Breaking the Glass
Episode 3 - Breaking the News Part 2
Rabbi Handlarski 00:00
I think as institutions, you know, our role is to serve the people. And I mean, there is some fear there too. It is true that some communities their doors are closing. So the fear might be real, but your job is to support the people.
Welcome back to Breaking the Glass. I'm your host, Emma Newbery, and this is episode three, Breaking the News part two. Last episode was focused on the interpersonal experience of sharing a serious relationship with a partner of a different religious identity with one's family. This episode turns those experiences outward and poses them as a kind of challenge to religious communities. Today, we're going to take a look at how institutions support—or don't—multifaith relationships and families and why that might be the case. While situations vary, many families have come to some kind of understanding about the personal choices of their members when it comes to who they love. And that's largely because these instances of acceptance, whether overt or not, are also based in love. As Susan Froelich said last episode,
You’re gonna love your children. However they are.
Behind closed doors, tides are changing, but no one wants to see doors closing anymore.
Rabbi Handlarski 01:18
And on the one hand, you're so scared that nobody's going to want to come and connect and that you can't keep the lights on. And on the other hand, all these people who want to come and connect, you say you're not Jewish enough, your partner's not Jewish enough, your kids aren’t Jewish enough… You can come but there's a lot of barriers and we might not be that nice to you. Like, it's bananas.
In short, siloing our community doesn't help anyone, not synagogues, churches, mosques and other faith communities when it comes to attendance and vibrance of their populations, and certainly not multifaith couples who want to feel comfortable and welcome to engage with their communities. As Imam Imaad Sayeed, one of the few Imams performing interfaith marriage ceremonies today puts it,
Imam Imaad Sayeed 02:00
A lot of these people don't want to live two separate lives, they want to just be who they are, and that's who they are, and they still want to engage in that community.
So this episode is going to be a bit different from the last one for a couple of reasons. Number one, the focal point here is less on people with direct connections to multifaith partnerships, and more on institutions who serve them, or claim to. And two, we're going to dive more explicitly into the intergenerational trauma that was sort of living at the edges of the last episode, and we're going to answer this question: Why is it different for Jewish communities in particular, to confront multifaith relationships on a communal level? But the reason this is part two and not a standalone episode is because of the importance of maintaining both compassion and accountability. Those two things extend beyond parents and their children in private interactions to the generations that make up ever changing and what many hope are growing religious communities.
Rabbi Howard 02:57
I wouldn't I wouldn't say it's intolerance per se. It is really a lack of comfort.
Rabbi Howard Voss Altman is the rabbi for Temple Habonim in Barrington, Rhode Island. Not only did he marry someone who wasn't born Jewish, she converted. But he was also the first rabbi to officiate multifaith marriages at the previous temple he served, Temple Beth El. That community he told me was excited and happy to have the tide finally shift. Here, however, he's talking about the general institutional attitudes toward multifaith marriages, which aren't always as progressive
Rabbi Howard 03:35
For many reasons, Reform and Conservative rabbis have objected to interfaith marriage because of the demographics that are and statistics that are often cited about interfaith marriage and the ramifications of it, which is that of people who are interfaith, their children and their grandchildren are less committed Jewishly. And so they don't want to be a part of that. And there's a feeling amongst, let's say, older, older Jews, that the only way to ensure Jewish continuity is to ensure that marriages are intrafaith—in-marriages basically.
You probably noticed that Rabbi Howard only mentioned Reform and Conservative rabbis. Those are really the two movements of Judaism that we're going to be focusing on in this series. And that's because, as Rabbi Handlarski puts it.
Rabbi Handlarski 04:27
First of all, I would say that there are many different kinds of Jewish communities and unfortunately, in many Orthodox communities, these conversations haven't shifted very much. There is a lot of intolerance around intermarriage, what I want to talk about as people who aren't Orthodox, so all of the other streams, movements and ways of being Jewish
Rabbi Howard 04:43
There's a failure to recognize, of course, the waves are coming over the beach, and they're not going to be stopped. It's not some sort of conspiracy to undermine the Jewish community. It's the natural consequence of a very tolerant and accepting society.
Rabbi Handlarski 04:59
I think it used to be very common to be overtly anti-intermarriage. And now I think, partly because they're afraid about not being able to keep the lights on there, there’s this like “we're welcoming of intermarried families.” But are you? You know, have you done the work? Have you communicated with the people for, you know, decades heard about how terrible intermarriage was? If the whole community hasn't undergone a process, then you haven't actually become welcoming yet.
