There are not two options anymore, interfaith or Jewish, and the situation is not black and white.
By Allison McMillan
On our third date, I told my non-Jewish boyfriend that I never wanted a Christmas tree in my house. I explained that it was fine if he had special memories of Christmas or Easter, and I would understand if he wanted to pass those memories onto his children but if that was the case, then I wasn’t the girl for him and we should move on before going further. His response (beyond being slightly taken aback) was that he was okay with that idea as his cultural ties to those holidays were not strong and he was an atheist and did not have any religious connection to the holidays either.
That non-Jewish boyfriend and I have now been married for almost two years and have spent the last five building our Jewish home together. He reads books like “The Shabbat Dilemma” and works from Mordechai Kaplan to establish his own beliefs and Jewish identity. He does kiddish and motzi on Friday nights from transliterated prayer sheets. We go to Megillah readings, conduct passover seders, and celebrate all the Jewish holidays in an inclusive, explanatory way that makes both of us and our friends feel comfortable.
But my husband has also decided not to convert, at least not right now. We understand that large swaths of the community will not accept the path we have chosen, but our biggest issue is that we are labeled an “interfaith” couple. The term does not describe who or what we are. We are not trying to join two faiths together in our relationship. He is not halachically Jewish but he is also not anything else. We are a “faithist” couple… one that tries to connect two partners’ point’s of view, one Jewish with a belief in a higher power and the other, an atheist looking at different interpretations and connections to Jewish traditions and customs. We are intermarried but not interfaith.
I read posts and articles every week about interfaith couples and the inclusion or exclusion of them in the Jewish community. For many today labeled “interfaith” couples, the resources offered are not appropriate for how we are looking to integrate and be accepted by the Jewish community. There are not two options anymore, interfaith or Jewish, and the situation is not black and white. There are many shades of grey and plenty of different phrases that can and should be used in place of interfaith. Organizations, synagogues and the Jewish community as a whole need to be aware of this new paradigm and how it changes the needs and desires of faithist couples entering the Jewish community.
Allison McMillan (nee Sheren) is the former University of Michigan Hillel Program Director and Israel on Campus Coalition Managing Director. She is now a software engineer at General Assembly.