I’ve Never Felt So Unconditionally Loved

I am a recently divorced Jewish woman who has accidentally fallen in love a non-Jew. I wasn’t looking or expecting to — but paid a professional call to someone I’ve known for a long time and things happened. He fills my soul completely and I’ve never felt so unconditionally loved.

My family is a mix of traditionally Conservative and modern Orthodox. No one intermarried, and it would have been a shonde if anyone had. I have grown children who we sent to day school, Jewish camps, Israel — the works.

My partner and I are hoping to be together for life, but we are NOT planning on getting married, mostly because he’s been married several times and just doesn’t want to go there again. We have discussed converting, which he actually considered in the past, but is not interested in doing now. He respects my commitment to Judaism and is willing to participate with me in Jewish life, including having a kosher kitchen when we choose to live together. He practices no religion but is very spiritual.

I have kept this relationship under wraps because I am really worried about my family’s and community’s reaction. On the one hand, I have done my job already by raising my kids Jewishly, but on the other hand what kind of example am I setting for them? How will my larger family ever accept this sweet and wonderful man who makes me so happy? And as a leader in my synagogue, I can only imagine what people will be saying about me. Seesaw, what do you think? —In Love

Ruth Nemzoff: You are a fortunate woman to care deeply about both your community and your significant other. It seems as though you do not want to choose between these two wonderful, supportive, and enriching aspects of your life.

You have been a wonderful Jewish role model for your children, both as a leader of your synagogue and by providing them with many Jewish experiences, both in and out of your kosher home. You are also a model of resilience and hope, having found the strength to love after a disappointing marriage.

I would talk honestly with your children. Give them a clear message about your plans to continue practicing Judaism the way you always have and your partner’s commitment to support you in this endeavor. Let them know that you hope they too will always treasure the gift of Judaism.

With both your relatives and your community, I would suggest introducing your “para-spouse” to a few people at a time. Start with those who you think will be most welcoming. Hopefully, the rest will come along as they see how committed he is to facilitating your communal work and your Jewish life. Some will welcome him sooner than others. Try not to be hurt or hold a grudge when those close to you repel him. It will serve you well to be understanding. Help your partner understand that they are not rebuffing him, but rather trying to protect an ancient legacy. Over time when they see you are still a committed Jew and that he is an asset to the community, they may become more accepting.

The whole Jewish community is grappling with how to welcome the partners of the many who are coupling with those from other faiths. Synagogues are places of worship, but also of learning. In the wonderful, open society in which we live, you are doing a service by opening your community to letting all those enter who wish to learn.

Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of “Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children” and “Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws into Family” is a resident scholar at The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center. She is on the Board of Interfaithfamily.

This article was origially published on the Seesaw. Read more responses to this question at: http://forward.com/articles/216127/whoops-i-fell-in-love-with-a-non-jew/#ixzz3Tud0sOUo