You may remember that at the beginning of episode one. You heard Rabbi Handlarski say
Rabbi Handlarski 05:36
A lot of these people, demographically speaking, are staying Jewish are raising kids with Jewish identities.
And then earlier in this episode, Rabbi Howard referenced those who believe in statistics that seemed to counteract those.
Rabbi Howard 05:47
Demographics that are and statistics that are often cited about interfaith marriage and the ramifications of it, which is that people who are interfaith, their children and their grandchildren are less committed Jewishly
in 2013, the Pew Research Center conducted a study of US Jewry, and the National Center to Encourage Judaism reports that that study found that among millennials, 61% of those born to intermarried couples consider themselves Jewish. That's more than half. So where is the fear mongering over these numbers coming from? First, we need to understand what the numbers are saying. From a statistical perspective, the rate of multifaith marriage has only climbed and will continue to do so. Starting in the 1970s, Jewish Federations across the country started to sponsor these national Jewish population surveys, which were sort of taking the temperature of the American Jews about assimilation, cultural practice, and things like that. For the first two decades that the surveys were conducted, multifaith marriage wasn't even really in the questionnaire, because it was just assumed that Jews were marrying other Jews. That's why, during the NJPS survey in 1990, there was a number that shocked everyone. That study found that the rate of multifaith marriage among Jews who were not orthodox over the previous five years was 52%. This sent Jewish institutional leaders across denominations of Judaism into a complete uproar.
Rabbi Handlarski 07:29
It's amazing how powerful narrative can be and that narrative that like intermarriage will destroy the Jews is so strong in people's minds.
In a 1991 essay collection, author and literary critic Leslie Fiedler, referred to the statistic as “the silent Holocaust,” describing himself as a “terminal Jew,” the last of a 4000 year line.
In the decade following, there were lots of efforts to encourage connectivity and even exclusivity of the Jewish community. Efforts such as Birthright, which you may have heard of, Jewish day schools outside of the Orthodox denomination, increased funding of Jewish programming like summer camps, all of these things really started to ramp up in the name of Jewish continuity, which basically just means we want to make sure that there are Jews into the future, that children are being raised Jewish and continuing the Jewish tradition. The rates of multifaith marriage continued to rise landing at 58% in 2013, and as the 2020 Pew report found 72% for Jews who are not Orthodox. Along with those climbing numbers was a consistent effort by Jewish communities to combat them.
In 2015, a group of Jewish leaders published a report called “A Statement on Jewish Vitality,” essentially reasserting the attitude that multifaith marriage was the number one factor plaguing the Jewish community and sapping its strength. Citing these sorts of scary rising statistics that more Jews are marrying people who aren't Jews. The implication of that was that the children of those unions would not be Jewish. One quote from the statement reads, non-Orthodox Jewish women bear on average, just 1.7 children, which is below the 2.1 replacement level. Here's me giving you an aside that for those who don't know, the replacement level means the amount of Jews that would need to be brought into the world to restore a pre-Holocaust population count across the world. The statement then says, and owing to intermarriage, many of those children will identify as non-Jews when they grow up. So the numbers are there, or I should say, numbers are in that phrase, but the emotional and hypothetical leap that that sentence takes is sort of a microcosm of the reaction of many communities to numbers that, if taken differently, could actually help them. Ed Case, founder of Interfaith Family was at the forefront of thinkers and writers trying to push back against this terminal diagnosis of the Jewish community.
I wrote something called, you know, “Vitality or Decline” and said that that was just a prescription for decline.
He continued to counter the argument in 2021 in E-Jewish Philanthropy after the most recent Pew study came out, which yielded that 72% number. Here, my colleague Sarah paraphrases his article,
Ed gathered information from the Pew report that points to a high level of engagement among multifaith families in Jewish life. They share holidays and cultural observance with family and friends, both Jewish and not. Maybe most interestingly, he points out that only 27% of surveyed multifaith couples felt a sense of belonging in the Jewish community. While 72% of surveyed couples in Jewish faith marriages reported feeling a great deal of belonging in the Jewish community.
