March 10, 2010

The Interfaith Lecture/Panel: Surviving the Trenches

Posted in Interfaith, Judaism at 5:37 am by chavalah

An interfaith girl stands below a stained glass depiction of Jesus in “Mixed Blessings”

Last Sunday, you might’ve read in my other blog, I attended the Partnership for Jewish Life and Learning’s Routes conference. With 70 sessions in seven hours, I had a daunting task before me. I wanted to attend lectures on Jewish culture, art, local flavor and religion. And, like usual, like a Presley stepping through Memphis, I had to pay respects to my roots. My “interfaith,” “mixed marriage, ahoy!” roots.

There is a marked atmosphere I have come to expect from every interfaith lecture I’ve ever attended at a Jewish venue. Take, for example, that I had just come from an exciting preview of the exhibits at the up-and-coming National Museum of American Jewish History in Philly. The biggest question there seemed to revolve around parking accessibility. Then, down I go to the interfaith room with the terse faces and the never-ending angst of Is this phenomenon the greatest threat to worldwide Jewry ever?? I’m just glad I had my water bottle with me. 😛

A little more specifically, we were in the company of Jennifer Kaplan, creator of the documentary Mixed Blessings (you can guess the topic), who showed us a few clips and then answered our questions with dignity and grace. Dignity and grace are needed in interfaith discussions, I find. While most questionnaires at my other lectures showed enthused yet detached interest for the subject at hand, we were in the trenches. There is always that parent whose secular child has gone off and married a gentile, leaving the older generation to try and find a polite way to re-shove Judaism down their throats. There are always the couples themselves, cautious yet energetic about “their plan” to involve both Judaism and the other religion/culture in their lives. And sometimes we even have a divorcee, usually Jewish, who is trying to bring some stability to the kids’ lives in the face of a non-Jewish ex and in-laws.

…the more I think about it, these aren’t my “roots.” I texted my mother after the lecture to tell her of the intensity all around me, to which she sighed, “why don’t you go find the happy people?” “The happy people?” I thought to myself. “These are your people, Mother, this was your choice!” (At which point she’d blow me off if I wrote that, so eh. :P)

But it’s true that my parents (and theirs) were never as dramatic about their choice to intermarry as some of the people at these lectures are. As the most observant Jew in her household, I suppose it never occurred to my mother or her parents that she was betraying the Jewish people. My father broke from Catholicism long before I was born, and so long as we had access to his family and Italian roots, he had no qualms with the Hebrew school or bat mitzvah or anything that followed. (My father, in fact, has a curiosity for all religions, which he passed on to me, and my mother adores the Italian. Save for being in Italy in the middle of the summer without a glass of ice. :P)

I suppose my “roots” are actually indicating a more mellow path. I’m coming to the conclusion (bear with me, now, I’m a little nervous myself,) that intermarriage is not that big of a deal. I want to remind these parents that no matter if your kid gets with a Jew or a Martian, you can’t control his/her thoughts forever. All you can do is leave that door open, and have hope that his/her upbringing will lead him/her to the best choices possible. As for the couples themselves, I’m a little more hesitant to write this off as “pft, it’s normal, just do what you want!” (As the child of an interfaith marriage, I implore you please not to think of your children’s’ upbringing as a sociological experiment.) At the same time, however, we all have different cultures. Whether it’s Jew/Christian, Sephardi/Ashkenazi, Star Wars/Star Trek. Compromise is a necessity for every married couple (perhaps every person in a relationship of any kind.) Just trust your instincts, trust your partner, and do try for that more meaningful question of what you want down the line. But no matter what religion, or any other cultural indicator, you raise your child in, there will be bumps along the way. It’s all a part of the journey.

Meanwhile, I continue to look for the other interfaith lecture, the one populated by the adult children of mixed homes. If any of you find one, please let me know. 🙂

(Special thanks again to PJLL and the DC Jewish community for an amazing day)

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2 Comments »

  1. […] in Interfaith at 9:11 pm by chavalah Gather round, fellow mixies! Someone answered my plea from March! Of course, I forgot to specify that said event should take place in the Washington, DC […]

  2. […] frustration that the “interfaith” talk in the Jewish world has been largely commandeered by the “war trenches” mentality—that is, angry grandparents and defensive interfaith couples. There has rarely been a […]


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