I got married 23 years ago today. Okay, so our wedding wasn’t really big or fat. It was a relatively modest affair, in a tent in my backyard, organized in a matter of weeks. But it was a joyous occasion for us, and for the extended family on all sides: Reform Jews, Episcopalians and Congregationalists, Catholics who married in and became Protestants, and at least one Protestant who now attends a mosque. We had been dating on and off for 12 years, and any hesitation our parents felt about our intermarriage was outweighed by relief that we were finally getting off the fence. Anyway, the fact that my own parents had been happily intermarried for a quarter of a century by then, tended to mute any concern about religious differences.
When we decided on a rabbi and a minister to co-officiate at our ceremony, we signaled to our friends and family that we were going to respect and draw on both family religions. In 1987, there was no such thing as a community for interfaith families. The interfaith movement was actually born that same year, when a group of families in New York City set up an interfaith afterschool program for their children at the private Trinity School. By almost incredible coincidence, the minister closest to us and the one we chose to co-officiate, my husband’s wonderful first cousin, the Reverend Rick Spalding, co-taught with a rabbi in that interfaith afterschool program.
Both because of his immersion in the interfaith culture of New York, and his family ties to us, Reverend Rick gave a warm and personal reflection at our wedding, casting our interfaithness in a most positive light. For a rabbi, we had to scrounge around a bit, after the rabbi at my temple refused to officiate. Finding a rabbi who would perform an interfaith marriage seemed to require my parents to make sotto voce inquiries, as if seeking a connection for some sort of illicit trade. I was grateful when they found Rabbi Benjamin Rudavsky, a brave and controversial rabbi who understood early on that rejecting interfaith couples is not good for the Jews. For me, the balance of the family warmth provided by Reverend Rick, and the ancient Jewish rituals and language provided by the rabbi, seemed fitting and right.
Although we met with both the Rabbi and the Reverend to plan our interfaith wedding service, we did not really have a plan for raising our children. In fact we were not ready for children yet at all, and we waited seven years before having our first child. But the idea that Rick was teaching those interfaith kids in New York certainly planted a seed of possibility in our minds.
Just three days after marrying, we set off to spend three years in Africa, and later spent three more years in Brazil. Ten years went by before we found ourselves settling back in the US with an infant and a toddler, and looking to establish a coherent religious identity for our family. In the meantime, the idea of an interfaith community had spread from New York to Washington, and as fate would have it, we settled right in the suburb where the DC interfaith group was beginning to take off. The rest, as they say, is history chronicled on this blog.
Today, I celebrate our 23 years as an accomplishment: a journey of passion and adventure, but also of hard work and compromises. Disagreements? There have been many. But I can say, with total honesty, that we have never had a disagreement about religious practice or theology, or how to raise our children as spiritual beings. We have found our interfaith community to be a font of inspiration, emotional support, and intellectual stimulation. And the essential interfaithness of our marriage has inspired creativity and heightened our mindfulness of family rituals and shared values.
Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family by Susan Katz Miller, available now in hardcover and eBook from Beacon Press.