Maybe it's not the climbing numbers 52, 58, 72% of multifaith marriage that we should be paying attention to. Maybe it's quite literally the reverse. While 72% of Jewish/Jewish unions report feeling a great deal of belonging in the Jewish community, only 27% of multifaith couples feel welcome. Could that be the reason why there's a perceived decline in Jewish continuity? Not because they don't want to be there, but because they're being turned away. I won't leave you hanging. The answer is yes. More on that after this short break.
[AD BREAK] 11:39
Mark your calendar for the New Year at the Gamm Theatre and “Faith Healer” by celebrated Irish playwright Brian Friel. This fascinating tale of an itinerant faith healer unfolds in spellbinding revelations, exploring truth and superstition three weeks only starting January 12. GammTheatre.org
Welcome back. If you'll remember at the end of last episode, we closed with a clip from Susan Froehlich,
We haven't really talked about the role of the Conservative synagogue in this. Frustrating. There's not a lot of room in Conservative Judaism for interfaith marriage.
Susan gave me a bit of insight into her experience with a Conservative temple that she belongs to,
Even if a clergy feels he or she wants to do an interfaith marriage, they're not allowed to. I was very disappointed. Really, really disappointed. I did talk to one of our rabbis and I said, “Look, you know, all of us are talking to each other. Can't we have some kind of a support group for parents so that you know how to talk to your kid, you don't want to alienate your kid, you want to embrace them, you want to make room for it.” And that never happened.
Rabbi Handlarski 12:54
Even sometimes I know of cases where a rabbi has been very welcoming, but the community members aren't welcoming. Or the child at Sunday school gets bullied. So there can be many kinds of iterations.
And a lot of the guests I interviewed shared experiences like this too. Here's Karen Voci and Howard Zimmerman talking about their experiences with their sons…
We did sign up at the Conservative synagogue in Cranston. And that didn't work out. Because my kids were talking about how they were going to go to their grandmother's for Christmas, and they got kind of like, sternly lectured.
And then of course, there's Ed's story, which you may remember from last episode, the rabbi who said
You'd be stabbing your father in the back with a knife.
I really feel that Conservative Judaism… I don't know how they're gonna figure it out. I really don't.
Conservative communities aren't the only ones at a crossroads with this.
Rabbi Handlarski 13:47
There are some communities, some rabbis who are trying to walk a very difficult line where they'll say, “We're celebratory of all kinds of partnerships and families, please come join us.” Will you officiate an interfaith wedding? No. Every community does have to figure out their line.
Each temple I guess, does their own thing. I remember being on the board a bunch of years ago, and they were talking about the non-Jewish spouse going up to the Bema. So that was the big deal. And that got voted through. Then a few years later, the issue was, can the non-Jewish spouse be on the board of the temple? That was a huge decision and didn't go through right away. I don't even know if it is now because I'm not really involved in the temple. Then we talked about no interfaith marriage, but there could be a welcoming of that complete couple at a Shabbat service after their wedding. So that's kind of I think where it is now at template Emanu-El.
Rabbi Handlarski 14:49
It can be a little bit messy, and I would just say, there needs to be just clear communication. What do you mean when you say you're welcoming of intermarriage or interfaith or intercultural families in partnerships?
As I said before, Conservative Judaism is not alone in this. We’ll hear some stories from the Reform Movement a little bit later in this episode. But what the Conservative Movement does have is an explicit rule on the books against multifaith marriage. What I learned through my research is that there is actually an explicit mandate in the Conservative Rabbinical Assemblies Code of Conduct against performing, being part of, or even attending a multifaith marriage. The most recent edits to this code we're about 10 years ago. So there's no saying that it won't change in the future. But as we're thinking about changes that need to be made, or even change that is being made, we still have to think about what Rabbi Handlarski asked
Rabbi Handlarski 15:44
There’s this like “we're welcoming of intermarried families.” But are you?
There have been rabbis who have quite literally been kicked out of the Conservative movement for officiating multifaith weddings. So this is what Susan meant by
Even if a clergy feels he or she wants to do an interfaith marriage, they're not allowed to.
The Atlantic reported that in 2016, Seymour Rosenbloom, who was a rabbi in Philadelphia, wrote an op-ed about officiating the marriage of his stepdaughter and her husband who wasn't Jewish. And after that was published, leaders of the rabbinical assembly actually expelled him after more than 40 years being part of that organization. It was a unanimous vote.
