Lenny is the son of a Holocaust survivor who has converted to Islam for love. Like others in the same situation interviewed under pseudonyms for BBC Radio 4 programme “Meet the Jewslims”, which aired on Monday, he married his British-Iranian wife Sheherazade in a Muslim ceremony but also sought to reconcile Islam with his Jewish heritage.
“I’m ‘Muslish’ or ‘Jewslim’,” he told presenter Zubeida Malik. He says: “God is not partisan like a football team. He’s not only going to save the Man United supporters or the Chelsea supporters. I believe he’ll look at good people.”
But the marriage affected his family relationships. His parents refused to attend the wedding and would not speak to their son for two years after he was married by an imam.
“Obviously they found it quite hard,” said Lenny, who grew up in an observant home. “They saw it as a bit of a betrayal.
But now they have been reconciled and Lenny attends Friday-night dinner every week because “it means a lot to my parents”. But his wife is noticeably absent from the Shabbat meal.
“I used to go at first, but somehow it didn’t feel right,” said Sheherazade, who openly argued with Lenny about Israel during the programme. “The big issue for me is the politics — in order to avoid any tension, we thought it better if I don’t go.”
Israel is also a source of division for Israeli Jew Rachel and her partner, Omar, a South-East Asian Muslim whom she met at university. The couple later married in tripartite civil, Muslim and Jewish ceremonies. “Rachel’s from Israel. I grew up with the idea, common among Muslims, that Israel’s an enemy country, the source of a lot of problems around the Muslim world,” said Omar, who faced hostility from members of his own family about the relationship.
But Rachel’s parents, who still live in Israel, were more conciliatory. She says: “Of course they minded — it was a slow process. They got to know him, he came to Israel, we celebrated the holidays together.” The couple, who are in their late 20s, said they were aware of challenges they face in the future. “The first fear was how we’re going to raise our children,” adds Rachel. “I feel they’ll be Jewish and Omar feels that they’ll be Muslim,” she said.
Like Lenny, Liberal Jew Paul converted to Islam for his marriage to Tanzanian-born Mariyam after the couple met in 1971. “Jews and Muslims are so similar,” said Paul, whose two children, attend Jewish day camps but also know Muslim prayers.
But Mariyam’s family were against the marriage. “I had people say, why did you choose a Jew? Even now, a lot of people, when you say Jew, they actually almost swallow the word because, for them, it’s like a swear word.”
Nevertheless, the “Jewslim” couple have managed to fuse their cultures and say they celebrate the High Holy Days alongside Eid and Ramadan. In fact, Paul says marrying an observant Muslim woman encouraged him to reach out to his own synagogue seven years ago.
“I found it very emotional and wept through the service,” he says.