“It’s important to your Mom; therefore it’s important to me.” That one sentence Darin said to my daughter Alana sums up just how we can make our newly combined, interfaith household work.
Darin was referring to why he knew so much about Judaism. He had taken a Facebook quiz called “How Jewish are You?” and aced it. Darin, a Lutheran from a small town in South Dakota, had only met one Jewish person before meeting me.
Sure, it certainly helps that I am with someone who is extremely curious, open-minded and accepting. And it helps that our children have already started to establish their own religious identities prior to us meeting. But the fact Darin and I show interest in and have a mutual respect for each other’s religious backgrounds while staying dedicated to our own is what really helps make this work.
It hasn’t always been as simple as I am making it sound. We moved in together right around the winter holiday season. Darin had previously asked me if I felt comfortable having a Christmas tree in our home. I told him of course, why wouldn’t I? My own parents are each married to people of different faiths and I have great memories going to my father’s house and decorating their tree.
However, I was in for a rude awakening when the tree at our own home came out. I remember turning the corner into the room at the exact same time Darin stood the tree up. Tears immediately filled my eyes. I ran out of the room. I wanted to shout, “My Judaism is going away!!” between sobs. I stood in the hallway sniffling, and it didn’t take long for Darin to come and find me, hold me tight and ask me what he can do to make it better. (Yes, he’s that great.)
You see, up until that moment, I lived in my own little world and sometimes it didn’t occur to me that Darin was SURROUNDED in Judaica. Mezuzahs at every doorpost, a Menorah collection on the bookshelf; different artifacts representing Judaism in nearly every room! Even though my symbols of Judaism were much smaller in size than the tree, they stayed up year round. If he can be so accepting of my religious treasures, I knew I needed to chill out and not only accept the tree, but embrace the people who experienced the joy of decorating it and what it meant to them.
I thought about what I needed to do to not only make myself feel better, but how to make Darin and his kids more comfortable. I decided to take one of Darin’s daughters out on a shopping excursion. The tree didn’t have a lot of decorations and I knew she would enjoy filling it with some shiny new ornaments. We shopped together, picking out adorable ornaments representing each kid. As we were just about to finish up, she exclaimed, “LAURA!! LOOK!!!” There, on a little end cap, were Hanukkah ornaments. My eyes filled with tears yet again as I watched her pick out something to represent me and my kids.
Darin and his amazing children have not only introduced me to their community and traditions, but he has also challenged me to learn more about my own religion by remaining curious about it. Nothing like someone trying to learn about your faith when you realize you are unable to answer questions about it!
One of our first experiences with this was when Darin accompanied me to a Bat Mitzvah. Feeling lost during the service because it was spoken in a different language, he asked me, “Why is nearly everything in Hebrew? It makes it very hard for anyone who doesn’t know the language to follow along and participate in the service.” Hmm. Good point, Darin. I tried to explain why the service is primarily in Hebrew and why learning the language was important. His response: “Well, do you know what you are actually saying?” Oy! No Darin, I don’t. But look – I can read below in English (most of the time!) what the translation means and you can too!
Darin has accompanied me to a Bat Mitzvah, a Shiva, and most importantly our monthly Shabbat havurah for nearly a year. He has used these events as a learning opportunity for him while showing me his support for what is important to me.
I try to show him the same support. A few months ago, I accompanied him to a funeral at a church. Yikes, this Jew forgot that other religions have open casket funerals! I tried my best to remain open minded and not freak out while I stood next to the body. I also had to remind myself that during the service, I wasn’t allowed to talk. Not that talking is encouraged during any service at the synagogue; it just somehow happens that everyone does it. I sat quietly during the service and took the time to recognize the similarities as well as the differences between a service at a church and a service at a synagogue.
I began this journey with an open heart, mind and much excitement about the joining of our households. What I have learned is that in order to combine any family, you need to be open to each other’s culture, beliefs and traditions. Despite a few of my emotional hiccups, I have managed to blend my family with Darin’s, keeping some of our traditions the same while also creating new ones. Darin and I continue to learn about each other, work together as partners and do the best we can to unify our families.