My mom grew up going to a conservative synagogue. And I remember her telling me
Dad's father, I mean, he was very happy for us and he wasn't saying don't get married, or quite the opposite, but he just wanted to make sure we had explored some things. Somehow my parents Rabbi got wind of it, and similarly felt we should discuss certain things. But you know, I was really happy to hear anything that your grandfather had to say. But in terms of our that Rabbi, no, because he didn't I knew he didn't approve of interfaith marriage
What grandfather are you talking about?
Charlie. Because his was very loving and not coming from some kind of doctrine, you know?
As one conservative Rabbi reported to The Forward, a lot of conservative rabbis are looking for ways to circumvent this rule. The rabbi, Rabbi Rolando Matalon of congregation B'nai Jeshurun in New York, told The Forward there are members of the rabbinical assembly doing it under the radar right and left. He actually resigned from the rabbinical assembly over this issue, and others are leaving too.
Rabbi Emily Cohen, who now leads the West End Reconstructionist Synagogue in Manhattan, wrote into the publication Hey Alma about her experience having her mentor, a Conservative rabbi, be forced to leave the Conservative movement in order to officiate his daughter's and then Emily's weddings. Here's an excerpt from her article, which was published in early September 2022.
Even knowing how encouraging Rabbi Citron was of my path, I knew that he would probably never be able to officiate my wedding. I remember thinking in my 20s, long before I met my fiancée, how unfortunate it was that the rabbi I knew best and loved most wouldn't be able to be my rabbi on one of my most important days. I don't envy the Conservative Movement’s position of having to try to balance strict adherence to Jewish law with the sociological evolution of the United States. I do know that when movement policy means a rabbi can't marry a rabbi to another Jew, there's something amiss. I know that interfaith families are the present and future of every progressive Jewish movement, and the choice of the Conservative Movement to bar rabbis from fully celebrating those marriages is harmful. I know that my rabbi shouldn't have to leave the movement he's been a part of his whole life—80 years—to perform his daughter's wedding and my own. And I know that by choosing welcome and love and connection at every opportunity, Rabbi Citron is making the Jewish world better. May I be so worthy as to grow into a rabbi like him?
Rabbi Handlarski 19:02
There are some people who have left Judaism and they aren't likely to raise Jewish kids. And often to be honest, they came to be that way because the Jewish community became so insular and so hysterical about the question of intermarriage, even people who weren't intermarried or the children of intermarriage got turned off. It was like what you know, nobody wants to hear that you must do this with your life and you have to love these people. And it seems very sort of closed and unwelcoming. And so it did turn a lot of people away.
We'll be right back.
[AD BREAK] 19:49
Looking to stay active when the weather is [ominous storm]… Meet us at the J! At the Dwares JCC, you can strengthen your mind, body or spirit and you'll be strengthening our community too. Located in the heart of Providence’s east side, the J is your home for health, wellness and community. We invite people of all backgrounds and family constellations to join us. To learn more, you can head to JewishAllianceRI.org, or give us a call at 401-421-4111.
When I spoke to Rabbi Handlarski that second time, I asked her, “What is the institutional excuse among Reform and Conservative communities for intolerance?”
Rabbi Handlarski 20:32
So interesting, because you're saying, you know, what is the excuse for intolerance? And others would be like, well, these are our, you know, very Jewishly informed reasons. And they wouldn't say intolerance, they would say, for trying to preserve Jewish/Jewish unions, right. So even in the way we consider the question, I think some of our own perspectives and even biases sort of come through. And so you as you know, my, my feeling on these questions is that while it is true from a Jewish legal perspective, one has with your Jewish you must also wed somebody who is Jewish, there are many, many Jews who are participating in Jewish life in all kinds of ways and who are very Jewish, religiously, culturally, you know, in all kinds of ways. And they don't necessarily follow a lot of Jewish law. And this is just one aspect. So I often say to people who might have a problem, well, you know, if you will drive on Shabbat, if you, you know, don't keep fully kosher, like why this rule? What is it about this rule that seems too unbreakable whereas others are less so? So just to answer your question, from the perspective of the very Orthodox, if you're trying to follow all the Jewish laws, this is simply one of them. And in many ways, that is the most consistent perspective right? When you get into the other branches of Judaism, “Why this law?” is a question that I think people should really wrestle with.
