This post originally appeared in the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.
Rachel and Daniel Villena both grew up in families with strong religious traditions. Daniel’s Catholic father and Christian mother met at a Christian college and their family life in Quincy, MA was steeped in faith and churchgoing. Rachel grew up in East Cobb. She belonged to Conservative Jewish congregation, celebrating becoming a bat mitzvah, and had strong strains of orthodoxy in her extended family.
By the time they got to college, both had fallen away from observance. Daniel even began to call himself agnostic. Two years into their marriage, it all seems to work. They spend the Jewish holidays with Rachel’s family who live in Atlanta, though Daniel generally does not attend synagogue with Rachel.
Now they’ve just returned from an immersive Honeymoon Israel trip, along with 16 other committed couples with at least one Jewish partner, and things are changing.
Daniel says, “It was very emotional for me to be in Israel and see what it means to be a Jew. Jerusalem was a highlight for me. The air there had a heaviness and intensity, and I kept thinking about John Lennon’s song Imagine – what if the world had no religion? I felt the yin and yang where Christianity and Judaism intersect and diverge. And when Max Miller, the rabbi from Temple Emanuel, talked about Talmud on the trip I thought, ‘that sounds right up my alley.’ Now that we’re home, I’m pumped to learn and do more that’s Jewish.”
Rachel says, “Even as an interfaith couple, we’ve been clear about raising Jewish kids. On my second date with Daniel I sensed that this relationship might become something. In an unfiltered moment I let him know that having a Jewish family was important. He was okay with that. This trip definitely rekindled my commitment. I could feel the power of Jewish history in the thousand-year stones beneath my feet.”
“After Honeymoon Israel I’ll approach the high holidays differently,” Daniel says. “I love the humane and positive dimensions of Judaism and I’m curious to learn. Pretty soon we’ll be shopping for a congregation that is welcoming to someone like me. Rachel found out about a challah baking workshop. We heard about InterfaithFamily Atlanta’s Love and Religion Class.
Rachel adds, “Honeymoon Israel opened new doors and gave us a new group of friends. In fact, we’re having dinner with another couple from the trip tonight.