Interfaith Couples: No Longer Odd

Last Sunday,  I found myself serving as an après-theater panelist at that lively downtown institution, the DCJCC (Washington DC’s Jewish Community Center). Having spent much of my adult life as a sort of Jewish outlaw, wandering in the wilderness through two generations of intermarriage, I experienced both an illicit thrill and a sense of homecoming when I saw my bio on the DCJCC’s website.

Theater J at the DCJCC produced an affectionate and sophisticated revival of Neil Simon’s 1965 play “The Odd Couple.” Sitting between my husband and my rabbi in Theater J’s jewel-box theater, all three of us were snorting with laughter. I grew up watching “The Odd Couple”  television series in the 1970s, which wasn’t bad for television. But at Theater J, a perfect cast delivered each perfect line with perfect timing.

Then at the end of the show, I got to climb onstage and sit on the couch used by Oscar and Felix, alongside the other panelists: my husband, my two best rabbi friends, a Unitarian minister married to a Jewish woman, a Jewish woman married to a Hindu man, and a lesbian woman raised Jewish with a partner raised Catholic. Rabbi Tamara Miller organized the panel around the question of whether intermarried couples are “Odd Couples” in our society today.

Each of us answered, “no.” Collectively, as gay couples, interfaith couples, interracial couples, step-parents and adoptive parents, we don’t feel odd in 2010, at least not in our urban, progressive corner of the world. In fact, we have the chutzpah to feel we represent the norm. Rabbi Harold White suggested that rather than use the negative term “odd,” we define ourselves positively as in relationship with the “other,” keeping in mind that kadosh in Hebrew means both “holy” and “other.”

Theater J prides itself on pushing artistic and cultural boundaries, so “The Odd Couple” constitutes relatively tame fare for them. The next show to open there will be “Oy Vey in a Manger” starring the drag queens known as the Kinsey Sicks. By reflecting “The Odd Couple” through an interfaith lens, (in fact, by appearing on a panel at a JCC in the first place), I tried to provide a bit of controversy yesterday, though the audience was small. As I have often noted, many Jewish institutions find interfaith issues even more fraught than gay and lesbian issues: there are certainly rabbis performing gay marriages who will not perform interfaith marriages.

After my visit to the DCJCC this week–the first, I hope, of many–I was filled with cautious hope that some progressive Jewish institutions are finally beginning to acknowledge that those of us raising interfaith children really do want to stay connected to Judaism, despite our stubborn insistence on teaching our children about Christianity. During intermission at the play, I asked my rabbi if he would officiate at my son’s Bar Mitzvah. His reply: “Of course.” Perhaps it is slightly, well, odd, for a child with only one Jewish grandparent to plan a Bar Mitzvah. If anyone wants to argue that it is somehow bad for the Jews for my son to learn the Sabbath prayers, bring it on!

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6 Replies to “Interfaith Couples: No Longer Odd”

  1. Thank you, Susan, for this brilliant and wonderful posting. Here’s the full list of everyone who participated with you on the panel, including Rabbi Tamara Miller, the co-convener of this Scripture Unscripted: Multi-Faith Dialogues project that’s part of the Theater J discussion series.

    Thanks to Rabbi Harold White, Spiritual Advisor to the Interfaith Family Project and former Jewish Chaplain at Georgetown University speaks with non-traditional couples and families

    Thanks to Susan Katz Miller and Paul Miller.

    Thanks to Mark Hoelter and Karen Key. Mark is a Unitarian Universalist minister and Karen is a member of Am Kolel Congregation.

    Thanks to Robin Metalitz, a Reform Jew, who grew up going to Temple Sinai. Her husband Raj Gupta, the son of immigrants from India, is Hindu.

    And thanks to our house manager, the estimable Rev. Bonnie J. Berger, born and raised as a Reform Jew, ordained as an Interfaith Minister in 2006, and now chaplain, spiritual coach, and marriage officiant. Her partner was raised Catholic, received a masters of religion at Yale, and now has a Hindu guru.

  2. Thanks for these observations, Susan — I agree that my Jewish mother & non-Jewish father are not at all an “odd couple.” Nor did I think of myself as part of an “odd couple” when dating my lapsed-Catholic boyfriend, or getting engaged to him. His decision to become Jewish didn’t make us less “odd” for each other — or more so, for that matter! — but the journey that we embarked on as a result has probably made us pretty “odd” to other people, including other Jews. I’m sure we’re statistically much more in the minority by what we do (for example, he and I both now wear yarmulkes full-time, as well as observe Shabbat, keep kosher, and take active roles in lay-led Jewish services) than by differing in the faiths in which we were raised.

    I do note, though, that the performers of “Oy Vey in a Manger” are the KINSEY SICKS (not “the Sick Kinseys”): the name “is a play of words on ‘Kinsey 6,’ the end of the Kinsey scale defined as exclusively homosexual,” as our friends at Wikipedia tell us ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Kinsey_Sicks )…

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