My extended family is the most colourful and vibrant family you could find anywhere. We span the entire Jewish and non-Jewish spectrum just within my mother’s line of the family.
On the occasions when we have a planned get together, I get so excited in the build-up, knowing that it will be full of loud interesting conversations from so many different perspectives.
Around our very large tables you will find, religious orthodox, modern orthodox, progressive and non-denominational Jews as well as Catholics and an atheist.
Whilst we have had very minor conflicts of opinion in the past, as we have grown up we have come to enjoy listening and learning from each other and are genuinely interested in hearing what we all have to say. Inevitably our family has grown with partners and children, all of whom have made us even more enjoyable to be around. I consider myself a non-denominational Jew.
I was brought up with both an understanding and connection to Reform and Orthodox Judaism and during young adulthood was involved with Liberal Judaism.
As an adult I feel affinity to them all.
After several years of dead-end dating, meeting many Jewish and non-Jewish people, I was approaching my 30th birthday and ‘chatting’ to another person who I had met through a dating app.
If I am honest, I wasn’t that into him, I just felt like I was going through the same old routine again.
We planned a date for that weekend and for some reason at Friday Night Dinner the night before, I told my parents AND grandparents about going on a date the next day… something I never did. We met and that was it! I’d found my other half. Of course, my grandparents asked me if he was Jewish and when I answered ‘no’, we just carried on talking as normal.
Because there was no issue or concern from them. I knew they just wanted me to be happy. I was more nervous about telling my extended family for some reason, if my memory serves me right, when we had become a serious couple, I think I told my mum to drop it into conversation with them all before I saw them next. Unsurprisingly there was no issue, just interest in him and my own happiness.
John, my now husband, and I talked very early on in our relationship about how important my Jewish identity was to me.
We had to establish what it would potentially mean for us, our relationship and any future family.
He knew early on that the only thing that was important for me was that any children we may have would be brought up as Jewish, everything else could be negotiated as long as we discuss and respect each other’s opinions. As an atheist, John didn’t really have any religious beliefs (unless football is considered a religion?) but was very open and interested in learning more about Judaism.
We discussed conversion, but it was never something I wanted to encourage. I knew how important my Jewish identity was to me, if someone wanted to change their religion or beliefs, I didn’t want it to be for me, but because they genuinely wanted to do it for themselves. John didn’t want to convert, but has also never said he wouldn’t.
What he has wanted to do is learn as much as he can.
He spent ages learning Shabbat blessings so he could impress my parents on his first Friday Night Dinner and impressed they were! He is lucky too, between my brother and I we have worked in the UK Jewish community for most of our adult lives, so knew a fair bit to help him along the way.
When we got engaged we weren’t entirely sure how our wedding would look.
We talked to rabbi friends of mine and our family and we both knew that the chuppah was one thing we wanted. I knew that meant we wouldn’t be able to have either a legal wedding or religious blessing underneath one, so we got creative. We wanted our wedding to be symbolic of us as a couple and the life we intended to build – it was going to be Jewish inspired.
One key element for us was that it would take place under a chuppah and be respectful of both my Jewish life and John’s more ‘traditional’ British traditions. So, we decided to have a very small legal wedding and then 6 days later we had what we called our proper wedding, officiated by my brother.
Together the three of us created the most perfect wedding ceremony that truly represented us as a couple and the life we planned to live together.
We even had 2 or 3 rabbis as guests, 1 of whom gave us a modern take on the sheva brachot (not ‘official’ of course, but from the heart). We had a chuppah that we built together with pictures of our friends and family above us. It truly felt as though it was representative of the home we intended to build, and we felt as though we were standing there in the arms of all our loved ones. It was everything and more than I could have dreamed of.
My grandfather (a bit of a traditionalist who only ever says exactly what is on his mind) said he thinks it was the best wedding he had ever been to and I am one of 10 grandchildren on that side of the family, so there have been a few weddings along the way!
