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Interfaith dating

Monday, March 5, 2012
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This week's question comes just in time for me to point you to tonight's Topics on Tap program about Interfaith relationships portrayed in film. We'll be at the Black Sheep at 7:00 watching movie clips, grabbing a drink and learning about this important and relevant topic!

Dear Miriam,

I'm engaged, and my fiance is converting to Judaism. We're taking classes together, starting to do Shabbat at home, and really loving the transition, but we're getting pushback from some friends and family, especially on his side. How can we balance our excitement about our journey with our disappointment of not being accepted by those we love?

Signed,
Interfaith, but  not for long

Dear Interfaith,

Mazel tov! It sounds like you've found a wonderful guy, and it's great to hear that you're figuring out what your Jewish lives together will look like. What's also wonderful is that they're your lives, and you get to make your decisions based on what's best for the two of you. Of course you want your family and friends to celebrate with you and be happy for you, but figuring our your priorities is the first step.

An important piece of advice for Jews by choice in general is to find a Jewish community. It's hard for anyone to be Jewish alone, especially if a person is only just discovering what being Jewish means. Of course, your fiance has you, but even a Jewish couple can't exist in a vacuum. So go to some Jewish happy hours, check out the myriad of 20s and 30s events in Philly (if that's your demographic), visit area synagogues, meet with rabbis and clergy who might be able to connect you with other couples in similar situations.

I also encourage you, as difficult as it is, to be patient. Most brides are not known for having that particularly quality in abundance, but it doesn't sound like your immediate concerns are even about wedding planning, so maybe you can take a step back from things and examine the situation. Maybe his family feels like he's abandoning them, or that he's rejecting his upbringing. Maybe he hasn't told them details of the conversion process and what it means to him, so they feel left out of this huge life event. Maybe, just maybe, you're projecting some of your own apprehension onto your loved ones.

There are a dozen other scenarios that could be going through anyone's mind, and none of these possibilities are meant to be criticisms in any way. Conversion is a big deal, and so is marriage, and it might take some people a little longer to get used to the idea than others, which doesn't mean they won't eventually come around and embrace you, your fiance, and your decisions, hopefully in time to dance at your wedding.

You can help your fiance's side by inviting them to celebrate Shabbat and holidays with you, making your celebrations accessible to newcomers and joyfully and graciously continuing to join them for the holidays from your fiance's tradition. As for your side, you can remind them that converts have a long and welcome history within Judaism, and you can send them this article for some proof.

However, some people may never embrace you as fully as you would like, and that's where you and your fiance will need to rely on each other and the strength of your relationship and your commitment to Judaism. This article has some helpful things to say about lingering negative attitudes, which might provide the two of you with tools for responding to criticism. I also suggest interfaithfamily.com, which provides a lot of resources for you as a couple and for your family and friends.

Wishing you and your fiance lots of luck! Be well,
Miriam

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