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Interfaith Struggle

Thursday, October 31, 2013
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Miriam,

I am  a 27-year-old male and come from a very traditional Jewish family. These principles have trickled down to me and I uphold them to the best of my ability. Even so, I met a Catholic girl in college and was in a serious relationship for 3 years. My parents have never been supportive of this, and to them, marrying out of the faith is destroying the blood line for future generations. Her side of the family, however, has been very supportive. They honor and respect my strong Jewish faith. They have even gone above and beyond to respect my dietary needs and learn about our holidays and traditions.

As with any relationship post-college, we wanted to know where it was going and if it was going to proceed to marriage. I brought up the issue of my family and what they felt. My partner agreed to convert our future children at birth and to raise the children Jewish. While I think this plan is an excellent one, I am still a little wary of it because it seems like taking a back road to achieve a religious goal.

Over the past few months, I have distanced myself from her. However, I find myself missing her being in my life and would love to try and make it work. I just don't know how and what to do about the differences in faith. I would be grateful for any advice you can send my way.

Signed,
Interfaith Struggle


Dear Struggle,

About a year ago, someone came to me in person with a story very similar to yours. Surprising myself, I suggested that her parents would probably come around. I told her that she should make decisions based on her life and not her parents' demands. She dumped her boyfriend shortly after, and I don't know where things went from there. 

I would have been inclined to give you the same advice, but her actions highlighted the fact that breaking with your family, even in the short term, is painful and difficult, and that romantic love doesn't necessarily trump everything else. So you're in a rough spot. Three years ago would have been the time to project into the future that maybe this relationship was going to cause problems. But, as I say all the time, now that you're here, you need to make some decisions. 

It's wonderful that your girlfriend's family is supportive and that she's comfortable having Jewish children and a Jewish home. While intermarriage might not be ideal, lots of people make it work and make positive Jewish choices for their families in the process. However, it's actually your reaction that makes me think your relationship is in trouble rather than your parents'. Calling your potential plan about future children "a back road to achieve a religious goal" makes it sound like you're not totally comfortable with the idea of a non-Jewish spouse. Maybe you get this view from your parents, which would be understandable. Regardless, if you have these doubts before you're even engaged, maybe this isn't the life path you want to follow.  

Raising kids and creating a family is hard. The conflicts might be over religion or bedtime or whatever, but you will have conflicts. You need to know that the person you're marrying is someone with whom you want to face and resolve those conflcits. You're missing your girlfriend and that makes sense — you've been together for a long time and thought about a future together. Missing her, though, is different from feeling confident that you have the tools to forge ahead in your relationship with your parents, your relationship to Judaism, your relationship to your future children and, of course, your relationship with your girlfriend. 

As I learned from the conversation I had last year, this is a profoundly personal decision that you need to make for yourself. You need to decide which priorities you're going to highlight for the rest of your life. In the process, you need to honor your parents. You need to respect your girlfriend and not string her along. You need to forgive yourself for getting into a situation with no good solution. You also need more support than I can offer in the space of this column. I strongly encourage you to check out InterfaithFamily.com, and if you're local, the Philadelphia-specific part of their site. Also if you live in the area, I invite you to join the Grad Network, Moishe House Philadelphia and the Collaborative this coming Monday night for Topics on Tap, where Robyn Frisch, the director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia, will be speaking. Robyn and the other InterfaithFamily professionals are fabulous resources who can guide you through the decision-making process, regardless of what direction you decide to go. 

Be well,
Miriam

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