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How I Got into a Long-Distance Interfaith Relationship…After I Became Jewish

Elle and James
Elle and James at the Trinity College Dublin library during her first visit to Ireland

In a lot of ways, I never expected I would be writing a post for 18Doors (formerly InterfaithFamily). “Interfaith” was quite a foreign notion for me when I was younger. To be honest, the closest thing to an interfaith marriage I ever heard about was when Protestants married Catholics. I grew up in Puerto Rico, you see—an opinionated and questioning young woman in a rather religious Protestant household, who ended up attending a private Catholic secondary school.

It was at that Catholic school that I met the first person who wasn’t Christian I had ever spent time with—a Muslim classmate—and learned that there were other religions still thriving in my World Religions class. But I remained involved in my church, toying with the idea of becoming a pastor’s wife or a pastor myself, and went off to a Jesuit university after graduation.

So, what happened?

Moving to Chicago for college, away from my childhood church and most of my family, forced me to re-examine many things that I had previously taken for granted. For instance, my complicated relationship with (the concept of) Jesus became even more fraught during that time, and I sought other religious traditions in search for something that felt right. After a long and winding road that took almost four years, I ended up in a mikveh in Wilmette, Illinois, in July 2013 and began living a Jewish life.

I still did not expect that I would be here now, however, because I became determined to marry a Jewish man. I went to singles mixers across Chicagoland, attended a URJ Biennial, went on Birthright, joined JDate—did everything I could to make that notion a reality, as I felt a calling to become a cantor and I knew that I would have to close that door if I married someone who was not Jewish.

It turns out G-d had different plans. After a whole year of actively dating and trying to find my bashert, my roommate got me into a new fandom (wrestling!) and a random tweet about WrestleMania got me to reconnect with an old friend, James. We had met during my hockey fandom days, back when we were both in college; we were the same age and got along famously, and time did nothing to dull that connection. Once we got to talking again, we did not stop—we messaged every day and watched every WWE Pay-Per-View together, messaging the whole while. He made me smile, he knew about the shadows in my past, he was amazingly kind and I had been starry-eyed over him for literal years. James is not Jewish (he was brought up Protestant), but is not particularly religious.

The real problem? He was all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, in beautiful Donegal, Ireland—and I was in Chicago. Oh, and I had no idea if he was even interested.

A late-night chat after one of those PPVs answered that question, with a line that turned out to be rather prophetic: If I was anywhere remotely near your level, I’d be doing my absolute hardest to put a ring on it.

Everything was a whirlwind after that. We agreed to give it a go and see if we could build a relationship that withstood the distance. We bridged the gap with texts and Snaps and video chats, and we exchanged I-love-yous about a month in. I was nervous about the speed of things, but my friend Molly—who was getting married in a few months, and who has asked me to serve as one of her maids of honor—reassured me that everyone has their own timing for things.

Fast forward and we’re finally together. But how we bridged the distance is a whole other story, which I’ll share in my next post.

Elle Henderson

Elle is a bilingual educator and doctoral student living in Chicago with her Protestant husband, their agnostic roommate and a sassy cat named Kiwi. A Jew by choice, Elle is passionate about interfaith advocacy, Jewish education and preserving the Ladino language (which she is trying to teach herself). After an intercultural, interfaith, and intercontinental romance, she and her husband are navigating immigration following their May 2018 wedding. They are looking forward to continuing to grow together and building a home that reflects both Irish and Puerto Rican culture so that they may honor their homelands.