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The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Takes On Interfaith Love

It’s no secret that one of the reasons so many of us are glued to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is for the Jewish humor. Midge and Joel’s families conform to many of the stereotypes of Jews in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. At the same time, they feel like two very real and complex families.

Season 4 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel doesn’t get any less complicated as Midge’s ex-husband Joel Maisel’s relationship with Mei Lyn gets more serious (spoiler alert!). Unlike much of the exaggerated Jewish stereotyping and hyperbole that runs throughout the show, when it comes to Joel’s anxiety about how his parents will react to the news that his girlfriend is not only not Jewish—but is Chinese and pregnant—he has good reason to be cautious about the introduction.

This may resonate with many who have been down the path of introducing—or even just telling your parents about—a partner of a different faith and/or cultural background. Upon hearing the news, Joel’s father literally has a heart attack. 

Joel’s father is OK in the end, makes it home, assures Joel that his heart attack was not the result of Joel’s news, and that he is thrilled about the upcoming nuptials (which are implied—Joel has not actually proposed) and the birth of another grandchild. But Joel’s father includes a whopper of a caveat: “Just make sure she’s Jewish by the time you introduce her to your mother.”

While this episode plays out with humor, it can hit close to home and might be more painful than funny to watch if you’re living it. So what do you do if you and the one you love find yourself in a situation inspired by Joel and Mei in Mrs. Maisel? Here are six pieces of advice.

  1. Talk to your partner about how you imagine religion being a part of your lives moving forward. Maybe start this conversation by sharing what your religion means to you, and how you want to practice it both in and outside of your home. If you are thinking about having kids, talk about how you’d consider integrating religion into their upbringing.
  2. Practice the conversation you wish to have with your parents, so you feel more prepared when the discussion takes place. Talk to yourself in front of a mirror, rehearse it with a good friend or better yet, with your partner. It’s so important for your partner to hear your families’ thoughts, but perhaps even more important to hear how their thoughts are rumbling around in your mind. 
  3. Plan the time, location and who you want to be at this conversation and  you might even want to suggest that your parents or other relatives watch Season 4, Episode 8 of Mrs. Maisel. This could provide all of you with some common context to serve as an ice-breaker. Your love story is unique to you and your partner, but using Joel and Mei’s relationship from Mrs. Maisel as a starting point for the conversation might be helpful for some. Choose a location where everyone will feel comfortable if possible.
  4. When the conversation finally happens, remember to be honest with your parents about why you and your partner are a great fit. Think about your relationship: What is it about your partner that made you fall, and remain, in love with them? What makes them the person you feel most at home with and want to spend the rest of your life with? Helping them see your partner as a whole person and not just “someone who isn’t the same religion we are” can remind them of the whole person you are as well. 

    During this discussion, be sure to really listen to your parents or other relatives. Give them a chance to express their concerns—as long as they are speaking respectfully about your partner and your relationship. However, you can still lovingly and firmly explain that this is your life and your relationship. Express that it’s important to you they try to support you and your partner. Assure your parents that your choice of a partner isn’t a rejection of them or your upbringing. But rather an affirmation of the person they have raised, who just happened to fall in love with someone from a different religion or background.
  5. Encourage your parents to spend time with your partner so they can better get to know them, and your dynamic as a couple. You can have them over for a Shabbat brunch, go on a nearby nature walk or do something else that’s on neutral territory where everyone will feel comfortable. By learning more about each other, your parents and partner will most likely discover things they have in common and that they like about one another. Hopefully, your parents will see for themselves what it is you find so special about your partner, and seeing the two of you together will give them an understanding and appreciation of your love for each other.
  6. Finally, seek out the support of experts at 18Doors. We have a Couples and Conversation workshop, which can be a huge support to you during this time, and you can always access a rabbi for counseling through our clergy officiation referral service. You are the writers of your story. Make it beautiful and know there’s never been another one like it. In the end, there is no doubt it can be marvelous.

Scott Hausman-Weiss

Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss was ordained by HUC in Cincinnati, OH in 1999, with an MA in Jewish Education and Hebrew Letters. He studied at HUC in Jerusalem and LA, as well as the UJ Rabbinic program. In his first pulpit at Temple Emanuel as the Rabbinic Director of Education and Outreach, he served the Jewish community of Birmingham, AL, for 12 years. He is the founding Rabbi of Shma Koleinu in Houston, TX. Shma Koleinu is a synagogue without walls and without requiring a financial or membership commitment, that serves all Jews, Jewish families and those who love them.