December 18, 2003
Couple Struggles Over Intermarriage
"I've never felt that you really understood what huge changes you are asking of me."
Jake Gruber and Chloe Davis (not their real names), who have been living together for four years, are sitting at a cafe, projecting 10 years into the future.
He sees himself in a successful movie career, living a Modern Orthodox lifestyle with two, maybe three children. Shabbat is reality, the kitchen is kosher, Judaism is meaningful and his wife, of course, is Jewish.
Chloe winces when Jake gets to the part about three children -- maybe we'll stop at two, she says, smiling.
The rest of her future is much less certain, too. She can see raising the children Jewish and is willing to keep an observant home. But she just doesn't know if she can become Jewish.
"To say I'm going to follow these rules and make this my belief and my consciousness feels almost like a change in personality, and I like who I am," says Chloe, who calls the thought of an Orthodox conversion -- which requires intense study and a firm commitment to observance -- "daunting."
Chloe, also an actor, has always had issues with organized religion. Raised Episcopalian and Southern Baptist in Texas, she didn't accept all the dogma about Jesus, and never liked to think of one group as superior.
"I have always been very happy, and I would say proud to be unattached to a religion," Chloe says. "I believe in God, and I believe in a higher source, and we are all connected to each other. I just don't want to have to follow certain rules in order for that to be expressed."
Which makes it hard when your boyfriend was raised an Orthodox Jew in New York and expects his wife to be Jewish according to Orthodox standards.
Jake rebelled against Orthodoxy in college.
Coming from a divorced, dysfunctional family, he drank through yeshiva high school and through his years at Yeshiva University, where he began dropping the trappings of observance. When he moved to California to pursue a career in acting, writing and directing, he had been dating non-Jews for a while.
"Seeing such a terrible, dysfunctional relationship, I knew that love was so hard to find," Jake says. "And if you find love, it's love."
When he met Chloe at an audition, he made it pretty clear from the outset that anyone he would marry would have to undergo an Orthodox conversion.
Over the last few years, Jake has begun to resolve some of his religious issues, with the help of a kabbalistic rabbi in Brooklyn and has returned to praying every day and to observing Shabbat. He explains things to Chloe as he goes along, hoping that she will absorb the meaning.
"I'm trying to paint a picture of the love inside of Judaism and what logic is behind it and why it is so beautiful," he says.
But Judaism-by-osmosis hasn't quite clicked for Chloe.
"I've never felt that you really understood what huge changes you are asking of me," Chloe tells Jake. "I ask, 'What is wrong with me just as I am?' Something would be better if I were Jewish, so there is something wrong with me now," she says to him, clearly bringing up a conversation they've had before.
"And I always answer it's not better, it's different," Jake replies. "It is the utmost compliment to you, because if I didn't love you and think you were wonderful, I wouldn't be in this relationship.
"But there are other things that are important, because I feel like I have to answer for my soul," he adds.
Chloe feels like she is the one being asked to make all the compromises.
"It doesn't feel like meeting halfway," she says. "You're saying, 'You've got to come all the way over here,' and that is such a hard thing to think about, because I'm coming from all the way over there. It's just so far away."
She agrees with his assertion that in the larger picture of their relationship, he's made many other compromises, but both agree that they have reached a turning point, where they have to decide one way or other whether this is going to work.
Chloe has agreed to take some classes and read some books, but Jake is a little wary of what they might encounter if they approach an Orthodox rabbi, knowing that traditional Jewish law calls for a convert to be dissuaded three times before being allowed to embark on the process.
"I live with this woman, and I know she is a wonderful person, but you go to see some rabbi and she's just a goy," Jake says.
But he knows that there are some who might be more open, or perhaps there are some traditionally inclined rabbis from other denominations.
They write down some names and numbers of rabbis and organizations that can help.
"It does feel very lonely," Chloe says. "I don't know anyone else who is standing in the place where I am standing, coming from where I came from, looking at this. Jake says there are tons of women who have converted and done it easily, but for me this is a big deal -- a really big deal."
For resources for intermarried couples, visit:
www.interfaithfamily.comJewish Outreach Institute
Union For Reform Judaism www.uahc.org/outreach
Aish HaTorah, Los Angeles www.la.aishconnection.com