Like many young women, I couldn’t wait to get married. I met my spouse in college when we were both 19, and we had been together ever since. We got engaged just a few days shy of my 24th birthday. We will celebrate nine years of marriage this summer.
I am Jewish, and my husband is not. He was raised Presbyterian, but now he doesn’t identify with any religion. Faith and our families were the topics of many conversations that we had before we got married. We even participated in premarital interfaith counseling with two different rabbis. It was important to both of us that we had a vision for the place of faith in our marriage, and especially the impacts faith would have when we decided to build a family.
For us, it was simple: he wasn’t “anything,” and I was “something,” so we went with a Jewish wedding and are raising our two sons Jewish. Being an interfaith couple brings lots of joys and lots of challenges. One of my biggest struggles was whether or not to change my birth name (maiden name sounds like some Grimm Bros. fairy tale to me) after marriage.
For a lot of women of my generation, our names are a key component to our identities. Many of us are educated, earned degrees, started careers, and published work under our birth names. I got married fairly young, 25, and couldn’t wait to get rid of my birth name: Rabinowitz. In my mind, this name is overtly Jewish, and I was judged on it before people got to know me. I assumed (incorrectly, I am sure) that EVERYONE I met knew Rabinowitz was Jewish. I am not and have never been ashamed of my Judaism, but I am careful with it. It is not something that I put out there the minute we meet; I decide when and with whom to share it. But with Rabinowitz I felt that there was no caution that I could exert because it was so obvious.
I know almost every Jewish young person and adult can relate to a time when they were told that they needed to be saved, were evil, killed Jesus, were going to hell, etc. In 1999 during my freshman year of college, I was asked by another college student if she could see my horns, and she wasn’t kidding.
So to me, leaving Rabinowitz behind and becoming Mrs. Palmer seemed great. Now I could be judged for me and not my name. Palmer was plain, simple, concrete, easy; all the things Rabinowitz was not.
However, when I became Mrs. Palmer, things happened that I didn’t quite expect. Namely, no one automatically knew I was Jewish. I didn’t share in the scan-the-class-roster-listening for Eisenbergs, Rosenfelds, Weinbergs, and Shapiros to give a nod to. Now, I had to seek those people out. And, what am I going to do? Go up to people and say, “I’m Jewish too!”? Do the secret Jew handshake? It was weird. It was something that I had never experienced and something that I hadn’t expected.
At times, I miss it. I miss people knowing that I am Jewish right away. I miss the ease and comfort of the automatic knowing. I miss the instant connections. Currently my active Jewish practice is in dormancy; as my boys get older (they just turned 2), I want to be more involved in a synagogue and other Jewish groups, but we aren’t there yet.
I am glad and proud to be Mrs. Palmer, but I do miss Miss Rabinowitz too.
Carrie Palmer is a mother, wife, educator, and general badass living in Saint Paul.