Interfaith dating probably isn’t something you think about much at Notre Dame, if it crosses your mind at all. As a Catholic university, with roughly 85% of students identifying as Catholic, you probably don’t encounter too many other religions. Other denominations you are most likely to encounter are other sects of Christianity, like Protestantism, which doesn’t leave much room in the rest of the student population for other religions. You can debate how seriously everyone practices his or her religion, but Christianity reigns supreme on campus. That does not, however, mean that there aren’t students of other religions on campus. And because of that, interfaith dating exists on campus.
I was raised Catholic. We went to Church somewhat regularly when I was younger; I made my first reconciliation, my first communion, and my confirmation. I even attended a Catholic high school. Admittedly, I am not a fervent Catholic, but it is undeniably part of background and shaped my upbringing.
My boyfriend on the other hand is Jewish. He was raised in an interfaith household. His dad is a Catholic who attended Notre Dame and his mom is a Jew, whom his Dad met at a Notre Dame-Michigan game in Ann Arbor (how’s that for a good family rivalry? One of his younger brothers goes to USC to stretch the rivalry in even more directions).
My boyfriend and his two brothers were given a choice as to which religion they wanted to be. They all chose to follow the Jewish faith. Because of my boyfriend’s interfaith background, he understands the tradition I was raised in. He has been to Christmas and Easter masses, and other days of holy obligation to support his father. I, on the other hand, would say that my boyfriend is only the second Jew I knew and the first whom I’ve known well.
I’m from Buffalo, which is a fairly Catholic and Christian area. I never expected that Notre Dame would give me my first real exposure to Judaism, but I’m so grateful for the experience. There are of course a few difficulties, like the fact that the extent of my knowledge about Jewish holidays had come from The Rugrats. Luckily, my boyfriend is understanding and he patiently explains the significance of different holidays and prayers to me.
I’ve been awed by the strength and welcoming nature of the Jewish community. It’s something that is unmatched in any religion I’ve ever encountered. I’ve attended temple, which I found terrifying at first, but extraordinarily beautiful. Imagine if you could hear the words of mass for the first time, it is extraordinary. I still worry about little things, like how poorly I’m mumbling the Hebrew prayers, but I’ve been reassured that everyone else is mumbling it too.
Last year I was able to attend a Kol Nidre service for Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. This year, my boyfriend is working in Denver and I was not able to share the High Holidays with him, which was a bummer. By now you probably know that Hanukkah is in no way the Jewish equivalent of Christmas, though it does celebrate the Festival of Lights. He still celebrates Christmas, just in a more secular sense.
I have no plans to give up Christmas, though I am excited to be adding the Jewish High Holidays, Hanukkah, and Shabbat dinners to my calendar. I’ve also been able to attend a Seder, which takes place as part of the first or second night of Passover. If you’re curious about them, check out this article I wrote about the on campus Seder hosted by Campus Ministry last year.
I get some interesting questions about dating a Jew, the most common being, “How do your parents feel about that?” Fortunately, my parents are very supportive. Their big concern is that he treats me well, something he has proven to them. They adore him and they are as eager to make him feel at home as I am. We all celebrated Hanukkah together over Thanksgiving break last year. I was delightedly surprised by my brothers’ readiness to embrace celebrating Hanukkah and their genuine curiosity about it.
My friends also teasingly ask me, “How are you going to raise the kids?” (this is what happens when you’ve been dating someone for two and a half years). I’ve thought about that and have an answer for that too. The real lesson I’ve learned, through being in an interfaith relationship, is that differences of faith or religion or background do not need to be barriers in a relationship. Instead, with the right perspective, they can actually enrich a relationship.
I’ve learned so many things about religion and belief because my boyfriend has been raised in a different religious tradition. It is not something that hinders or complicates our relationship; rather, it is something that has created a bond-strengthening dialogue between us about our pasts and our future. You may not have encountered an interfaith relationship at Notre Dame or have been in one, but I hope you will be open to them. If someday down the line, you or one of your friends are dating someone of a different faith take it as opportunity to learn something new. You may just be surprised by the similarities between different faiths and the ways in which faith manifests itself in different traditions.