The Jewish Nomad: Summer reflections after our podcast debate about interfaith marriage

August greetings from Parc Lafontaine in Montreal.

Discussing interfaith marriage on the latest episode of Bonjour Chai was something I could relate to—thanks to my personal journey of dating outside the shtetl.

It wasn’t what I imagined for myself during high school, but my first serious relationship ended up being with someone who wasn’t Jewish. He was extremely supportive of me, too, to the point of keeping Shabbat when we spent the weekend together.

Not only that, he bought new pots and pans to cook me kosher food.

When that didn’t work out long-term, I suppose I got used to the expanded Olympic-sized pool of options—rather than the kiddie-sized one crammed with possible cousins.

If anything, when I left my private Jewish high school, I simply didn’t hang out with a lot of members of the tribe. Surrounded by artists of all shades and stripes, I got used to often being the only Jew in the room.

And if you’ve been following this column, you’ve read about how I went through a decade of religious confusion, which more recently culminated in me returning to my roots and more of the practices I was raised with. 

A big part of that was the profound realization that I wanted to raise a Jewish family.

For a few years, I deluded myself into believing that I’d be OK with a Christmas tree in my home. It would only be fair, right? If I was going to light the Hanukkiah, who would I be to tell my partner not to celebrate his holiday?

Moreover, I believed this was the way to tikun olam. If we all learned to respect each other and co-exist, we could achieve the world peace we always talk about.

But trying to advance this idea ended up being a lot more challenging than I expected.

Many people warned me about friction that could come about in the long run if I wanted to remain religiously affiliated. 

When I sat down and asked myself honestly what I foresaw for my hypothetical childrens’ future—I realized that vision was VERY Jewish.

I wanted those kids to go to the modern Orthodox sleepaway camp I went to, complete with magically communal Shabbats and Havdalah under the stars.

I wanted them to speak Hebrew and attend a day school. I wanted them to also feel like part of the tribe.

And, when I realized the vision wasn’t shared by my partner at the time, the relationship didn’t go much further than that. 

It’s a difficult choice to make: love versus the longevity of your people. But for me, it was more than that. I wanted to live a rich Jewish life, full of spirituality of growth—AND I want it to continue for generations, because it’s something meaningful to me. Judaism is in my bones.

Since then, I’ve met other interfaith couples who make it work. I totally respect their choices. It just wasn’t going to be the right path for me. 

Check out our latest podcast episode  featuring two Reform rabbis from opposite ends of the country and the spectrum of opinion: Rabbi Lily Kowalski, the associate rabbi and director of education at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom in Montreal and Rabbi Philip Bregman, rabbi emeritus at Temple Sholom in Vancouver.

And mazel tov to my co-host David Sklar! He’s off on his honeymoon with John—so, stay tuned for when we reunite with Avi Finegold for more Bonjour Chai.

Ilana Zackon can be reached at ilanawritesthings[@] and found on Facebook and Instagram.

HEAR what else she has to say every week on Bonjour Chai