Up Close: Michelle Tirella-Ventura & Andre Ventura

1. How did you and your spouse meet?

Andre and I met through our mutual friend, Juli, who insisted that I go see her new home and meet her cute contractor who she happened to mention I had a lot in common with. When I refused, she said I must go over and check to see how things are going with her new home, because she couldn’t pull herself away from work and I worked around the corner.

I did go to see her “new home” and brought the cute contractor coffee and Andre and I ended up talking for an hour. A week later she coordinated his next appointment with my visit. When he saw me again, he asked me to dinner.

2. Are you raising your kid(s) with one religion, both religions, or somewhere in between? 

My husband and I met when our children were already ages 7, 8, and 10 years of age. This is a second marriage for both of us. My daughter attended Jewish preschool at Temple Sinai in Oakland and already identified with being Jewish. She is now 13 and her bat mitzvah will be in January. Andre’s children celebrate the Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter, but they do not attend church. Andre is a Buddhist and Andre and his children have been receptive to Judaism and will attend bat mitzvahs, or any other Jewish celebrations. We keep a Jewish home, but we do celebrate Christmas in our home as well, because that is important to Andre and his two children. My daughter Emma happens to love celebrating Christmas as well and it ends up being a special treat for her. We have an understanding that we are a family and must be respectful of each other’s religions.

3. Can you think of a particular day when it felt especially difficult to be an interfaith family?

Fortunately, we had a pretty easy transition blending our families.

It has only felt difficult when other people have made us feel uncomfortable about having an interfaith family, and that has been infrequent. Occasionally, I feel I am being quizzed on how “Jewish” I am, because my husband is not Jewish and because I am a convert. Since marrying Andre, I no longer have a Jewish sounding last name, so people have been curious and ask where I’m from, or if they see my family’s photo and ask, “Oh, where is your husband from” since he is Afro-Brazilian.

I try and not take it personally. Most people just want to know who you are.

Once when I was at a Jewish family event as a Jewish professional with my husband, I did have a woman firing off many questions that began about my last name and continued on about my children and spouse and their origins.

It felt intrusive and as if I was under scrutiny. I told her it was nice to meet her, but I needed to focus on the event. That certainly felt uncomfortable, but I think it was more about her than me. Most people I encounter are very respectful and welcoming with my blended family.

4. What did you think would be an issue about being an interfaith family that really hasn’t been?

I thought it may be more difficult keeping up with Jewish rituals, but it’s not. All our children were equally excited and involved with hanging mezuzahs in our new home. I would like to have Shabbat dinner more often, but I had them even less when I was married to my ex-husband who was Jewish, so I don’t think that is about being an interfaith couple, it’s more about establishing a routine and sticking to it.

5. What’s your word of advice to other interfaith families?

Worry less about what people think. As long as you are modeling good values, you both feel you are being true to yourselves, have freedom of expression and lots of love and respect in your home–you’re doing great in my book!

Up Close” is a photo and interview series on Kveller aiming to put a face on the interfaith conversation. We’ll be highlighting interfaith families and hearing their stories all month.

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