Meet My Interfaith Family: Graaff-Sodds

March 19, 2024Alex Graaff

I had my first rite of passage as a Jewish person - my naming ceremony - on the first day of Passover, so I crossed off my first Jewish holiday quickly (if you don't count being born on Purim). At a month old, I was an overachiever. That day also happened to be the day my future husband was born.

When Will (my husband) entered the world, he joined his family's Catholic community via baptism. Raised playing football, attending Catholic schools, and participating in Christian holidays, Will's focus in life was seeing how many sports he could play at once. He didn't spend much time thinking about religion outside of his own Catholic upbringing.

I grew up as one of the only Jewish kids in my school and my town with an interfaith family. Religion has always been at the forefront of my mind. When questions regarding religious practices or beliefs arose, I remember asking both my parents about their perspectives. My father, who was raised Christian, didn't know much about Judaism. My Jewish mother, on the other hand, was able to explain both Christian and Jewish traditions.

Despite these fundamental differences in our upbringings, I'd argue that Will and I have similar values, as well as cultural similarities. We laugh at the same things, prioritize our families, and we both treat our dog like a human child. Like Will, I also attended a Catholic university-Loyola University Chicago (which has a significant number of Jewish students). We both grew up in the Midwest and have shared childhood memories of sledding in the snow and sunbathing at the lake in summer. We both enjoy learning, traveling, trying new foods, and are avid listeners of Noah Kahan.

While I think being in an interfaith relationship doesn't affect most of my day-to-day life, it does require an extra level of communication, patience, and respect. Sometimes, it can remind me of school all over again when I explain (and re-explain) which Jewish holiday we're celebrating to my in-laws, attend baptisms and weddings for my husband's family, or practice Jewish traditions in front of people who don't understand what I'm doing or why. Given the Christo-centric society we live in, it sometimes feels as though I'm more likely to field questions about my traditions than Will...which is why I relish any opportunity to reverse fortunes-if Will is game (which he always is).

May I introduce you to… "Interfaith Questions from an Interfaith Couple!"

Alex: Let's start easy. What day of the week does Shabbat start? 

Will: Friday night!

What is your favorite Jewish tradition?

I love Passover, especially the group singing and reading. It warms my heart to publicly practice my reading skills in front of my wife's friends and family.

What is your favorite Jewish food?

Latkes. Although I've been told I make the best matzoh ball soup!

What is the most interesting aspect of Judaism for you?

Learning about Jewish foods is interesting. My family is part Lebanese, and I've noticed that we grew up eating a lot of the same foods, but with different names. Not all the same though...I didn't grow up with chopped liver!

How do we celebrate our different religious backgrounds together? 

We make a point to celebrate all our holidays equally. For example, we have a Christmas tree with multiple Hanukkah-themed ornaments on it and a menorah sits next to it.

Has there ever been a time when you've noticed our cultural differences? 

I think I started to notice cultural differences when we would both read the same news article or watch a movie and view it from different perspectives. It's interesting hearing a different perspective and it's affected how I view things.

What about cultural similarities?

I think for the most part we're very similar culturally: #midwesty.

Any advice for other folks in interfaith relationships?

Listen. If something is affecting your partner and you don't understand why, don't write it off. Listen and try to understand. That's helpful for any relationship, but it's something we've used a lot in ours.

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