Living in Paradise in a Mixed Marriage

[su_heading]Living in Paradise in a Mixed Marriage[/su_heading]

When Baddy and I were freshly married, we were on our way to a Livingston family reunion and we were staying at the La Quinta Inn. On our way we stopped to have a family dinner at the take out window of Burger King. I looked at Baddy and the three boys chomping on their gum and said, “Ya know Baddy, I don’t really do La Quinta.” “Well, ya do now,” he cheerily sang while hucking a loogie out of the window.  “What ever happened to the Jewish Princess my father raised me to be?” I asked. “Oh, don’t you worry,” he guffawed, “Once a Princess always a Princess,” and he squeezed that spot on my knee that makes me scream and jump out of my seat.

Every year when I pull out the two boxes from the attic, one filled with Christmas Ornaments for the Christmas tree and the other with Jewish ornaments for the Chanukah bush, plus a Menorah and a Star of David, I can’t help but question the confusion my children must feel by having parents from differing religions. Baddy a Presbyterian and I a Jew from Massachusetts. Had I married a Jewish man would life have more meaning for my children? Would they be calmer because of their inner peace?

Growing up Conservatively my parents took us to temple on the high holidays, and although the services were painfully long and boring and not geared toward children, I loved sitting next to my handsome father as he sang the songs from the Prayer book. I felt safe in his strong, steadfast presence, breathing in his cologne and playing with his shiny gold cuff links given to him by my German grandmother, it didn’t matter that I found absolutely no meaning in the prayers.

When we needed a break my sisters and I would push open the enormous doors and expend our energy by running around outside in our beautiful dresses looking for trees to climb and then we would hang out in the bathroom to play with all of the expensive soaps. Somehow the songs and the Hebrew words spoken from the Rabbi permeated into my being and became part of my soul, but I never truly understood the full meaning of what it was to be Jewish.

I endured my horribly nervous teacher at Hebrew school who would scream at me to shut up every time I flirted with the most dreamiest of boys in my classroom, Steven Goodman. Any kind of school was easier to endure when boys were around to flirt with. My friends and I did what we could to keep awake by passing notes back and forth as she paced the classroom yelling at us and rapping her yard stick on our desks, “Sheket,”she’d cried. Saying shut up in Hebrew seems to be the most significant thing I learned from her.

I had a  Bat Mitzvah because it was par for the course in my hometown and it meant everything to my parents, not to mention that I was rewarded with the best party I ever had with my very own DJ, a disco ball and flowing gifts. I’d like to think that my inability to appreciate the significance and spirituality of my training was due to my incredibly dull teachers, I couldn’t live with placing all of the onus on myself.

If only I had been fortunate enough to have a professor like the Israeli Tal Ben-Shahar who held the most popular class in the history of Harvard called “Positive Psychology”. He taught students how to create a fulfilling and flourishing life teaching them positive thinking, ”Learn to fail or fail to learn,” and ”not ‘it happened for the best,’ but ‘how can I make the best of what happened?’ ” It saddens me that in my many hours of studying the Torah at such an impressionable age the ancient words of wisdom were not interpreted for me.

Living on a Kibbutz:

It wasn’t until I traveled to Israel with my sister that I found a deep love for the Israeli people and Judaism. We had never been to an armed country before and the sea of soldiers with huge guns slung across their shoulders was very disconcerting at first. But the soldiers were beautiful, most of them being our age, and we shyly flirted with them admiring their strong bodies, sparkly green eyes and olive skin. It didn’t matter that their big warm smiles were marred by teeth filled with the shells of the sunflower seeds they snacked on. We soon got used to being guarded and began to rely upon their presence to keep us safe.

We lived on a Kibbutz and worked the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life which, at that point, wasn’t saying much. We visited the Dead Sea and watched the very white tourists pretending to read the newspaper while floating like big fat Otters on their backs, we hiked in leopard country in the Negev desert playing in the lush forest and waterfalls hidden behind the desert walls, we walked through the markets of Tel Aviv while Arabs beckoned us from their butcher shops with headless goats hanging from the ceilings, we posted prayers to our aunts and uncles that we had lost during the Holocaust and placed them between the stones of the Western Wall and we fell in love with the magnificent gardens that sprouted out of the dry desolate desert. We were filled with an enormous pride to be connected to the Israeli people and their culture.

Through the years, I have also grown to appreciate my husband’s religion – but it was my gathering together with Reverend Dr. Stephen-Poos Benson that gave me a much greater appreciation for the spiritual meaning behind the Christian doctrines and what I know by being a Jew married to a Catholic is that I am living in paradise in my mixed marriage and those living with hatred are not truly living – and never will experience the beauty of what life is all about. 

With Chanukah here and Christmas rapidly approaching, I feel the pressure building once again to create a heartfelt festive and spiritual atmosphere around the house, just as our mother’s did when we were growing up. But it is not an easy task to successfully bring on the magic of both holidays and since I can’t focus on one I fear that I will inevitably fail at both, a worrisome problem.

[su_quote cite=”Martin Luther King, Jr.”]I believe in a religion that believes in freedom. Any time I have to accept a religion that won’t let me fight a battle for my people, I say to hell with that religion. Malcolm X[/su_quote]


Cousins before a Bar Mitzvah

28 thoughts on “Living in Paradise in a Mixed Marriage

  1. Hi Jillian,
    Wow, what writing honey! Vivid memories as artfully described to us as a beautiful painting! Lovely!

    My second (not present) husband was Jewish, so I converted. Never quite lived down the nickname he had for me “Sue New Jew” but anyway, present hubs (of 30 yrs) isn’t Jewish. Still I put up a tree for our kids AND had my menorah – explaining as best I could all the traditions out there. I brought to the table (over the years) all religions and told the kids they were free to choose was resonated with them. Looking back, it seems wishy washy in terms of religious traditions, but we created our own family traditions in those days and that is what we all remember and cherish today.


