Around the time my relationship with my now-wife Rachael took a turn for the serious, we went for a hike in the desert and talked about religion. Rachael is Jewish. I am Catholic. Rachael’s Jewishness was mostly cultural. (Holiday recipes, yes! Holiday services or prayers, absolutely no!)
By contrast, religion in all forms has always played a central role in my life. I hit all my Catholic milestones growing up. I led a rosary group in law school. My mother attended daily mass and knew the parish priests by name, but she also studied at a local Buddhist temple and went to Baptist services with my grandfather. I never expected or wanted Rachael to convert to anything, but I had always assumed that our home would be a Catholic home and our kids, if we ever had any, would inherit my religion.
Rachael had other ideas, and ultimately, she won the day with an argument that was both simple and irrefutable: There are a lot of Catholics, but the world always needs more Jews.
I’m still Catholic, but since that day, Rachael and I have kept a Jewish home and are now raising a Jewish son. We’ve joined a synagogue. We have temple friends. We host a Passover seder every year. We celebrate holidays and fast on Yom Kippur, and I legitimately want a prayer shawl for Hanukkah.
All this went flashing through my mind on Saturday morning when I first heard that a gunman attacked a temple in Pittsburgh. I am a prosecutor by profession and by nature, so my instinct is both to fight against wrongdoers and to protect those who’ve been hurt.
In that moment, I felt fiercely protective — not only of my Jewish family but of my entire Jewish community.
As it happens, On Saturday morning, we were heading to synagogue to hear a friend give a speech on the weekly Torah portion. Our temple is small and there are usually fewer than 25 people at Saturday services on non-holidays, but there was nowhere I wanted to be more with my interfaith family. The cantor — who has had dinner at our house with his Seventh Day Adventist wife — hugged me. The Mourner’s Kaddish was led by a 90-year old from Belfast who joined the temple over 40 years ago because, at the time, it was the only synagogue in LA that would accept his interfaith family.
At the Kiddush, I sat with Roger, who — like me — isn’t Jewish, but who came that morning because he wanted to show his support for and solidarity with the Jewish community after he heard about the tragedy in Pittsburgh. Walking to our car afterward, I sang “Shabbat Shalom” with my 2-year old son, Ziggy. He knows all the words. He says the Sh’ma every night at bedtime. He loves onions, pickles and his mother’s brisket. He’s Jewish in his soul.
There are many ways to respond to hate. We can hate back, or we can love harder, or we can fight the devil to the very gates of Hell, or we can run away and cry. But most of all, we can survive and even thrive. On Saturday morning, a man in Pennsylvania wanted to destroy a people, my people. But that same morning, I saw for myself that he failed, and will always fail. Rachael was right — the world needs more Jews, and I’ve never been more proud to stand among them.
If you’re also in an interfaith family, here are some ideas on how to start the healing process.
• Talk to your family from other faiths about how deeply this tragedy impacted the Jewish side of your family, as they may not be aware.
• Ask your family from other faiths to join you in a Jewish interfaith space where people are talking about anti-Semitism.
• Talk to your partner about how anti-Semitism affects you. If you were raised Jewish, this may have resurrected old fears. If you were raised in a different tradition, you may feel like you don’t have the “right” words.
• If you are in a multi-racial family, the horror of this experience may overlap across religious lines. Learn from each other.