Mishegas, Religion

What Not to Say to an Interfaith Couple About to Get Married

For better or for worse, we’ve become totally accustomed to it. I am Jewish, my fiancée is not, and we are getting married. People feel they have license to say some of the most chutzapahdik things to us–mostly her–both online and in real life. We’ve chosen to have a Jewish wedding, raise Jewish children, and keep a Jewish home. Not that this is a defense, it’s just some background. Our decisions are enough of a threat to people that they feel the need to say pretty aggressive things to us. We had grown used to it and it wasn’t until my fiance was having a conversation with my mother (who affectionately calls my fiancée and her family the machatunim, as she should). My mother was shocked and appalled that people would say such things to our faces. This led me to believe that maybe there were others who thought we were skating by.

“You know your kids won’t be Jewish.”

“You’ll be living a fantasy land.”

“You won’t really have a Jewish home.”

“You’re doomed with an unpleasant process of kids who won’t be accepted by the majority of Jews” [isn’t the internet wonderful?]

Let’s be clear. I grew up under the auspices of the Conservative movement and have worked for the organized Jewish community. We’re very aware of what we’re up against and what our kids risk going through. I don’t expect our practice and observance to work for everyone, particularly those who don’t accept patrilineal descent. What I don’t understand is the vitriol.
What’s interesting is what has changed. When we were first dating, getting serious, and discussing marriage, the first question I got was either “so will she convert?” Funny enough, the variation she received was “so will you convert?” Putting aside the presumption that she would be the one to convert (that’s another whole discussion), why was she once viewed as a prospective Jew? What happened? I neither asked–let alone insisted–that she convert and she has not elected to. She’s comfortable and happy in her own faith. When it came to discuss children, there were no arguments. She was happy to support a Jewish home and children. In terms of the commitments like this that we made to each other, she’s actually in the lead. Just as I want to raise children who identify Jewishly, she wants to raise children who will identify as Latin@. To give you a sense of the score, she put Pesach dinner on the table when I got sick last year and I haven’t taken one Spanish lesson yet. No bueno.
As we approach our wedding, just two months away, I have to observe: the only person to ever say “hey, you’d make a great Jew, we’d love to have you,” is the wonderful Rabbi who’s marrying us. I understand that we’ve long been out of the business of proselytizing and I promise he didn’t make a hard sell. But, no one else has taken a look at what she’s already given to the community and suggested she join the team.
The goal should not be her conversion. I firmly believe that should be her decision. But don’t we want to make Judaism and the Jewish community look a little appealing, like a community others might want to be a part of? If, fundamentally, we’re not opposed to people joining, should we actively be pushing people away? Aren’t the people making the effort then the folks you’d want to further extend an arm towards? If we take conversion off the table, doesn’t the community want to support the parents that are trying to raise Jewish children, particularly in a time when many are pouring money into programming to keep kids Jewish? There’s a disconnect here.
Thankfully, we’ve mostly felt accepted. We’re smart enough to hang in circles where we’d be accepted. (It’s worth noting that one of the above comments came at what I thought to be a liberal-minded Jewish discussion taking place at a Reform shul.) These are the communities we’ll invest our time and love into, and we know will invest their time into us and the family we’re going to build. For those who take issue with the way we do things, consider that we’re not trying to spite your practice before you feel the need to say something.

5 thoughts on “What Not to Say to an Interfaith Couple About to Get Married

  1. I’m interfaith and I’ve heard worse. Much worse. We had to move from a conservative shul to a reform one because the kids were being actively shunned. I was called an idolator for letting them have Christmas with their grandparents and cousins. I love being Jewish and I’ve found that Jews are mostly nice to their own kind. Unfortunately, not so welcoming to outsiders. Also unfortunately, being interfaith makes the entire family outsiders in a lot of people’s minds. Be strong. It could get ugly. :/

  2. Beautifully written. Mazel tov on your upcoming wedding. Sorry to hear that you’ve received some insensitive reactions; it’s clear you will push through them but it’s also understandable why so many other folks would simply walk away – and then of course it’s their fault for “assimilating” out of Judaism right? Anyway brave piece, keep ’em coming!

  3. I’ve never heard “You’ll be living a fantasy land.” Perhaps that should read “You’ll be living IN a fantasy land” or “You’ll be living a fantasy LIFE”?

  4. You GO, Jake! Your fiancé kept pesach to show her solidarity to you!!! If that’s not commitment enough for people, screw ’em! We can’t wait to dance our faces off & jam out & FLAT OUT CELEBRATE YOUR LOVE AT YOUR WEDDING!!! Xoxox

  5. I am wondering where you live, Jacob? I live & work in the San Francisco Bay Area, a oasis of acceptance. When I read posts like yours I always wish I could move the couple here. We have many rabbis who perform interfaith weddings and we have a more active acknowledgement of this part of our family (population). I hope those who read your post will also read the data about the Boston Jewish community where the rate of interfaith couples has been studied and found to be higher than other communities. A fact which they attribute to the active interfaith programming in their city.

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