When an interfaith couple marries, there is a good chance they have discussed some of the more complicated points of sharing a life together. This includes how to raise their children, how to celebrate holidays, and how to navigate general family drama. Sometimes the road is smooth, sometimes bumpy, often times it’s a mixture. What can’t be anticipated is where the road will take you – and that’s the story told by Sally Srok Friedes in her upcoming book The New Jew: An Unexpected Conversion.
Friedes describes herself as a “lapsed Catholic from the Midwest” who married an upper-class Jewish man in Manhattan. At first she had no intention of converting, but did agree to raise her children as Jews. As we sing on Passover, Dayenu (meaning, “it would have been enough”). But as a lapsed Catholic, she had a dream of “finding a meaningful religion.” This is where the story turns sour. She found herself “confused, disappointed and alienated at the many doors that were closed to her.” As she embarked on her Jewish journey, she had numerous encounters that made her feel like an outsider. It took her ten years, but she eventually reached the end of her journey and became a Jew. For that we say thank you and welcome to the Jewish community.
Conversion was the decision Friedes made, but not every spouse in an interfaith marriage is going to make the same choice. They shouldn’t have to. Intermarried couples who are raising Jewish children are already doing their part by instilling a strong Jewish identity in their children. That’s why they deserve our gratitude.
Whatever decisions a person makes, the worst thing we can do is make them feel like an outsider. We need to increase points of access, not close doors. In an age of increasing diversity, do we really want to find out what will happen to the Jewish community if we continue to keep the same barriers to participation experienced by Friedes?