By Shifra Whitman
I would have never expected to end up in a serious relationship with a non-Jewish partner. That changed once I met Doug. I am very much Jewish and Jewish culture is extremely important to me. I typically steer very far away from the subject of marriage, but as our relationship progressed, all I could think about was, “What if we get married?”
I love and continue to seek out the community and family-orientation that the religion and culture of Judaism offers. While the interpretations and personal beliefs vary between different Jewish communities, there is a whole level of religious knowledge about the faith that brings all of us followers closer together. In these last few years as a Jewish educator (yes, I even dabble in Jewish education), I have been trying to move beyond the day-to-day life as a Jew to figure out what Judaism means to me on a very personal level. The last thing I was expecting to worry about was how to share these Jewish community experiences and understanding with someone who had no knowledge or appreciation for the faith.
The thought of marriage was the trigger for my concern. But after those initial two weeks, I finally figured out the root cause of what truly made me nervous. I realized that one of my highest priorities in life was to have children who are raised in a Jewish community and have a Jewish identity. Coming to this realization provided clarity for me, and as a result, relief. If and when the time came for Doug and I to have a conversation about our future and religion, I would at least know where I stood and what I wanted to say. As our relationship progressed, the thoughts of marriage faded to the background and I was able to just enjoy Doug for being himself and not obsess over the fact that he wasn’t Jewish.
Doug and I are opposites in almost every way. He is quiet and pragmatic; I am loud and creative. Doug attended Catholic school because the education was better, not necessarily because he or his family believes in Catholicism. My family threw me into various Jewish communities, circles, and educations, giving me a taste of many political, religious and social perspectives. Doug is a Midwestern boy and I grew up in New York City. He comes from a private and introverted family. My family is very boisterous, outgoing and loves to get involved in different communities. Doug is part of a cat-loving family and my family is more into dogs.
Our relationship doesn’t revolve around faith or religion. We are just like many other couples: we watch Michigan football on Saturdays, go to the movies once a month, devote a whole day a year to watching Star Wars (Episodes 4, 5 & 6), cook dinners for each other on a somewhat regular bases, and all of that good stuff. When a holiday rolls around, we celebrate it together. Doug comes to my apartment and partakes in Passover Seders with my family, and I join him at Christmas with his. Like any relationship, in going through the motions that our respective traditions call for, a new tradition has formed: our own special tradition.
Around ten months into our relationship, a bit of tension formed and we eventually realized it was because we hadn’t had, “The religion chat,” so to speak. One night, after a few drinks, Doug said quite bluntly, “I just want you to know that I don’t plan on converting." It seemed we were on very different pages and really needed to discuss our views, opinions and feelings on faith and religion. I told him that religion is a very personal thing and I would never force mine upon anyone, I just needed him to respect it. I explained my feelings about having children and raising them in a Jewish community in order to form their own Jewish identities. Thankfully, Doug had no objections to the prospect of our possible children developing this identity, and while he himself would not necessarily choose a Jewish path, he respected mine. Doug was honest with me and I was honest with him. There was no longer a blockade in the middle of our relationship and we could begin its progression again – what a relief.
It really is difficult having a discussion about the future if you and your partner aren’t necessarily ready for it. I know I felt much better after having that chat. All relationships require work and compromise. In our case, it involves religion. In someone else’s relationship, it could be geography, animals, lifestyle…etc.
However, the most important thing to remember is to be honest with yourself and with your partner. If you don’t agree on something and it’s a deal breaker, then your relationship might not last. If you can compromise, negotiate and work it out, it just might.
I love Doug and I know what we have is great. Will we end up getting married and having children? I don’t know and I am not going to think about that again for quite some time. What I am content with is that he knows what my priorities are and is willing to respect them. And I am confident that if differences come up in the future, we will be vocal, honest and figure it out together.