I am Jewish and my wife, Theresa is Catholic. Technically, she is a free agent, but is considerably more devout than I. As a matter of fact, she recently started going to an Episcopal church, primarily because she liked the people better. Ironically, having been born of a Jewish mother, according to Jewish law, I am a Jew now and forever and nothing can change that.
Now, I frequently tell my wife that I feel she might be an anti-Semite. Before I go on, I should state for the record that I can be kind of an asshole, and this would be an example. What I find amusing is that her anger at this charge comes so quickly and sharply, that I further use her defensiveness as evidence of my original charge. (This is something assholes do quite frequently). An example might be us driving down the road and passing some obviously Orthodox Jewish men. I typically wave and shout, “Whassup, my brother!” For some reason, (and I have my theory) this really frosts her. My son did it once and she nearly drove into a canal.
I explain to her that whether either of us likes it or not, these actually are, in a way, my brothers. She then proceeds to display her religious credentials and to disparage mine. You might wonder how we got married in the first place and how we dealt with the issue of raising our kids. It was pretty simple. I agreed to have them raised Catholic.
I was raised in my grandparents Kosher home, but did not go to Hebrew School or have a Bar Mitzvah. I was more of a cultural Jew. Unfortunately, I did not follow the path of the great Jewish scientists, or that of the great Jewish musicians. I took Physics and Chemistry and played the saxophone in the band, but I just wasn’t that good at either. I did however; follow the path of the great Jewish comedians. The Marx Brothers, Jerry Lewis, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, the Three Stooges, and Woody Allen were my heroes. I always assumed that the Bible was written by Jewish comedy writers and was taken as the gospel as part of some tragic slapstick accident.
Since I never had any religious training, I spent a lot of time searching. I wanted my kids to have the background that I didn’t have but couldn’t effectively provide it. Imagine my luck in falling in love with someone who could do so, along with the added bonus that she was Catholic. I wanted my kids to have a religious upbringing in the easiest religion to reject when they got older. JACKPOT!!
There were a few cultural adjustments along the way. When I first brought Theresa home to meet my grandparents, she expected the third degree regarding her religion. In reality, my grandfather was so far to the left politically, that he was far more concerned about her political preferences. Like most Jews, a conversation in my house went something like this…Someone would pontificate on their point of view at a rather high volume for people not calling hogs. When that person had to swallow their food or their voice faded due to a lack of oxygen, someone else would jump in. Of course the first person never stopped talking. Within seconds, we had a real Tower of Babel thing going on. Being raised to be polite and to not speak until spoken to, I don’t think Theresa opened her mouth at my house during the first three years of our relationship.
Things were equally awkward for me at her mother, Marie’s house. Theresa is from a blue-collar family who had very little interaction with Jews. I was somewhat of a curiosity to them. We worked quickly through the easy stuff…”Oh, Bob, can you eat this?”…”Oh, yes, we often eat bread.” When we were all at the table, sometimes someone would ask a question that no one knew the answer to. It would get quiet and I would look up to find everyone staring at me like I was the World Book Encyclopedia. It’s surprisingly hard for an obnoxious, know-it-all Jew to hide those characteristics for long.
Another event at Marie’s house caught me by surprise. My grandparents were educators and we had more school supplies in our house than Eberhard Faber and Dixon Ticonderoga combined. Marie, Theresa, and her sister Judy were in the kitchen preparing a meal while I was watching TV. An ad came on, I have no recollection what for, and it provided a phone number for more information. I called into the kitchen asking if there was a paper and pencil handy. What followed could have been a sketch on any comedy show. The three of them proceeded to tear apart the kitchen going through every basket, cubbyhole, and junk drawer. About 15 minutes later (14 minutes and 30 seconds after the ad was over), Judy come breathlessly into the den holding a nub of a golf pencil that had been sharpened with a kitchen knife. I thanked her and thought, “These people are different from me.”
Over the years, Theresa and I attended many religious services of many denominations. We’ve been to Holiness Baptist (with laying of the hands and getting the spirit), Baha’i, Hindu, Sikh, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and of course, Jewish and Catholic. Once, we went to a “Bar Mitzvah” at a Messianic Jewish temple for one of our son’s friends. As a Jew and atheist (it’s allowed), I considered these people to be wrong twice. There is no religious dogma in Judaism, so there can be no blasphemy. This was close.
I think that our kids have fared pretty well as religious mongrels. My daughters were able to go on a Birthright Israel trip for nearly two weeks and saw nearly everything in the Holy Land. My son hopes to go this summer. They sang and played with the church choir for years and taught religious education classes. My son is dating a Jewish girl and in an odd twist, on the night that she went to Disney World to see Mickey’s Christmas Celebration, he was at the Hillel Chanukah celebration, glomming a free meal.
I guess I should really lighten up on Theresa. She has been very open-minded. At least 1% of our holiday decorations are Chanukah related. My son has his red badge of courage (a circumcision). I’ve come to accept that she does not think that all Jews are obnoxious, know-it-all, loud, and pushy assholes.
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