One's Jewish, the other isn't - but it works for them

Can Jewishness survive in a mixed relationship? Four couples explain how they cope with the religious divide


Alexandra Domingue and Adam Payne: a union between Jew and Presbyterian

Alexandra Domingue and Adam Payne: a union between Jew and Presbyterian

Alexandra Domingue & Adam Payne, married for two years

Since ALexandra Domingue met her husband, Adam Payne, eight years ago, she has studied Judaism, learnt Hebrew, and attended synagogue in an effort to understand his Jewish roots and share his religion. But, as a church-going Presbyterian, there is a line she will not cross.

"Conversion," she says, "it's not for me."

The couple - Alexandra is 32, Adam, 29 - married two years ago. Alexandra was in no way intimidated by Adam's Jewishness when they first started going out - if anything, she was frustrated not to be more included. "It struck me about being Jewish that it is like a really big family and that's what I liked.

"But Adam would disappear to do Jewish things and I told him that if we were going to be serious, he would need to share and prepare me better for what being Jewish was like."

The couple, who live in Bracknell in Berkshire, have yet to start a family, and Alexandra acknowledges that raising children will be a huge challenge, but one she if confident they will meet.

"I want my children to be brought up in the Jewish tradition, but educated with Christian traditions, too. There are hard issues like the question of whether, if we have a son, he'd be circumcised or have a barmitzvah. We will face these challenges - we are both problem-
solvers."

Adam, a former member of Cockfosters and North Southgate Synagogue, in London, always expected that he would marry a Jewish woman. "My family was quite observant. My parents would have preferred that I married a Jewish girl, but my happiness was more important to them and they were very welcoming of Alexandra.

However, in the early stages of the relationship, he did not feel able to take Alexandra to synagogue. "Orthodox synagogues are quite exclusionist when it comes to people who aren't Jewish and my parents are in a close-knit community so I didn't want to impose my non-Jewish partner on them."

As the relationship became more serious, he recognised that "understanding each other's religions was the key to understanding each other" - a view that was reflected in their wedding arrangements.

"We wanted to combine parts of each of our cultures and beliefs. It wouldn't have been appropriate to have it in a synagogue or church so we went for neutral surroundings. We got married in Montreal in a function room by a Presbyterian minister who combined sections of the Reform Jewish marriage ceremony and Old Testament with prayers. My dad made kiddush."

That combining of religions has continued "We now go to synagogue and church together," says Adam. "Church isn't something I take part in - I go along as a spectator to support my wife and understand about her. As a Jew in a church you always feel a bit uncomfortable.

And he echoes Alexandra's view on raising children. "We will bring them up with an appreciation of both religions and let them make a decision when they are mature enough. We can't worry about it otherwise we'll get bogged down."

Michal & Lee Freeman-Shor, married for 11 years, one son

Michal and Lee Freeman-Shor with their five-year-old son Adam. Raising him as a Jew was “not negotiable”, says Israel-born Michal

Michal and Lee Freeman-Shor with their five-year-old son Adam. Raising him as a Jew was “not negotiable”, says Israel-born Michal

Michal Freeman-Shor, a 36-year-old solicitor always made it clear she wanted her children to be brought up with a strong Jewish identity when she met and married fund-manager Lee, 36, 11 years ago.

"Quite early on in our relationship, I told him if things get serious, he has to understand I'm Jewish and it was essential my future kids would be Jewish. It was not negotiable and if he wasn't happy, we should break up now."

She says that the couple, who live in Maidenhead, have yet to reveal to their five-year-son, Adam, that Lee is not Jewish. "I suppose we will tell him at some point. He knows his grandparents aren't Jewish - we went there for Christmas, but we celebrated Chanucah at home.

"He said to me: 'We don't believe in Jesus, do we?' I told him we don't believe he is God but we do believe all people are God's children. I'm sure there will be lots more questions."

Michal was brought up in Israel and although her family is secular, she says she was raised to view the idea of marrying a non-Jew as "not possible".

"Lee and I absolutely love each other and respect each other very much. When we started dating my father was not happy. He was shocked. He never thought this could happen. But when he saw that Lee was embracing Judaism, he welcomed him."