Liberal Judaism’s recent move to offer a blessing under a chuppah has been more than welcomed in our house.
It is helping John to feel even more comfortable within the wider Jewish community that I have brought him into and is helping us to feel even more proud of our little hybrid family that we are building (I prefer the term hybrid to interfaith as John has no specific faith, so makes more sense to me).
When I told my parents about these new changes, they rolled their eyes and asked if we were going to want another wedding now.
I assured them we didn’t want another wedding and even if we were to roll back and be able to redo it with these changes, we most likely wouldn’t do anything differently.
But just the knowledge that we could have done it differently has made all the difference to us and our hybrid home. We had already decided that we wanted to join a synagogue with John as an associate member.
Our little boy was circumcised when he was born earlier this year, this was something that was as important to me as it was to John and our intention is to bring him up knowing he has a very varied family who come from different places, with different opinions, with no one of them being more important to the other.
We hope he will grow up knowing that our differences as a family are there to make us stronger and ensure that we are open to listening and learning from everyone we encounter so that we can live in a kind and colourful world.
I fear however that there are some people that just don’t see it this way.
After the news broke and discussions started up in the press and on social media, I had a glance at the comments and thought pieces that were published.
Amongst the comments I saw quite a lot of negativity towards the announcement, alongside a whole heap of judgmental assumptions about people who have mixed marriages. Whilst the comments were made by a selection of ‘keyboard warriors’ who don’t even know I am reading what they wrote, it was hard to feel like they weren’t directed right at me.
Whilst I am grown up enough to know they weren’t and to realise that this is just a load of narrowmindedness, I was aware that young couples may be reading this at the start of their relationship with someone not Jewish and it may make them very uncomfortable. Some of these comments labelled us as “fools” and “pagans”, claimed that we showed no “real commitment” without the non-Jew converting, insinuated that our “brain is falling out” or that our marriage is “not Jewish” and that we are “killing the religion” for our “selfish desires”.
The insinuations that because John, and others in his position, don’t want to convert, make him (and by default me) less committed to our hybrid Jewish home and just “lazy” particularly annoyed me. That, and another comment about how we are “diminishing Jewish tradition of the children from such marriages” particularly struck me considering the job I currently do and those jobs I’ve had in the past. John has been the most supportive partner though my professional career since we met and has gone above and beyond to help me. My current job is overseeing all the UK operations for the tour operator running Birthright Israel UK.
Previous roles have seen me as a movement worker for the youth movement LJY-Netzer (the youth movement of Liberal Judaism), a Youth Director at a synagogue and working at JCoSS. I retrained as a secondary school drama teacher and during my time teaching at 3 non-Jewish schools across London, I overhauled the drama department’s holocaust curriculum to ensure it was more accurate and dynamic in the teaching methodology. I’ve worked out that in the last 3 years alone I (and my team) have likely been instrumental in around 1000 young people visiting Israel.
Alongside this, my husband has been respectful of the countless zoom meetings I’ve run from home to support our participants, always showing an interest in what we are talking about, he’s entertained my colleagues who have visited from Israel and gotten to know them and even been my right hand man last year when I was pregnant and couldn’t manage an airport check in alone towards the end.
Most impressively he asked and then hounded me to book a holiday to Israel.
He was so desperate to go and see what all the fuss was about.
He spent the entire holiday looking for Judaica to bring into the house we’d just brought.
He was so excited to visit my frum family in Jerusalem. He asked our wonderful tour guide and friend all the questions he could so that he could learn and in turn share a bit of Israel with me and my family.
So, when someone implies that we are killing the religion, I’d like them to stop and think of John for a moment.
Someone who is committed to learning about Judaism, supporting his Jewish wife and son to have a Jewish home, whilst working in the Jewish community and standing up for us when he sees and hears anti-semitism – but isn’t sure if he wants to convert.
Because why should someone change who they are just because they love someone different?
Isn’t it enough to learn from each other so we can create a more welcoming and inclusive world where we try to understand each other?