance to explore Israel only runs out of certain cities. Since the goal is community building you have to live in those cities to go. (I’m hoping one will come to our area before we hit our five year anniversary!)
Our interfaith learning has been a lot of internet reading and a lot of talking to people who have been there.
The best piece of advice I got heading into an interfaith marriage was to have the discussion about who you in your faith early and as that evolves keep having that conversation. Since who you are at 19 isn’t the same as who are you are at 26 it’ll change. And when major life events happen things change.
It’s ok that those things change. But you have to be open and honest with yourself and your partner.
Bearing those things in mind, I realized I wasn’t happy where we are in our faith. You see it was really, really easy when I was going to convert. We knew where we stood and I felt like I had a home. Right now, I don’t feel like I belong where I started or where I was so even though I have a community, I still feel like I’m searching for a faith home.
Since I was young I’ve loved learning. I think I might have been the only Catholic kid to love CCD (even if the nuns weren’t a fan of my insane amount of questions.) Which is why it was pretty easy to fall into a system where when we decided we’d lean towards Judaism, I ended up studying and learning which in turn lead me learn more about J.
When you’re raised in a religion things end up influencing you as an adult, for better or worse. Service towards others and forgiveness are both huge parts of my life in part because of my Catholic background. I noticed in learning about Judaism his never ending optimism, the ability to always get back up no matter the struggle and a kindness to all he meets were traits that J had learned from growing up Jewish. And I realized that those were the things I loved most about him. I loved Judaism more because I learned it shaped the best parts of the man I married.
J didn’t feel the same about Catholicism. He doesn’t enjoy voracious learning about religions and cultures like I do. But J also met me when I was my angriest at the church and the angriest at G-d. I was probably not the best reflection of faith at that point and time. He didn’t think Catholicism reflected who I was and really had no interest in learning about anything with Christianity let alone Catholicism.
For a while, that was ok. But more than seven years later I’m not who I was in that portion of my life. And suddenly, seven years later I was annoyed at J. Annoyed that I spent four years learning everything about his religion and he never learned about mine. Annoyed that he seemed to have no interest in those things. Annoyed that I felt insignificant in my home. Because while I’m comfortable with my choice of us being heavily involved in Jewish life, I’m not comfortable acting like my years of Catholic education and upbringing didn’t happen. I was kind of annoyed that one wrong comment was going to make me lose it.
So after weeks of refusing to go to Shabbat services with me, J made a comment about a sermon that a significantly older cousin had printed and mailed us — I couldn’t take it anymore. It all came out at once.
In truth, he didn’t realize any of that was important to me. He thought it wasn’t. But he still couldn’t understand why I felt it was disrespectful to never engage in any learning about my heritage. To him, I made the choice to learn about Judaism, he didn’t ask that me. That part is very true, but I didn’t start learning about Judaism because I wanted to be Jewish. I started because I wanted to know more about my partner.
As we change, it’s been hard in our area to find the resources to support what we are and the family we’re becoming. So often interfaith services focus on one religion or, as I once read on a pamphlet, “how to involve you non-Jewish partner practices in Jewish ways.” But by altering other religions’ practices to make them more new Jewish it negates the experiences and the heritage of one person in the relationship. That can foster resentment when you’re feeling second best. In smaller areas communities that are promoting themselves as interfaith need to be better at serving interfaith families as they are, not one part of the family. Many places offer a “Mother’s Circle” program for women who aren’t Jewish but are raising Jewish children that “allows women to share their experiences, gain support for their efforts and learn about Judaism in a way that enables them to raise a Jewish child.”
That’s a wonderful program that I’m sure I’ll use one day! There should be a safe space for women who are in that position to connect.
But what about a program for Jewish partners to engage in aspects of the faith of their partner? Or one teaches parents how to involve other faith traditions and teaching in their Jewish or interfaith child’s life?
I’m not sure that J will ever want to learn about Catholicism. I’m not sure how big of a part it will play in our future family, we are ever evolving. For now though, he’s opted for asking me questions about how I grew up and researching traditions that we both feel fit who we are. Right now, I’m not sure I want anything else.