  2. hi
    You writings about your visit to Isreal are really lovely. I enjoyed it very much. I’ve had similar moment’s like you had with the Torah, wishing certain things were interpreted for my child mind early on so I could have appreciated them much earlier…but I’ll do as you suggest and make the best of it ;-)!
    This is my absolute favorite recipe for pumpkin bread:

    Enjoy it!! Swati


  3. Jilly,
    This is wonderfully written. I love your description of the sights and sounds of Isreal. I loved my visit there. The kids are lucky to have the best of both worlds.


  4. So nice. It reminded me of growing up in Newton and all those fabulous Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. I can still see my friends and me in Jessica McClintock dresses (remember those?!) and all the boys. I now vividly see all my friends at 13. Thanks for that!

    This also brought back all the images of my sister studying abroad at Hebrew University and falling madly in love with one of those beautiful soldiers you describe. We aren’t Jewish but growing up in Newton you’re totally enmeshed with the cultures and families of your friends and it is a great education I wish more people could have. It’s great to expose your kids to both. For them, there will be no “other” no “stranger danger.” It will always be normal that people are one thing or another or both.

    There is a warmth in all winter holiday traditions that I love. At the most basic level they are about light in a time of darkness. That brings me peace, makes me happy.

    We are the Christmas tree kind but I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to find out they made Latkes in my sons class. I remember being asked in Kindergarten…raise your hand if you celebrate Christmas and then raise your hand if you celebrate Hanukah. I had never heard of it before but raised my hand for both, didn’t want to miss out on any fun.

    I’m not religious, but for my parents got married in a church, baptized my babies. But, it seems to me that the most important spiritual information you give your kids comes from your belief system. The traditions are a fun way to connect and feel part of something.


  5. What a beautiful post, Jillian. Your writing is exquisite. I loved your descriptions of your experiences as a child set against the experiences you had as an adult discovering and owning Judaism in a new way.

    I’m a Baha’i and so although both my husband’s and my family celebrates Christmas, we don’t. We revere the birth of Christ as a messenger of God, but we don’t do all the santa, presents, Christmas tree, etc. traditions.

    It is kind of interesting to me because although I missed the traditions when we gave them up at first, now I actually feel like I enjoy and appreciate the winter “holiday season” even more. Without the pressure of gifts and spending money we don’t have, it is really relaxing and fun. I guess this is kind of a heavy topic for just a comment. Sorry to go on and on. Your post was just really great and got me thinking. Have a super week!


    1. Hello Naomi,

      I really would love to hear more about your religion, I hate being ignorant with other cultures.

      I agree that gift giving over the holidays has escalated into something that I do not particularly enjoy and so I am trying to reign it in with the children.

      And please, feel free to go on and on whenever you wish, I love the comments!!


  6. What a gorgeous little bunch. I love how you give so much detail about him squeezing your knee…:) That’s so funny because we stayed in a La Quinta and got a full refund the next morning! It was bad! You’ll have to get with me and spill your beans about your religion…I’d love to hear more about it:) Thanks for sharing.


  7. this is a beautiful post and I have enjoyed reading it so much. It is fun to learn about other cultures and I’m sure the holidays now are your own special mix of customs, traditions and food! That’s what’s great about familiies, they are all unique and have their own special personality.

    It was so fun to read about your today!

    Best wishes!



  8. I think exposing your children to different cultures and traditions can’t hurt them a bit. It opens their eyes that there isn’t only ONE way….that there are at least two options they can learn directly about at home…but also that there are many other ways to celebrate, have faith, love, and religion. Exposure is education, if handled the appropriate way.

    Those kids are gorgeous.


    1. Jessica,

      What I love the most about this post is the beautiful comments that are being made. I agree that exposure is everything. I still feel the need to bring them to Midnight Mass and bring forth the beauty of both religions. I guess I have time.

      Your boys too are beautiful.


  9. This was a wonderful, heartfelt post. I have written a few times about how to ensure that my kids find Chanukah a special, exciting, memorable time of year when most of their friends in school are not Jewish and are celebrating Christmas. I don’t want them to feel different, I want them to cherish their heritage. I think it has less to do with the “religion” behind it (at least for me) and more to do with the traditions I create in our house. Lighting the menorah, and singing the Chanukah prayers are part of it but it’s also the the family dinners, the foods that I cook each Chanukah and the time together. I’m sure you can create traditions in your house that mix the religions and make it just as special and memorable for your kids.


  10. As a fellow Jewish Princess who has stayed in my fair share of “La Quinta-like” locations, I’m with you. A really beautifully written post. Thanks for sharing your personal experiences and I look forward to learning more about you/from you/sharing with you in the future! Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas and here’s to a fun filled 2010!


  11. That picture melts my heart. Once again, I hate living in new England for the only reason that i miss my family. hayden and tasha talk about there Aspen cousins daily and always accuse me of keeping them from seeing them (as to them, money grows on trees and airplanes are just waiting on the runway to wisk them off to Aspen!)
    I think as long as children and adults have some religion in the base of there heart….it leads to inner spiritualism and inner peace. Something to fall back on and believe in. (especially when you are in labor praying for the pain to stop!!!) I as well am in love with Judiasm. It is a wonderful religion and makes sence.
    Beside my feelings of Judiasm, my daughter is obsessed with babies and believes in The Baby Jesus…..So there you have it!


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