This next segment contains some clips from a conversation I had with Rabbi Howard Voss Altman, who, if you’ll remember, brought interfaith marriage to Temple Beth-El, a Reform community, and is a proud officiant of interfaith marriages at his current Reform synagogue. But as Rabbi Handlarski said about everyone needing to find their own line, he did have some conditions to this acceptance. I spliced together snippets of my conversation with him alongside the rest of my conversation with Rabbi Handlarski to highlight that there are real people with dimension and depth who are embodying and living out the negotiation of these rules and contradictions every day. And it can be hard.
Rabbi Handlarski 22:55
Generally speaking, people will explain that their reasons for not wanting to officiate in intermarriages or opposing intermarriage is because the concern is around Jewish continuity.
Rabbi Howard 23:06
I think it's fair to say that I am doing this for the benefit of the Jewish people. That's my, that's my job. And, and if you want to have a Jewish home and, and consider raising Jewish children, then of course, we're going to do this and I want to welcome you. And that's important. But if you don't…
Rabbi Handlarski 23:28
There is a real sense that if people are going to intermarry and have children, that they you know, there's been a lot of fear that they won't raise children in a Jewish way, or they will but the Judaism will be, quote, watered down, that's something you hear a lot.
Rabbi Howard 23:45
If you say something like, we want to raise them as both, then we have to have a serious conversation about that, because both is not acceptable. If they're both, then they're neither.
Rabbi Handlarski 23:55
And that will ultimately in you know, many generations or a couple of generations lead to either the destruction of the Jewish people or the decimation of Judaism sort of as we understand it
Rabbi Howard 24:07
Jewish people may just be one of those things, that you just feel emotionally, and that you can expect people who are not raised Jewish to maybe understand what that means, or the sense of connection or emotion that people might have. Which is kind of an old fashioned perspective, but one that I think we haven't really yet answered.
I try very hard in my work, not to let my emotions get the best of me, especially during an interview and I don't always do a great job of it. I'm human. Some of the things that Rabbi Howard said, particularly that children of interfaith marriage—if they're both they're neither, that there is really this watering down—really hurt me. I was raised Jewish, I had a bat mitzvah, we never went to church, but we had a Christmas tree in our home. My grandfather was a minister
Rabbi Howard 25:14
Sometimes you'll have a relative who is a minister, and they’ll want to give a blessing. I was like, no, no, we can't do that.
There were definitely Christian sensibilities around how I grew up. So what does that mean for me? I struggled with this thought for a long time, after the interview—months. And I decided to call up Rabbi Handlarski again, because I wanted to hear her thoughts on it. I thought she, if anyone, would really be blunt with me about how to work through this for myself.
Rabbi Handlarski 25:56
While I disagree with that perspective, I do think it's useful when we're in these conversations to approach it with some empathy and say, look, what you care about, is the Jewish people. And sometimes we can find common ground. I say, I also care about the Jewish people. Here's why it's complicated. Some of the anxieties around intermarriage come from ancestral trauma, we know that the Jews are a small global population that have faced immense discrimination, violence, and genocide. And so there has been a feeling that we have to stick together for safety. That's not the entirety of why folks are against intermarriage. But that does play a role. And I don't want to just dismiss that, right, that's meaningful, that's real. And that can't just be explained away. That requires some processing. So you know, let's turn towards that with kindness and compassion. And you don't get to cause harm to others because of these very real and valid concerns. There is antisemitism that is valid. And being ghettoized actually doesn't make us safer.
What Rabbi Handlarski is saying makes sense. And it's understandable why it may be hard to let go of a mindset like that, for a people who have been forced to keep it for so long. I sat down with my colleague Sarah Katz Greenleaf, whose wife Rebecca comes from a family of survivors who came from Lithuania. I asked her to share her and her wife's story, because stories like these really provide context for the kinds of trauma informed responses to the prospect of assimilation, openness, meeting new people, spending time with people who weren't Jewish, all of these things that, while for some, including some children of these families seemed like a great opportunity really provoked a lot of fear. Parts of Sarah and Becca’s stories are put together with the experiences of Karen and Howard, Susan Froehlich and Rabbi Howard too, because the message that Rabbi Handlarski is trying to communicate isn't new. Even during the time periods you'll hear some of our guests speak about, there have always been colliding understandings about how the Jewish experience should look and be
It’s interesting because my wife does a lot of Holocaust education stuff she does, especially when we lived in LA. And one of the things she would remark on it's like, there are some survivors who are like, take, take everything that they went through, and you know, go to schools and talk about it and are really part of like educating the community and Becca would always be like, my grandparents just could never do that. But they were too traumatized. You know, there are people who were sent to camps. There are people who avoided being sent to camps. There are people who were in hiding. There are people whose towns were invaded by Nazis. But I think the thing for my wife's grandfather that was so traumatizing was that the people who came for him or were not strangers, they were his neighbors. They were like the people he grew up with and who he knew his entire life. And he ended up living and surviving in the woods, for I think, three years. And for them, it was like when they came to America, it wasn't… It wasn't necessarily like, oh, everything was fine. Now, it was like, everything is scary. Everything will always be scary.
