Before my husband and I got married, both sides of our families expressed a little concern about how we were going to navigate the waters of an interfaith relationship. Everyone in his family is Catholic. Just about everyone in mine is Jewish. People kept insisting that it would be so difficult for us — and just think of when we had kids! I have to say, I have found being in an interfaith relationship awesome for so many reasons. Here are a few…
No fights over where we spend holidays
This might sound superficial, but it is absolutely 100% amazing that we don’t have to “split” holidays. No “one Christmas at my family, the next at yours.” No battle over Easter, or which set of parents gets the first night of Rosh Hashana. Jewish holidays are with my family, Christian holidays with his. That leaves Thanksgiving as the single holiday of the year where we have to figure out what to do. (I solved that one by hosting Thanksgiving for anyone who wants to come).
We get to emphasize the things that are important to us
Everyone who practices any faith has some parts of the practice that they like more than others. For example, my mother loves Jewish music, both traditional and modern. Me, not so much. When you are the same faith, the stuff that one partner likes might not be the same stuff that the other partner likes. Since we’re each primarily responsible for bringing our practice to our family, we each get to do the stuff we enjoy. For example, we do Christmas with a Christmas tree, because that’s important to my husband, but we basically take a pass on Easter. I cook lots of traditional Jewish foods for many holidays, but, in my house, the singing is pretty much out.
A new appreciation for different customs
Before my husband and I met, he knew very little about the Jewish faith, since he grew up in a predominantly Irish Catholic environment. He has really enjoyed learning many of the different traditions and the reasons they exist. These aren’t just the formal rituals, but the fun little things, like trying to get the hottest horseradish possible for Passover. For a variety of reasons, I had been a real Christmas curmudgeon. Although it’s not my favorite holiday now, seeing the joy that it brings to those who celebrate has really helped me to soften my tone.
You learn to make hard decisions early on (and to defend those choices)
When we got married, we didn’t want a secular ceremony. I felt very strongly that I didn’t want a Catholic ceremony either. My now-husband and I talked it out, and we agreed to have a traditional Jewish ceremony that incorporated one or two Catholic-inspired rites, and we had an Irish blessing at the reception. My husband acknowledged that the religious piece of the wedding was much more important to me than to him, and he took on the responsibility of explaining those choices to his parents. We have been extremely lucky in that everyone has been very accepting of our decisions, but it was nice to know that we were presenting as a united front. Years later, we were faced with the decision of having a Christmas tree in our house, and I realized that, in this case, the right thing was for me to do what was important to him. It’s something I struggle with personally every year, but I also know that it is the right decision for our family.
Kids learn that there are different, equally valid, beliefs
We decided to raise our kids Jewish. They identify as Jewish. They go to Hebrew school. They celebrate Jewish holidays. They also know that Daddy isn’t Jewish. Contrary to what so many people warned us before they were born, this hasn’t created one iota of confusion. We believe different things. The very concept of faith means that you can’t ever prove it anyway, so we all just try to believe the things that make us the best people we can be. It’s astounding to me how easily children get this as an idea when so many adults struggle with it.
All that said, I realize that I have been exceptionally privileged to have both of our families accept us and our choices at face value, with virtually no problems at all. I am also lucky that most of our religious beliefs and practices are inclusionary. I would imagine that it would be much more difficult to be in an interfaith relationship when one partner is genuinely concerned that the other might go to hell for all eternity. However, differences in belief don’t have to be a detriment to a long-term relationship; in our case, they have served as a positive force throughout our relationship.