Mixed faith partners share their problems

By Jay Grenby, January 15, 2009
Carolin and David Sommer with children Leon, Benjamin and Julian

Carolin and David Sommer with children Leon, Benjamin and Julian

A leading Reform rabbi has urged community leaders to respond sensitively to Jews in mixed faith relationships.

Addressing the 62 couples at his annual “I’m Jewish, My Partner Isn’t” seminar at Finchley’s Sternberg Centre on Sunday, Rabbi Jonathan Romain acknowledged that such liaisons presented problems for the couples and for British Jewry in general. However, it was important to reassure the Jewish partners that they were still welcome within the community and to treat non-Jewish partners with courtesy and respect.

Jewish participants in the seminar came from a variety of backgrounds — Orthodox, Reform, Liberal and unaffiliated — with some travelling to the event from Manchester and Newcastle.

Many couples wanted to consider potential pitfalls before taking their relationship to the next level. Others were in lengthy engagements, often to avoid the difficulties in planning a mixed faith wedding. A third group were married and grappling with child-rearing issues.

Rabbi Romain noted that in the past, the partners of Jews in mixed faith relationships mostly described themselves as “religious nothings” or “nominally C of E”. Now a considerable number were religious Christians. Two of those at the seminar were the children of vicars and another was a lay minister.

Although problems with parents could be overcome, it was not always the case. Anthony, who declined to give his surname, claimed his parents “not only refuse to meet my longstanding partner but have also tried to get the police to separate us. They failed, but it makes my life horrible not being able to bring home the person I love.”

Insight into a mixed faith marriage was given by David and Carolin Sommer, members of Rabbi Romain’s Maidenhead Reform congregation.

Mr Sommer’s father is Jewish and his mother had a Liberal conversion. His German-born wife’s family are Protestants. They felt “lucky that our parents did not object and each made us welcome in their homes”. However, Mrs Sommer acknowledged that while she and her husband had set out to create a Jewish identity for their children, “we are not finding it that easy”.

Zehavit Shalev of Finchley was making a second visit to the seminar after a 10-year interval. “Last time I came with my then boyfriend David, who is now my husband. I am Jewish, and though he is halachically Jewish, his parents are active Quakers and raised him as one.”

As a project worker with Jeneration — a Reform-backed attempt to engage young Jewish adults in new ways — Ms Shalev had attended with professional as well as personal interest. “Casual conversations revealed quite a few other ‘returners’, and a great thirst for further dialogue among first-time participants, so I’ve arranged for Jeneration to host two informal events for people in mixed faith relationships.”

Last updated: 9:45am, January 15 2009