When I had lunch with a clergy spouse, it lead to an interfaith conversation. I can’t say I agreed with his feelings, but I understood them.
New England is a weird place to move to. Especially if you move to a place that’s kind of far from a big city. J and I are lucky — we’ve made friends here because everyone we work with is a transplant. Those who aren’t in the same boat, struggle.
This is how I ended up out to lunch with the spouse of one of our clergy. It’s been about a year since we replaced our Associate Rabbi and Cantor. Both are extremely intelligent, kind women. One is married to a pastoral Rabbi, the other is married to a lawyer. The lawyer and I have the same sports affiliations, so we watched this week’s game at a bar.
We watched and talked and had a great conversation. Many of the things I had never thought about.
As he put it, as a woman in the clergy, she’d need someone who knew all of the traditions, was religious but was also ok with a female Rabbi. As a man raised Orthodox, but with a “rebellious streak” he was a perfect match.
We discussed a lot of the awkwardness that can come from clergy and their families getting too close to members and some of the factors at our own synagogue. That’s when he asked the question: Did you convert?
Seeing as I write about it on here quite frequently, even though I’m not totally public I’ve got no shame in talking about it. So I told him about how I had decided to convert. And how I changed my mind. It gave way to a really interesting conversation. Mainly, because nobody had ever put out how they feel about interfaith marriage, truly. In my experience, either people have been silent on the issue or tell me that it’s ok I did but their child never would. Either way, those people aren’t actually ok with interfaith marriage, but they make you think they might be.
Instead, he prefaced what he saying with, “these are my feelings and not my wife’s and do not hold anything against her.”
I was prepared for the worst. And I did worry about him seeing as our particular community has an overwhelming number of interfaith families. He really just wants to see where all these interfaith kids end up. Do they end up without a strong Jewish identity? Do they end up not wanting to be a part of the community? That’s his fear. That because of interfaith marriage and living inherently interfaith kids will not want to be Jewish when there is a choice to be a majority religion.
I get it, I do. My in-laws had similar fears about their grandchildren. And yes, in many circles any of our children will not be considered Jewish. It’s a lot to digest when some’s asking you about the future of culture. It’s a lot of pressure on the non-Jewish partner.
In truth, I wasn’t sure how to respond so I just said simply. Children as they become adults pick their own path. Some of my interfaith friends identify as Jewish, some identify as Christian, others don’t identify as anything. Even he grew up Orthodox and ended up Reform. There is no right way to find your own faith path. If we have two children and one ends up identifying as Jewish and the other doesn’t we haven’t failed. We haven’t prevented the survival of the Jewish people because the outcome could be the same if we were both Jewish.
I will say this: if our Jewish community wasn’t so open to accepting of a number of my non-Jewish traditions, we wouldn’t be practicing Judaism. Because the community was so open to working with us, we chose Judaism. If anything can help the survival of the Jewish people as so many fear, it’s opening the doors and loving those who want to be a part of the narrative.