For Lee, it was the couple's common values that convinced him to live a Jewish life. "My parents aren't religious but I had a Christian upbringing," he says. "I was raised in Nottingham and Michal was the first Jewish person I met.

"The thing I liked about her was we share the same beliefs and a sense of what is right and wrong. I believed in the same principles and so Judaism was easy to embrace.

"I'm very happy to raise Adam as Jewish. I like the religion and have thought of converting but haven't got round to it. In any case I've been living a Jewish life since I met Michal. We do Shabbat and go to synagogue. We have a very Jewish household. I just don't have the stamp.

"My parents were at Adam's bris and my father helped. I was fine with it - my only concern was the mohel better not slip."

Kayla Tomlinson & Eric Davies, married for six years

Kayla Tomlinson, a retired librarian, was in her fifties when she married Eric Davies, a then 61-year-old semi-retired university academic and erstwhile Anglican preacher.

"It was always drummed into my head that I was Jewish and shouldn't have non-Jewish friends," says Kayla. "My first marriage was to a very religious man which didn't work because I'm not very religious. I did want Eric to convert but he didn't want to and I wouldn't insist on it.

She is sure that had she met Eric when she was younger, she would have faced opposition from her family. "If my father was still alive, he would have thrown me out."

The relationship is based on what Eric describes as "an element of compromise".

"Eric and I are on a similar spiritual plane," says Kayla."We both believe in God. We have what I call a Jewish home and we go to the Orthodox services in Oxford near where we live. And I go with Eric to church. There are prayers I don't say but those that deal with God I'm fine with. I can't pray to something I don't believe in but I do respect his views.

She says her biggest concern involves funeral arrangments. "I want us to be buried together, but Eric can't be buried in an Orthodox cemetery. We have managed to arrange something for him - not in the Jewish area, but nearby.

For Eric, who describes himself as a "pretty religious church-goer", marriage to Kayla has involved a steep learning curve.

"Before we met I didn't know many Jewish people but knew a bit about the religion from reading. I've now learnt some Hebrew and understand the structure of the shul service now. I take Judaism classes on the religion and culture. I have learnt to like and admire it."

Chelm Rox-Mansfield & Jake Schaverien, engaged

Chelm Rox-Mansfield, a 34-year-old hairdresser from Tottenham, is starting a conversion course at West London Synagogue in April, a move she decided on after fellow hairdresser Jake Schaverien proposed two months ago.

"When Jake asked me to marry him I really wanted to convert. I want to bring my children up in a Jewish household with a sense of community and values.

She has been impressed by the unity and togetherness she has witnessed in Jewish families, something missing from her own background.

"I have seen Jake's family and friends and values and traditions - I think it's fantastic. They seem to be there for each other and my mum never really had that. She struggled when she broke up with my dad, and I think maybe life wouldn't have been so hard for her if she had that kind of support."

Chelm was christened and brought up as a Catholic but says, "it never felt quite right. I didn't take my confirmation and I haven't been in church since. I don't feel connected to it."

She says her mother and brother have fully backed her desire to become Jewish. She adds: "Jake and I haven't thought about how religious we will be after the course. It doesn't bother me to have my son circumcised. I have only been to synagogue for weddings and they are the most fun I've ever had. The service is gorgeous and all the dancing is brilliant. I want something like that."

Twenty-seven-year-old Jake, from north-west London, comes from an Orthodox background, although he was barmitzvah in a Reform synagogue. "My family were members of an Orthodox shul but I never got on well there and didn't enjoy cheder," he says. "But Judaism is important to me and I have a very spiritual connection."

Before meeting Chelm he had always dated Jewish women. "My mum said something along the lines of: 'You should stick with Jewish girls'.

"When Chelm came along, I didn't mention her to my parents straight away but when I did, they didn't mind. They got on really well with her. After I proposed, Chelm told my parents that she was thinking about converting.

"My mum did ask: 'What about the kids?' and I realise that it does comes down to the kids. We want our children to have a sense of community and a moral background, and I want them to understand Judaism."

A seminar for mixed couples run by Rabbi Jonathan Romain takes place on Sunday January 16 at the Sternberg Centre, London N3. For details call 01628 671 058 or email rabromain@aol.com

    Last updated: 10:35am, January 14 2011