Forum helps mixed couples

By Robyn Rosen, January 21, 2010

When the mother of Christian journalist Simon Thompson found out he was marrying a Jew, it “sent alarm bells ringing.

“It was more through misunderstanding — the fear of not knowing what it meant,” he explained on Sunday. “She had a fixed view of what a Jew was.”

Mr Thompson, 36, will wed his long-term girlfriend, project manager Rebecca Shurz, 32, in a civil ceremony in two months. They were among over 40 couples at the “I’m Jewish, My Partner Isn’t” seminar at the Sternberg Centre in Finchley.

An annual forum arranged by Maidenhead Reform minister Rabbi Jonathan Romain, it gives Jews in relationships with non-Jews the opportunity to meet similar couples.

Although the Thompson family knew many Jews, things were different when he began “seriously dating” Ms Shurz. His mother “thought our children would be super Jewish and I had to keep explaining things. It’s still a work in progress.”

Rabbi Romain discussed key issues for mixed-faith couples, counsellor Sheila King-Lassman covered emotional matters and David and Carolin Sommer offered advice based on their mixed-faith family. Questions ranged from the practicalities of a mixed-faith wedding to the religious status of children.

“I found it extraordinarily moving that so many unaffiliated Jews still wanted to have a Jewish future,” Rabbi Romain said.

“Many couples expressed surprise that there were so many others in similar situations, while most of them found it helpful to discover that there were many options that they did not know about.”

Teachers Sam and Anna Baker from Chiswick wanted to find out more about potential issues in bringing up their child, due to be born in July.

Sam, 27, and Anna, 30, married in August in a civil ceremony followed by a “DIY” service including both Christian hymns and Jewish blessings, ending in the traditional breaking of the glass.

Said Mr Baker, whose family are North Western Reform congregants in Golders Green: “I had gone through the process at university of looking for Jewish girlfriends and then thought: ‘Do I care?’ I ended up wanting to find someone nice and right for me. It wasn’t easy with my family — it was hard to come to terms with for them.

“It took us a few months to work out how we would do things. We light candles on a Friday night and we go to shul occasionally and to church on important events too.”

His wife said she had been raised in a Christian home. “I grew up in the country but I am open-minded and curious.

“Sam’s parents got to know me from quite early on and were always lovely to me. I have learnt basic Hebrew and have made steps to get as involved as I can. I don’t just want to celebrate because it is tradition. I want to learn about it too.”

Attending Rabbi Romain’s seminar two years ago “made me realise I had to let go of my white wedding in a church dream and ideas of christened children. Now I’m pregnant, we need to discuss more about what we’re going to do.”

For Mr Thompson and Ms Shurz, the seminar had been beneficial. “By talking about the realities you have a more realistic vision of where you are from, where you are at and where you are going. Communication is vital in any relationship, but in a mixed faith relationship perhaps more so.”

Last updated: 3:39pm, January 21 2010