Rabbi Howard 29:30
My parents, neither of them, who may were born in 1928 and 1932, respectively, neither of them would have ever considered marrying a non-Jewish person. Never.
As Rabbi Howard is explaining here, this is really the case for a lot of Jewish families. Jewish communities were incredibly insular in America and across the world following the Holocaust, partially out of a sense of survival and safety.
Rabbi Howard 29:55
In the 1950s when they got married, or the 1940s when they met, there wasn't, there wasn't an opportunity to meet non-Jews. They lived in an insular world. You met Jewish people, you only consider dating Jewish people
The center of our life, we always did Shabbat, we observed the holidays, and everyone married people who were Jewish. It was just so important to my parents, all their friends were Jewish. All our relatives were Jewish, everybody was Jewish.
They would tell my father in law, like, don't talk to them. They're not Jewish.
I remember, I think it was in junior high school, I was invited to a party. Yeah, my mother said that I couldn't go. Because it was not a Jewish party.
You know, the idea of like, you can't play little league. There aren't like, they're not Jewish—they’re not Jewish, they might kill you. Which is a very intense way to grow up, I think. But also like, it makes sense from what they came from.
It was actually a couple of generations. So I was with, you know, grandparents, who took all this very, very seriously. They were Orthodox
It was like you were with the Jewish kids. And you were, they were quotas on how many Jewish kids they would take into the schools… At Narragansett beach, you have two pavilions, you walk down, you know, not very far down. And there's the Dunes Club. Okay, the Dunes Club was always for non-Jews, Jewish people were not allowed there. You know. So when our friends were at the Dunes Club, where kids we went to school with, they would say, Oh, do you go to the Jewish beach?
Well, the thing that's so interesting, too, is like, I think it's also not necessarily like a top down directive, like you can't marry a non-Jew, like nobody has ever said that. But…
There was clearly the expectation that I would only date and only marry a Jewish woman. And again, it wasn't really a constant battle. It was just what was expected of me.
On my wife's mom's side, in her generation, in that family, like tons of people are dating and marrying people who are not Jewish, but on her dad's side of the family, which is like, very steeped in “survivor…” No one's married a non-Jew. No one said that they couldn't. But like, no one has, and I don't know that anyone will.
Rabbi Handlarski 32:31
These feelings of like, I just want my kids, my grandkids to be safe. Yes, you know, we all want that. So how can we work together to make sure we're combating antisemitism? We're you know, getting at the root of that without saying that we can only be with people who are also Jewish right because it's not working. This requires you know, some some trauma works and bodywork some healing work, some therapy, you know, the fact that we live in open diverse societies where people want to marry Jews, it's actually a good sign. To know that people love us like isn't that wonderful? They usually universally hate us.
Rabbi Handlarski is painting a picture of an open, diverse and positive world where multifaith marriage is not a threat to the Jewish community, but an asset. After all of these stories, you may be asking, what does that look like in a practical sense? For one perspective, we can turn to Imam Imaad Sayeed, who you heard briefly at the beginning of this episode.
Imam Imaad Sayeed 33:29
Yeah, super chuffed Emma and super happy that you know, been able to kind of make this happen.
This is Imam Imaad Sayeed. I wasn't sure what we were going to make of each other since I set up this interview via an Instagram DM. Imam Imaad is young with dark curly hair, an easy smile and is full of British-isms. I could see immediately why so many couples are drawn to him—beyond out of necessity. Born and raised in Woodford Green, an area of Essex County in the suburbs of London, he's now one of the only Imams who officiates multifaith ceremonies through his network, the London Nikah, he splits his time between London, New Jersey, and wherever ceremonies take him on top of a full time job.
