Up Close: Gen & Max Tolsky – Kveller
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Up Close: Gen & Max Tolsky

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

When we were engaged, we had a very difficult time finding two officiants who were willing to marry us. My priest at the church I grew up in said he’d officiate our wedding, and even with a rabbi, but it would have to be in the church (he wouldn’t do a banquet hall). The hard part there is that would make it awkward for some and feel “slanted” on one side of the religious scale… not preferable.

The rabbi at the temple Max grew up in said he’d officiate in a banquet hall and would be happy to marry us if we agreed to raise our children Jewish (implying Jewish only).

Both conversations left us wondering if we were even going to be able to get married.

But then Max’s grandmother told this story to a friend of hers, who told her about the Jewish Catholic Dialogue group. We joined the group which recommended two officiants who would marry us and the rest is history.

2. How do you feel about your family being labelled “interfaith”?

Interfaith, to me, translates to “Lucky.” We were able to learn each other’s traditions and mold them into our own. I introduced him to Christmas and he introduced me to Hanukkah and the result was that every year, for seven years now, we have hosted a “Chrismukkah” dinner party with our families.

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

Our extended families. Some parents/grandparents would have had a hard time watching their children marry out of the faith, but our parents were very open-minded and could clearly see that we had the best intentions of equally blending both faith traditions.

4. How did you choose your kids’ names?

In our family, the tradition is to “name after” using the first initial of a beloved relative who has recently passed.

Madison’s named after her Great Great Grandmother Martha who was a free-spirited independent woman who lived life to its fullest. In 2004, Max and I took our first trip together. We went to Bluemound Wisconsin to visit the caves, which were beautiful but awfully dirty. Afterwards, we drove further west to Madison Wisconsin and, after checking into the hotel, I immediately hopped into the shower. When I walked out of the bedroom I noticed that my then-boyfriend had built a fire. It was at that moment that both of us realized we could very easily spend the rest of our lives sitting together in front of a fire. That is when we truly fell in love so our daughter is named Madison, synonymous with love to us.

Riley Isaac is named after his two Great Grandfathers: Richard and Irving. Irving’s blue eyes were always smiling. He was so funny–punny, rather. I was not born a Tolsky but Irving made me consider that name an honor. It was apparent (no coincidental pun intended) that “Tolsky” meant being a kind, loving, caring, selfless parent, a legacy of which I hope I can continue. Richard, despite being a very successful businessman, always managed to prioritize family over work. He loved his family (even those not born into it) so much that he found more gratification from witnessing the success of his family members than his own.

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

No matter what challenge you face as an interfaith family, or couple, remember that it all started with the fact that the two of you fell in love for a reason. NEVER forget that reason!

And you don’t have to listen to everyone’s comments or advice. Do what you feel is right for you and your family.

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. If you’re interested in participating, send an email to info@kveller.com with the subject line “Kveller Up Close.”

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