Marleigh Felsenstein and her boyfriend.
Dating and being a Jewish teenager at the same time is not the easiest thing in the world. My current boyfriend, whom I’ve been dating on and off for over a year, is Catholic, and this has caused small rifts between us as a couple and among my family.
I was raised in a Jewish household affiliated with the Conservative movement. I had a bat mitzvah and attended Hebrew school. My family celebrates the holidays and goes to temple on the High Holy Days and on occasional Shabbats. We also took a trip to Israel when I was in seventh grade, and that trip made a huge impact on my life as a Jewish adult. I felt at home in the tunnels underneath the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and being so close to the Temple Mount was an experience that made my heart pound.
My boyfriend and his family are very religious Catholics. They attend church almost every Sunday. My boyfriend sets up mass, and over the summer he went to Kentucky on a Roman Catholic-affiliated mission to build houses, and I learned a lot about who he is as a Catholic.
We met by accident, through a mutual friend of ours last April. My friend picked me up to go to a school play. I opened the back door of her car and there he was. There was an immediate attraction and we found ourselves talking for hours.
We started dating about a month after we met. We always have so much to talk about, despite our differences. We both had some very difficult experiences in our lives, and we bonded over the fact that we understood each other well.
The first thing that my grandmother asked me when my boyfriend and I started dating was if he was Jewish. Everybody’s first question is always the same. And when I shake my head no — to indicate that he isn’t Jewish — the look of surprise on the faces of the nosey people is always the same. So was the flash of disappointment across my grandmother’s face. “How do you do it? How long could this possibly last? Does it cause major relationship rifts?” they ask curiously.
Sometimes I have to hold my tongue in disagreement with what his religion believes. I have to do my best not to force being Jewish on him. Sometimes our religious obligations intrude on time that we could be spending together, like during holidays (such as Christmas) and on Friday nights and Sunday mornings.
We are both young (almost 17) and we need the world to be open to us — to choose to do whatever we want to do and be whoever we want to be, without our significant other holding us down. But then I remember why we started dating in the first place: we are perfect for each other.
We have personalities that balance each other out — with the looks to match (just kidding). We even teach each other our talents — I ice skate and he long-boards, so we both do those things together. Even though we’re different in so many ways, we’re also the same. We’re both trying to find our place in this world, but we are choosing to do it together.
Judaism and Catholicism are two religions that are not similar in beliefs, but to us, this provides a rare learning opportunity. I feel that I am able to grow and become better educated by learning about different religions through a person that I care about as deeply as I do, and I know he feels the same way.
This past winter we attended each other’s holiday parties — my potato pancake party and his Christmas party. Grape juice and eggnog can work well together as long as you mix them in the right way. I attended his Roman Catholic church once on a Sunday morning and I found it to be quite different from temple. The attire is more casual and the service is entirely in English. People get on their knees and go up in a line to receive a wafer and a sprinkle of water to symbolize the body of Christ and the holy water of baptism.
On a Friday night my boyfriend attended temple with me. He enjoyed it very much, just like I enjoyed church — even though it is not what we were used to. We enjoyed “switching” religions for a day each because it allowed us to understand each other better and turn our differences into similarities.
My boyfriend and I may not be together forever, but I am grateful for our time because our relationship is wholesome and educational. Our differences aside, the only thing that matters at the end of the day is the level of tolerance and respect for each other and the love that radiates off of us. This is what we keep in mind, not the symbols that we wear around our necks.