Imam Imaad Sayeed 34:15
I was growing up in a very conservative paradigm, or in a conservative household in conservative Islamic education. So I don't think at all my upbringing had anything in terms of forming my view as to where I am today. It more so happened after I had done my Islamic education, when you generally become what is known as a Hafiz, a protector of the Quran, because, you know, people could get rid of all the Qurans in the world but essentially, it's in the hearts of obviously all these Huffaz as in plural, you know multiple Hafiz, you get thrown into, I guess, certain religious customs. Within about 10 years of doing that in my late 20s, I also then did an official Imamship course in the UK, which exposed me to various areas that a Imam can play a part in. And one of those areas was marriage. And through that I started conducting marriage ceremonies. And they were mainly for Muslim couples at the time, and I guess I took on the consensus view at that time that so I didn't necessarily have to delve too deep into that. But then, you know, the examples came of Muslim women wanting to marry non-Muslim men most instances from an Abrahamic faith, I had to really think about like, am I going to take a new path here and allow this couple to get married? Or do I in some sense, ostracize them. And eventually, I kind of came to the conclusion that my faith teaches a lot about tolerance. One of the verses in the Quran that really helped me in this was, there is a verse in the Quran that says that there is no compulsion in religion. And I think when you think of it from that perspective, that there is no compulsion in religion, you cannot force anything upon anybody. If they want to believe if they don't want to believe you can't force that. Islam is a very tolerant faith, a very accepting faith, one in which we don't ostracize people, regardless of their faith, or, you know, religious background, and I really wanted the ceremonies to be representative of that, which is why, you know, back in 2017, is when I started conducting these inter-religious or interfaith ceremonies,
Imam Ahmad talked about the role of a Hafiz, a protector of the Quran, the core text of Islam. That when it's in people's hearts, it's never really gone, it lives on. Maybe we can begin to understand our own approaches in the Jewish community, our relationship to and rejection of multifaith unions, through this lens too. We want to protect what is sacred to us, everybody does.
Imam Imaad Sayeed 37:02
You know, I think we have to kind of go to the points of kind of tolerance and acceptance, it's so important, especially in today's day and age where there is a lot of division there is, you know, it's very easy to divide, it's very easy to have, you know, to be us versus them and, you know, I think religion is meant to teach us to be able to overcome these things, to unite you know, and to live in tolerance and to live in harmony, you know, not you know, us being able to live comfortably at the expense of another group. You know, we have to, I guess, think from a much more higher level and much more noble level when it comes to applying our religious texts and in a way that is harmonious among various people
Rabbi Handlarski 37:58
We have such interesting expectations around weddings
Next time on Breaking the Glass…
Yeah, it was just, it was beautiful, because there was so many things that I learned commonalities between Islam or Judaism just through that, like little things like we call it the Kitab you know, whereas in Jewish faith, we call it the Katub.
And it was a blend of religions and a blend of cultures. We had, I wore a white wedding dress, but then afterwards we had Indian clothes and…
We had Persian music, Indian music, there was dance music, there was all you know, like, the last song was Al Green’s Let's Stay Together which is my parents wedding song you know, like so there's so much going on.
Stay tuned for our next episode, episode four, “Breaking the Glass”
…like the breaking of the glass at the end
…to break a glass at the end with my foot, and you know
…Break the glass
…Breaking the glass
We broke the glass
…breaking the glass
Tips, tricks and experiences of multifaith couples and clergy who have officiated multifaith weddings to see how people make their special day uniquely theirs. Thank you so much for tuning in. I hope you'll join me next time on Breaking the Glass.
Today's episode was made possible by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.
If you're enjoying Breaking the Glass and you'd like to help support this podcast series, please share it with others, post about it on social media, leave a rating and review and subscribe. And be sure to check out the links and resources included in the show notes. As always, you can head over to JewishRhody.com for more original content with a local spin. And please consider supporting local Jewish journalism—including impactful content like this podcast series—by visiting JewishRhody.com and clicking donate. Your gift to Jewish Rhode Island will allow us to continue to provide high quality Jewish content that readers, listeners and viewers find beneficial and informative.
Breaking the Glass is produced by Emma Newbery
Executive producers are Brian Sullivan and Adam Greenman
Artwork by Alex Foster
Editorial support from Fran Ostendorf
And music sourced from Storyblocks
This episode features voiceover work from Sarah Katz Greenleaf.
In studio interviews are recorded at the Residential Properties LTD Studio at the Dwares JCC in Providence, Rhode Island.