Rabbi Marc Gellman
Q: I’m 24, Jewish, and in a relationship with a man who’s Catholic and of a different color. My parents don’t accept this relationship and insist I’m only trying to “hurt them” and haven’t tried to meet a Jewish man.
This is untrue. I love my parents and always have, even though our relationship has been rocky and stressful at times. I feel I’ve always done what they asked of me in the past, but this is a decision I need to make for myself. I understand their concerns and disappointment, but now they’re threatening to cut me out of their life, disown me and pretend like they never had a daughter.
My mother says I’m turning my back on our religion and race, but I’m not planning to stray from Judaism. I intend for my children to have the same connection to Judaism I felt growing up, and my boyfriend accepts this. To him, it’s most important to be a good person and to believe in God.
As for the color of my boyfriend’s skin, that should be a non-issue. He comes from a wonderful family, is very intelligent and cares about me more than I could have imagined possible. I’m ashamed, embarrassed and saddened by what’s going on. This whole episode is taking a toll on me physically and mentally.
I don’t understand how my parents could be so rigid and uncompromising. How do you stop loving your child because they disagree with you? Shouldn’t love be unconditional?
I’m my own person and I don’t need to agree with my parents on everything. I want them in my life, but I’m very happy with my boyfriend. I know I’ll have a great life with him and he’ll always love and cherish me. I need help. I’m in so much pain that it’s hard to eat, sleep or smile. I pray for the strength to get through each day. — Anonymous, via firstname.lastname@example.org
A: I receive so many questions about intermarriage I can’t count or respond to them all. Some refer to intermarriage between different Christian denominations, while some are inter-faith questions like yours. I recently answered a question from a couple with an angry atheist parent furious that her grandchildren would be raised with a religion. However, your pain and eloquence touched me, so let me give it a go.
I’ve tried to write you an equally eloquent response that could have come from sensitive parents. It may not reflect your parents’ sentiments, but they are mine. I want you to understand how they view things, not so you’ll agree with them but so you might understand them. Hopefully, reconciliation will come on the far side of understanding.
To our dearest daughter:
We will always love you, and even in the heat of this disagreement, we believe in you and are happy you’ve found love. We don’t care about the color of your boyfriend’s skin, and we don’t hate his religion. What we do care about is your life and your duty to preserve the faith and traditions of the religion in which you were raised.
Our task in life is not merely to find love for ourselves, but also to honor and preserve the spiritual legacy and traditions bequeathed to us. Hundreds of generations of Jews before you have lived as Jews and sacrificed as Jews, even in the face of terrible oppression and death. If they could preserve their faith through times of hell, why can’t you preserve your faith in times of freedom?
The idea that Judaism will end in our family with you for no other reason than that you met a nice Catholic guy is devastating to us. There’s nothing wrong with him or with his faith, but there is something right about our Jewish heritage, and this fact must be weighed, even against your own personal happiness.
Furthermore, we disagree with you because of the rights of your future children. A child needs to be able to walk into a church or a synagogue and in one of the two places be able to say, “I am home here.” Despite your protestations, your children may not be able to do that with one Jewish parent and one onlooker.
May God forgive us, but we’d be more able to accept your conversion to Catholicism than your present plan. At least then your kids would have a single religious presence in the home and full and clear support from both of you to give them firm religious identities. Of course, if your boyfriend were to convert to Judaism, we’d be more than slightly happier, but that is his choice and cannot be coerced.
Given the importance of the mother in raising children and your boyfriend’s seeming indifference to his religion, we encourage both of you to go beyond vague promises to a serious consideration of how you’ll raise your children. If he agrees to raise them as Jews, we hope you would ask him, “Why would you want to be active in raising Jewish children in a home with a Jewish wife and not want to be Jewish yourself?” There’s no good answer to this question, just as there would be no good answer to why you wouldn’t want to be Catholic if the decision was reversed.
We’re not here on earth just for ourselves, but also for something greater than ourselves. We apologize for any pain we may have caused you, but we don’t apologize for our beliefs. Your love has placed before you a tough choice. We pray you’ll make this choice wisely.
The problem you face is not us. We’ll love you forever, and if you marry this man, we’ll love him. However, we plead with you to understand that there’s not just one man on earth who can love you and marry you. We urge you not to end your search for the right partner with your present discovery of love.
God bless you in your choosing,
Mom and Dad
RABBI MARC GELLMAN may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.