Interfaith Marriage and You
From a woman of WISDOM, Fran Hildebrandt, comes a personalized list of ideas and suggestions for your own interfaith marriage.
5. Attend services of the other person’s faith and participate in family holidays.
See if each of you can feel comfortable doing this. According to Jewish law, a child born of a Jewish woman or a convert to Judaism is Jewish. At the beginning of our marriage, we agreed that our children would be raised Jewishly. We would actively help each of them to develop a strong Jewish identity that would be religious, cultural, and social. Since we did not have a Christmas tree in our home, our family spent Christmas with my husband’s parents. The boys understood that Christmas was not their holiday, that it was Grandpa’s and Grandma’s holiday, but they were allowed to enjoy it, as Jews, and not feel guilty. Easter oft en falls right during Passover, so we handled it differently as the boys got older. Sometimes I would bring kosher for Passover food with me to serve at my husband’s parents’ home. Other times they came to our home on Passover and I would serve a kosher for Passover Easter dinner. Both sets of grandparents were friendly toward each other, so we were able to spend birthdays and Mother’s Day and Father’s Day together.
4. Take a class that presents an objective point of view of the religion of your partner.
It’s another opportunity to learn if you could be comfortable being part of someone else’s faith. It’s hard to combine faiths on a daily basis. My husband and I maintain a Jewish home in which we keep kosher and observe the holidays. (Our friends and family are both amused and amazed
at how well my husband can conduct a seder.) I am active in my synagogue. My husband attends services and synagogue functions with me. He maintains his own beliefs but is able to integrate them with my practice of Judaism. We have tried to have a marriage that is based on love and mutual respect for each other’s beliefs.
3. Talk to couples (as in more than one) in interfaith marriages.
Learn firsthand some of the joys and pitfalls that a mixed marriage creates. Living overseas also shaped who I am today. My husband and I, along with our two oldest sons, lived in Medan, N. Sumatra, Indonesia for two years. We lived and taught in a Muslim community. This was an amazing chance to experience other cultures and, as a Jew, it was especially gratifying to feel accepted by such a diverse religious community as existed in Medan. Today I teach high school English in a very non-Jewish community; I don’t know if I could do this so successfully without the childhood and life experiences I’ve had.
2. Talk to your children.
Having an interfaith marriage has given my sons a different perspective on spirituality and diversity. They have much more respect and appreciation for various spiritual and cultural traditions. My sons have had opportunities to see religion function at its best and also the way it can create suspicion and separation. Our family experiences have taught them the importance of communication combined with love and respect.
1. Compromise, compromise.
I give my husband a lot of credit, because he has had to make more compromises than I have. One of the benefits of having a husband like mine is having a partner who respects and honors Judaism. The more I’m around people who are not Jewish, the more it makes me appreciate my own religion. We’ve been married for 35 years—together for 41 years—and my husband has really helped to make me a better Jew.
Read the stories from the Women of WISDOM:
This advice about interfaith marriage is part of a collection of personal stories from Friendship & Faith, a book that delves into the decisions and experiences about faith and friendship shared by a group of Detroit-area women. This particular story about female friendship and the obstacles faced is by Fran Shiovitz Hildebrandt, a woman of WISDOM.
Want more? Read another story or check out Friendship & Faith.