I’d like to be sure everyone knows about an important new addition to our website. Please visit http://www.interfaithfamily.com/loveandreligion where you can learn about — and purchase — Love and Religion, a film and workshop guide by our good friend Dr. Marion Usher.
On Sunday December 6 I was happy to participate in the “world premiere” of Marion’s film at the Washington Jewish Film Festival, held at the Washington DC JCC. There was a pre-showing brunch, then what looked like 200-250 people watched the film, then Marion, the JCC’s Jean Graubart and I participated in a panel discussion and took audience questions.
For fifteen years, Marion, a clinical psychologist with a private practice, has been conducting classes for interfaith couples, mostly interdating or newly married, as a volunteer at the JCC. (She is also very active in working with interfaith couples and families at her congregation, Adas Israel.) The film is a documentary that highlights excerpts of the four sessions of the class, and the accompanying manual is meant to show other professionals how they could replicate Marion’s model in their own communities.
The film is very powerful. Marion explains that couples come to her class because religion matters to them and they want to have a religious life together, but are facing challenges because of their different backgrounds. In the film,five couples share their very personal feelings. Some have not decided and are clearly conflicted about what they will do, some think they will raise future children in “both” religions, some have decided to raise children Jewish but are concerned whether they’ll be able to do so. In one session the partners talk about their religious upbringing, what they find meaningful in those religious practices, and what they would like to bring forward into their lives together; in another, they talk about their families of origin and how they conceive of their own identity. Pretty much every issue that young interfaith couples face is mentioned by one or the other of the couples in the film.
One of Marion’s key points is to talk about having a “lead religion” in the home. She does not hide her agenda and clearly states, at the beginning of the class, that one of her goals is to encourage the couples to make Jewish choices. But she talks about Judaism as the lead religion in the home, by which she means that an interfaith couple will always have the presence of another religious tradition, at the least among the non-Jewish partners’ relatives. Another of Marion’s key points is that loss is always part of the experience of an interfaith couples. “Sameness” is lost in an interfaith relationship. But identifying that loss occurs makes resolution and reconciliation possible. In the last session, Marion brings family theory into the class to help couples avoid destructive behaviors and repair their relationships.
Several of the couples from the film, and other alumni, came to the showing. It was great to meet them, and to hear that many of them had learned about Marion’s class on InterfaithFamily.com, or have used our resources regularly. It was also great to hear some of their stories — some had gotten engaged, some had been married with rabbis officiating, one had had a boy and a bris, one was pregnant. And Marion explained that one of the couple’s in the film had ended their relationship when they realized the importance to each of them of raising a child in their own faith. Marion described that as a positive outcome of her class too.
There is no doubt in my mind, however, that participating in a discussion group like this has a potentially powerful impact that favors couples making Jewish choices for their family life and their children. Marion has seen it over and over again in the fifteen years she’s been doing this work, and that is why one of her goals is to have her model replicated in communities all over the country. She thinks every one of the 250 JCC’s in the country should offer a class, and hopes that her film and manual will help that to happen. Sadly, other than in Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta and Washington DC, a couples discussion group is hard to find, and I join in Marion’s hope to see more of these classes taking place in the future.
But I also think that watching the film would be a great discussion starter for an individual couple. Not nearly as good as participating in a group discussion, where hearing what others are going through and thinking can both make a couple feel not alone and help a couple by sharing the insights of others. But still a good way to spur a healthy discussion about the role of religion in their lives. That’s why I hope that in addition to professionals who could conduct groups, couples themselves will watch the film.
I said in my comments at the film festival that Marion Usher is a “jewel” that the Washington DC community is lucky to have. Congratulations to her!
This post originally appeared on www.interfaithfamily.com and is reprinted with permission.