Navigating Israel’s War as a Couple When One Spouse is Jewish

When Ava Friedmann and Michael Henein were married, they used a tablecloth from Ms. Friedmann’s grandmother as a huppah, or ritual canopy held above the couple in a Jewish wedding. Mr. Henein’s father, who is a Coptic Christian from Egypt, anointed them with holy oil.

That same braiding of their cultural traditions has steered them over the last three months, as they have talked about the Israel-Hamas war. Both were horrified by the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, but Mr. Henein worried instinctively about the Palestinian lives in Gaza that would be lost because of Israel’s military response. They decided to read identical news sources about the war to help make sure they stayed on the same page.

“We needed to really hear each other and share our perspectives, and make sure we were creating an environment that didn’t lead to conflict between the two of us,” Ms. Friedmann said.

Many American Jews have reconsidered how they feel about Israel and even their own Jewish identity since the Oct. 7 attack, in which Israeli officials say Hamas militants killed roughly 1,200 people. Israel’s reprisal, a bombing campaign and invasion, has killed more than 26,000 people, Palestinian officials say.

For Jews in interfaith couples, no matter what they believe about Israel, there is the added dimension of communicating with a partner who may not viscerally feel a connection to Israel or other Jews. Their non-Jewish partners sometimes have entirely different feelings about the war and Israel, and even the most supportive spouses might struggle to understand their Jewish partners’ emotions.

Jewish intermarriage rates have risen in the United States. For decades, the trend has induced anxiety among Jewish leaders in America who fret that it threatens the perpetuation of the Jewish people. A Pew Research study published in 2021 showed that in the United States, roughly 40 percent of Jews who wed between 1980 and 1999 married non-Jewish partners. That number jumped to 61 percent between 2010 and 2020.


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