I’ve written a bit about the interfaith journey my wife and I are on, but mostly this has centered on the conversations around what it would mean to marry.
Now we’re married and the process of forming a rich tapestry from our combined backgrounds is well underway.
Some of our tensions and questions and feelings and choices around this inter-weaving feel quite comfortable already.
Many others do not (yet).
But I think this dichotomy of comfort and discomfort is precisely the point.
Comfort is familiar, perhaps familial, but it is our moments of discomfort that provide the opportunities for growth and intimacy that let us all get to the next level.
The key, as we’ve learned from Irwin (the Rabbi we study with and President of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership), is to lean in to this discomfort in order to tease out what our reactions and emotions are really pointing at.
Basically, there are moments of growth in the small instinctive reactionary moments when something feels “other” to us.
Recently, I had one such moment involving a kippah (a Jewish head covering for men) at a wedding.
It happened at a wedding of my wife’s cousin in Boston.
As we walked in to the ceremony they had a basket of Kippah’s at the entrance. Every man on the bride’s side (i.e. my side) either grabbed one or had brought one. This included at least one other non-Jew who had married into the family.
I did neither.
In fact at the time I made a quite conscious choice that I wouldn’t wear a Kippah for the ceremony.
Now I don’t think this choice was good, bad, contentious, or particularly loaded. I’m not sure anyone around me even noticed.
But small or not, my act to not don a kippah was most definitely a choice, one viscerally reinforced by an accompanying surge of physical reaction to my decision. Rapid heart beat, mildly sweaty hands, slight flush to my face — for a few minutes I had all of these things.
As I took my seat I looked around noticed that I was the only one on my side of the aisle not wearing a Kippah. The other side was almost entirely devoid of Kippah’s (yes, interfaith marriages are most definitely becoming the norm which is why all of this matters so much).
Thus began my internal monologue.
Why was I so adamant about not wearing the Kippah in this moment? Was it because I had recently gotten married and wanted to reaffirm that I was still different? Did I really care that much about wearing or not wearing it for a 30 minute ceremony that was undoubtedly conducted in the Jewish tradition and at which I was simply a witness?
On and on this monologue went until the ceremony ended and we all filed out. As we left the room the ceremony took place in almost all the kippah’s quickly disappeared, just in time for the alcohol to appear.
A few minutes later I eagerly jumped into the Horrah and joined my also not-Jewish-married-into-the-family cousin as key lynchpins in hoisting the chairs up and down — and let’s be honest, our added muscle definitely strengthens (literally but mostly figuratively) the family.
As the dancing continued whatever artificial construct or barrier or testament to “difference” I had constructed for myself disappeared as quickly as it came.
But then again, it never really existed anywhere except in my own head, we were all family the whole time after all.