Emily Cappo, a Jewish woman married to a Roman Catholic man. She writes about a journey she has taken that may not have been possible without the affirming support of the Interfaith Community in Westchester where they have been members since 2003.
High School Choices: An Interfaith Perspective by Emily Cappo
At a Catholic mass many years ago, my husband kneeled at the pew while I sat on the bench next to him with my hands on my lap. Although we were only inches apart, it felt like miles. As an interfaith Jewish/Christian couple, we could never participate in this one act together. I didn’t like feeling so separate from him, as if we were on opposite sides of a shore, unable to meet in the middle, no matter how much we swam
Since then, we’ve managed our different faiths quite well, using a combination of compromise and consideration. We have been members of the Interfaith Community, which has provided us with a sense of safety and affirmation for our choices. We are raising three boys, incorporating both religions into our family as best we can. Mostly, this means we celebrate Christmas and Hanukah, Easter and Passover. We have opted not to send them to formal religious school, hoping to teach them on our own about the history of both Judaism and Catholicism and fostering a respect for all traditions. This has worked fine for us, until now.
Unsure if our oldest son was in the best environment for his education and personal growth, we explored different options for entering high school next year. One of those alternatives was a Catholic high school, just like the one my husband transferred into when he was this age. Classifying that educational choice as one of the best decisions he’s ever made, my husband explained, “The school was like a family, a community. It’s not about religion; it’s about teaching morals, in a very accepting place.” I am all for acceptance, particularly for my son, who doesn’t always have peers looking out for him, but rather, kids who have mocked, criticized, or simply ignored him.
As we toured the school and learned about the curriculum and activities, I was impressed with the facilities and academic program, but I also started to squirm with discomfort. The students say a morning prayer, making the sign of the cross when they finish. A large cross adorns some of the school walls. The kids take a class in religion each year. Bottom line, the symbols and traditions of Catholicism are ever-present throughout the school day.
But, getting back to the acceptance at this school: If my son could thrive there, I wouldn’t care what religion was part of his school day. Truly. But then I started to remember my husband kneeling at that pew all those years ago, and I became anxious, if not frantic. What if my son started to strongly identify with his Catholic surroundings at his new school, completely rejecting his Jewish roots? I didn’t want to have that feeling of separateness with my son that I momentarily had with my husband at that mass all those years ago. What if that disconnected feeling permeated our relationship on a daily basis? My throat tightened and my voice broke, as I shared my worries with my husband. He tried to reassure me, explaining that the prayers were to A God, that making the sign of the cross was optional, that the classes taught the history of all religions, and that no one was trying to convert our son to Catholicism.
I knew he was right, a rare admission for me. And, I knew I had to trust him on this one. But, there was one other point my husband forgot to make. If my son comes home from high school everyday with a smile on his face, my shared joy at seeing him so happy will bond us in a way like never before. Secular high school — or not — my son is ready and eager, and now, so am I.