Bird and Rapinoe: A #GenInterfaith Love Story

For years, I used to get excited whenever I discovered any celebrity or author or artist raised in an interfaith family. I grew up feeling like an outsider as an interfaith kid. So I took great pleasure in stumbling on interfaith kids who rose to be newsworthy. I devoted whole posts on this blog to successful adult interfaith kids including baseball outfielder Sam Fuld, screenwriter Jason Segel, author J.D. Salinger, President Barack Obama and his half-brother Mark Obama Ndesandjo, and actors Paul Newman, Scarlett Johansson, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. Ten years ago, I even wrote a post bragging that I have “half-Jewdar” and could sense that these people were from interfaith families before even learning their histories.

Then, the demographics shifted. Over the past decade, I encountered so many adult interfaith kids in the halls of fame (from Drake to Pink) that I couldn’t keep up with writing about each of them. And in a world where adult interfaith kids are often now in positions of leadership, and interfaith families are the majority in some houses of worship, it didn’t seem so important to track each interfaith kid who made it in sports, music, film, books, or politics.

But today, I’m making an exception. Because Megan Rapinoe just led the US women’s soccer team to win the World Cup. And, she just happens to form one half of perhaps the biggest power couple in sports today, with girlfriend Sue Bird. Bird, a point guard for the Seattle Storm, has won multiple Olympic medals and is “the only player in history, male or female, to win four World Cup gold medals” in basketball. And Rapinoe and Bird were the first same-sex couple on the cover of ESPN’s The Body Issue. And this week, Bird published a fierce, hilarious response to our so-called President, who was trying to bully Rapinoe on twitter. Bird’s essay is entitled “So the President F*cking Hates My Girlfriend.” In short, you have to love this couple.

But how did Bird and Rapinoe end up on this blog? Weeks ago, Lex Rofeberg, a friend who is a rabbinical student and also an avid sports fan sent me a message about Sue Bird, pointing out to me that she is “the best Jewish (and, I just learned, being-both athlete) of my lifetime.” He included a link to this video interview from the Washington State Jewish Historical Society, in which she says, (at about 12:15):

My dad is Jewish, his whole side of the family is Jewish. My mom is Protestant-Christian. I did Christmas stuff just as much as I did Hanukkah stuff…It was kind of cool, I got the best of both worlds. I got to celebrate Easter with one side of the family, and then we’d have Passover dinner on the other side. I don’t necessarily identify one way or the other, I have both inside of me.

At the time, I kind of slept on this info, with the excuse that interfaith kids–even those raised with both religions, even those who identify with both religions–are now so common that I cannot write about each one. But after reading Bird’s piece in response to Trump this week, and watching the inspiring Rapinoe lead her team to victory today, I am utterly caught up in the story of this couple. It is a thrilling moment for women in sports: today’s victory may actually help to bring equal pay for women in team sports. But also, I have loved learning about Sue Bird–someone who claims the positive in her interfaith experience, leads her field, and pushes for social change. So, I’m just sending out mazel tov to Bird and Rapinoe on being so awesome, and sending out gratitude to the universe for moments of progress in dark times.

Susan Katz Miller is an interfaith families speaker, consultant, and coach, and author of Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family (2015), and a workbook, The Interfaith Family Journal (2019).

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