I was raised in a traditional Irish Catholic family in a suburb about 25 minutes South of Boston. As a young girl, I attended church most weekends with one set of grandparents or the other.
When I became a teenager, our dad had a rule that we either had to make it to 4 p.m. Mass on Saturdays or be up for Mass early Sunday morning. Most weekends, I chose the Saturday Mass. I attended CCD classes, received all my Sacraments, was married in the Catholic Church, and even taught CCD (or Sunday School) classes.
When my son was born, his father and I baptized him into our faith without hesitation or question. Growing up so close to Boston, it was as if other Irish Catholics were the only kids I went to school with, played with, and later worked with. I even married another Irish Catholic. I did everything just as a proper Irish Catholic girl from the Boston area should.
Until I didn’t.
In 2011, after a 10-year relationship and a four-year dysfunctional marriage, I made the gut-wrenching decision to end it and filed for divorce. Divorce is a huge no-no among us Irish Catholics – all Catholics, actually. Long thought to be a mortal sin, this school of thought is just now slowly starting to evolve.
To date, some priests still refuse to accept confession from someone who has been divorced. I know this because it happened to me. The priest at our then neighborhood parish, where my son attended CCD and would soon receive his First Holy Communion, flat out refused to accept my confession, instead pushing annulment paperwork on me. But I digress.
Shortly after separating from my husband, a dear childhood friend and I reconnected. Our friendship blossomed into a beautiful, deeply meaningful, supportive, and loving relationship. In what seemed like a whirlwind, we were engaged to be married. There was only one problem: as committed to my Catholicism as I was, my new fiancée, Mike, was just as committed to his Judaism.
Raised in a traditional Jewish home, he attended a year of Hebrew School for every CCD class I attended. As I was receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, Mike was making his Bar Mitzvah. While I taught CCD classes, Mike’s mother had spent decades working for their family Temple.
We were at a crossroads. Or were we?
Mike only once asked me if I would consider converting to Judaism. When I emphatically responded no and explained to him how very sacred my faith was to me for so many reasons – including memories of time shared with my beloved grandparents and the fact that my son had been Christened a Catholic – Mike casually responded with, “I figured I’d at least ask. No biggie.”
No biggie? What were we going to do? Where and by whom would we be married? And what about potential future children? Would they be raised Catholic or Jewish?
After frantically drilling my very calm and level-headed fiancée with all of these questions, the answers became crystal clear. It really was no biggie. We would blend our respective faiths and traditions, each one of us respecting the other’s.
Our first holiday season spent living together as a family was wonderful. Mike taught Jack, who was now five, how to make potato latkes, just as his father had taught him, and Jack loved learning to play Dreidel!
The trip to the local nursery to pick out our Christmas Tree was a first for Mike, as he had never before had one. Mike’s introduction to Jack’s Elf on the Shelf, “MJ”, was quite hilarious, as he had never heard of the concept, much less been responsible for ensuring that MJ didn’t lose his magic.
The first night of Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving that year, and we spent it with my in-laws and now brother-in-law’s Irish Catholic girlfriend and her family. A chef, Mike had to work early Christmas morning that year but was able to experience one of my most adored traditions with me and my family: Christmas eve at Nana’s house.
Each new experience and tradition we shared with one another went off without a hitch. In fact, we soon learned our differences actually helped to bring us closer. Admittedly naive and grossly uninformed about the Jewish faith, I loved learning about it from Mike, and he seemed to enjoy learning about my faith as well.
The best thing about our newly blended, Interfaith family was what it offered Jack. Jack had the unique opportunity to learn about both Mike’s faith and his own. Judaism is the foundation of Catholicism. Jesus himself was a Jewish carpenter. What better way for Jack to learn about his own Catholicism than from the very beginning, the origins, the foundation?
Unfortunately, it is all too common for a child growing up in Boston to learn that “they” are different from “us.” Our city’s history speaks for itself; we haven’t always been the most open-minded place. I don’t have to worry about that with Jack, though. We have been blessed with a wonderful man who loves and supports us both, and who happens to be Jewish. Jack loves Mike and would never see him as “one of them” or “other.”
It’s been four years since that first holiday season we spent together as a family. We’ve been through many changes, including two cross-country moves. Each holiday season is better than the last, and Jack knows more about Mike’s faith at nine than I did at 30 when we became engaged. Mike and Jack have developed an unbreakable bond based in mutual respect, trust, and love. And Jack is growing into a well-informed, tolerant, and open-minded little boy.
For all of this, I will be eternally grateful.
Mike and I were married in 2015. As for my panic-stricken wondering about where and by whom we would be married, it turned to be “no biggie” after all. We had an intimate ceremony with only our two closest friends present, and Jack escorted me down the aisle, in Las Vegas!