Building a Life Together: Insights from the 18Doors Couples and Conversation Class

In the midst of navigating the complexities of interfaith relationships, finding a safe space to explore religious and cultural identities can be invaluable. As part of the 18Doors Rukin Rabbinic Fellowship, I had the privilege of teaching a four-week workshop three different times, designed to help interfaith couples build a meaningful life together. This remote class brought together six couples from around the world, providing a unique opportunity to delve into questions and challenges specific to interfaith relationships.

The workshop welcomed couples who were seriously dating, engaged, or newly married, all eager to explore how their diverse heritages could coexist harmoniously. We tackled essential questions: How can we honor both of our heritages? Can we raise our children in one religion while exposing them to the other? How will we celebrate holidays and lifecycle events? How can we talk to parents and other relatives about our interfaith relationship?

Participants shared a common goal of making thoughtful decisions about their religious, spiritual, and cultural lives together. The support from other couples and with me as the guide the goal was to provide a non-judgmental environment for these crucial conversations. Through each session, I witnessed the power of community and the importance of staying connected to one’s family of origin.

Every couple I worked with brought unique perspectives, yet they all faced similar questions. Their solutions, however, were deeply personal and varied. Whether grappling with the logistics of observing two religions in one household or navigating conversations with extended family about their decisions, each couple’s journey was distinct. The common thread was their commitment to building a life together that honored both their backgrounds.

For me, the greatest lesson came from listening. Through the lens of each couple, I gained insights into my own perceptions of religion, nationality, ethnicity, culture, and identity. I saw reflections of my own children and our collective children at RSNS, in their struggles and triumphs. The act of truly listening fostered growth—not just for the couples, but for myself as well.

As it is written in the Hebrew Bible, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). This wisdom speaks to the essence of our workshop—creating a supportive environment where couples can uplift each other and work together towards a shared future. This wisdom extended beyond the couples, as two couples, the whole community was better than one trying to navigate these meaningful questions alone.

I am profoundly grateful to RSNS, my congregation, for providing a community that has allowed me to hone the skills of opening instead of closing boundaries. Your support has been instrumental in my growth as a rabbi through this fellowship. It has fostered my ability to be present with individual couples and our broader community.

These couples were a gift, teaching me the importance of being an obstacle remover rather than an impediment placer. As a rabbi and a parent, I strive to support couples in meaningful dialogue about building sacred commitments and living within community and extended family. When couples feel heard and supported, they are more likely to stay connected to the Jewish community, regardless of the specific observances they choose for their homes.

This workshop has reinforced my belief that the journey of building a life together is as diverse as the couples themselves. The conversations we had and the relationships we built continue to inspire me. Through these connections, I am reminded of the enduring power of love, commitment, and the importance of creating inclusive spaces for interfaith couples to thrive in their individual relationships and in the communities that welcome them. RSNS is one of those sacred communities. That is a blessing.

With thanks for the opportunity for continued learning,

Rabbi Jodie