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How do you explore your Jewish legacy and heritage in your relationship?

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This story comes to us from Moishe House, an organization that trains, supports and sponsors young Jewish leaders as they create vibrant home-based communities for themselves and their peers. 

This post originally appeared on The Genesis Prize blog, as a response to the prompt, "How do you explore your Jewish legacy and heritage in your relationship?"

By: Sam Mandel and Alicia Gutierrez 

My name is Sam, and I have been dating my girlfriend Alicia for the last three years. She’s Christian and I’m Jewish. Alicia knows as much or more than I do about the wisdom of the Hebrew Bible, or as she affectionately calls it “The Old Testament.” We share its principles, morals, and ethics, and we have taught one another a great deal. We don’t believe there needs to be conflict between our religious beliefs because we believe that theology is second to living a virtuous life.

When Bob Dylan – a Jew – and Martin Luther King Jr. – a Christian – stood together at the March on Washington, they were united in their mission and actions. It wasn’t a common faith or religion that brought them together, but rather they were united by their common values, like what happened between Alicia and me. We share similar values, such as showing compassion for others and helping to heal the world.

Although neither of us are getting married or having kids any time soon, these conversations have come up more than once as a necessary part of us having a healthy future together. These conversations range from our religious beliefs to our cultural upbringing, to how much blanket you can pull to your side of the bed before you find yourself on the floor with no blanket at all. We talk about what we’re flexible on when it comes to raising our children and what we’re not, the non-negotiables.

For me, my children must go to Hebrew school, be Bar or Bat Mitzvahed, and identify as Jewish. For Alicia, her children must know the story of Jesus, a story deeply inspiring to her and something she looks forward to sharing with them. I’ve voiced my concerns with what that means, and she’s helped me to understand. It doesn’t mean she wants to teach them that Jesus is the son of God, or their only savior. It means she wants them to live a life full of love, light, and miracles. There are many other traditions and values that are very important to us both, but those are the big ones that stand-out. At the end of the day, honest communication is king.

I’ve always considered blessing the food to be a Christian ritual because growing up, my family rarely said HaMotzi before a meal. But Alicia introduced this practice into our relationship, and now I know it’s as Jewish as my having three different opinions on the same topic. I’m proud to say we regularly thank Hashem together for the abundance we have in our lives, on the table and otherwise. We pray to the same God. We know him/her to be a divine and magical force within us. We share a profound connection with one another and nurture each other’s connection with God.

We just completed a four-month long course in Judaism at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. We had a great time exploring together and exchanging new realizations and opinions each week. We had many a great late night discussion together after class over a hot bowl of our favorite soup; vegetable pho.

I started the Venice Beach Moishe House in January this year with the generous support of Joel Stanley, Michael Gropper, The David and Janet Polak Foundation, and The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles. Alicia and I share a room in this house, and although she isn’t an official member of Moishe House, she’s just as passionate about unifying the community with quality programming as anyone else. We work together to accomplish the same goals and spread positivity and self-expression among our peers.

The motto of my parents’ generation is “Find a nice Jewish girl and marry her.” While I think having family dinners, celebrating holidays, figuring out what traditions to carry on, and child-rearing would be easier if every Jewish boy ended up with a Jewish girl, perhaps the 21st century calls for a little more inclusion. We don’t always get to choose who we fall in love with. When Jews have deep, meaningful relationships with non-Jews, romantic or other, they have an opportunity to not only learn more about other cultures and religions but to also share the teachings and values of Judaism with people who may not have been exposed to them otherwise. These relationships break stereotypes and strengthen humanity.    

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.