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Kim grew up in a small city in Wisconsin. She is in her mid-40s and she works in the field of education. Kim experienced a number of conflicts and a feeling of not being accepted as she explored ways to fit into a Jewish family and community. It has been difficult for her to find a comfortable level of participation in a religion that is not her own.
Kim (to be followed by her husband, Jeff)
When I was a child my parents would have described us as Protestant although we changed around quite a bit. My parents are very liberal. I think they had trouble with organized religion. They both cast off Christianity fairly easily as adults, but when we were kids they still wanted us to have some religious participation.
The churches I remember going to with my parents were Presbyterian. I absolutely hated going to Sunday school, and I never felt like I was very much connected to Christianity at all. Religion was sort of a non-issue for me.
Growing up, I really didn't know any Jewish people at all. Then I went to do an internship during college, in Washington, D.C. There were people from all over the country. My roommate was Jewish, from New Jersey, and she was really a character. Also, there were a lot of Jewish people in the building. I learned something about Judaism and being Jewish by osmosis.
I met Jeff when I came to Chicago for graduate school. He was working at the Peace Corps, and I was working in a woman's organization. I didn't meet many men, and I was kind of concerned about that. I was in my mid-twenties. I wanted to get married some day and have kids. Jeff and I started dating, and we became good friends and just kind of took things slowly.
Religion was not an issue for us. Jeff was not particularly hooked in to any Jewish community or culture. He didn't go to temple. He wasn't a very Jewish person. And by the time I met him I was really non-religious, so I honestly didn't think it could be a problem at all. It was, however, an issue with his family, which I didn't find out about until later. I would say I was very naïve about what it really meant to marry someone who was Jewish. I don't think I thought it could make that much difference.
I'll give you an example of
what happened. Jeff's parents live
This was fairly early on in our relationship. We might have been living together by then. And Jeff was bringing me home to meet his parents. He had really not dated a lot of women, so I think it was a big deal for his parents that he was bringing someone home. Of course, I never thought at all about what they must have been feeling because I wasn't Jewish.
But when I got there, everyone was very nice. We had a big meal, and his whole family was there. I'm sure they were all there because they wanted to see whom Jeff was dating finally. We were sitting at the table. Everyone was eating except his mother, who of course was running around in the kitchen. She never sits at the table. So there is this crowded table with this big family. All of a sudden, there's a moment of complete silence. Then his older brother says, "Well, at least she's not Black." And then they all laughed uproariously.
Since then, I've come to know this family. I don't think the brother who made that remark is really a racist, and I don't think he was trying to hurt me. He is just a funny, irreverent person. Anyhow, Jeff is laughing. Everyone's laughing. Of course, I've never forgotten this because it was really quite a moment. And I'm thinking, "Should I laugh, am I being insulted here, what is this?"
The flip side of it is that my parents simply thought it was interesting that I was dating someone Jewish. They certainly didn't mind. It was shocking to me that it was such a much different thing for his family. After that dinner was when I started to realize that this really was a big issue and that Jeff's parents were going to care.