Dear Chelsea,


Congratulations on your new marriage! I know that some people are upset that you and your new husband have broken with tradition and chosen to have an interfaith marriage. Some people seem to be blaming you personally for the rise of interfaith marriage in America, the complexities of Jewish assimilation, and the general state of the world. Whatever. Ignore them. Focus on your own happiness.

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges ahead. I expect that loads of strangers and friends have attempted to offer you advice on making it work; FWIW, here’s mine. I’m a Mormon who’s been happily married for 18 years to a Protestant. It’s been wonderful.

1) Create your own holiday traditions. Especially with Judaism, where holidays are so central to the family experience, you’ll want to learn about each other’s holiday traditions and spend a few years trying things out. (This year, because the whole world will be watching what you do, you might try ignoring the Christmas/Hanukkah dilemma altogether and going somewhere else. As in Madagascar.)

2) Marriage, like politics, is about the art of compromise. Be prepared to be honest and explicit about what’s important to you, and ask him to do the same. Do you care about having someone to sit next to in church? Does he want you to fast with him in solidarity on Yom Kippur? Talk about these issues openly. Neither of you will get everything you want, but you’ll be ready for the give and take.

3) Think of interfaith marriage as something added, not something taken away. In Mormonism, where marriage in the temple is so central, people used to tell me how they felt sorry for me that my husband is not a member. But I have never felt sorry for myself, and in fact count myself lucky that we bring unique understandings from our respective religious traditions. Plus, we have two church families to welcome and challenge us.

4) Share your spiritual experiences with each other. Even when religious expression is different, personal religious experience can be a point of convergence. Talk to each other about your spiritual ups and downs. You will find that you share more of the most significant things in life than you differ about externals.

5) If you’re blessed with children, give them both roots and wings. Things definitely become more complicated when children come into the interfaith family picture, but they don’t have to become fraught with tension. If you’ve already established strong foundations of mutuality and respect, it will carry over when you have kids. In our case, we exposed our daughter to both traditions and let her choose. It’s worked quite well.

6) Don’t be afraid to ignore this advice, or any other advice you get. You’ll be finding your own path together. Best wishes, and mazel tov.

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