Brotherly Perspectives on Religious Experiences
A co-authored Interview
Carlos: Last year I wrote a column about the tribulations of Growing up Bi-Religious in our religiously-mixed household in Kansas City, Missouri: Dad a Catholic with a Mexican immigrant father – Mom, a Reform Jew with a Ukrainian immigrant father and an Austrian immigrant mother. I had to deal with family conflict and I avoided mentioning my religious background to parents when I picked up my dates. But your experience was so different.
Gary: It sure was. I read your column and your memoir, Rose Hill. It seemed as if you were writing about someone else’s family, even though we had the same father and mother. And we both got confirmed at Reform Temple B’nai Jehudah. But I guess a few years made a difference. Remember, Bro, you were five-and-a-half years older. By the time I got to high school, our family had changed. And Kansas City was changing, too.
Carlos: You’re probably right. When I started going steady with a Catholic girl during my junior year, Mom didn’t say anything. But I never brought her home to meet the family. I didn’t want to cause any more turmoil.
Gary: I dated both Jewish and Gentile girls, too, but neither Mom nor Dad said much about it. Maybe they were just tired of fighting about whom we went out with. I was able to go my own way.
Carlos: Lucky you. But things really changed when we went away to college. When I got to the University of California, Berkeley, I joined a Christian fraternity and mainly dated Christian girls. But you took a different path at Rice, didn’t you?
Gary: Almost by accident. When I first got to Rice, I met several Jewish students who became good friends and invited me to their homes. They made me feel very much at home. Things sort of took off from there, including attending services at a Reform temple near Rice.
Carlos: When I came to your graduation in 1961, you were going with a Christian girl. But you didn’t bring her to our family dinner that night.
Gary: You’re right. It was sort of like you in Kansas City. Mom didn’t say anything, but she made it clear that I shouldn’t bring her.
Carlos: But when you went back to Rice for your graduate year, things changed.
Gary: They sure did. I fell in love with a girl named Deborah Romotsky, a first-year Jewish student. By the time the year ended and I went back to Kansas City, we had decided to get married. But I hadn’t mentioned it to our family.
Carlos: But it wasn’t that simple, was it?
Gary: Not at all. Debby was a Conservative Jew. The first time she came to Kansas City, it was to meet the family and attend the coming-out party for your new, non-Jewish wife. At our home, with lots of family and friends. During the party my best friend congratulated Mom on my wedding plans. So, in the middle of the party, Mom and Granddad took me and Debby into a separate room and dressed her down. She was too young, too Jewish, and not to marry Gary. Guess they were wrong.
Carlos: Welcome to the fray, Bro. So what happened?
Gary: We did get married, settled down in Kansas City, and joined their Reform Jewish temple. Then came Yom Kippur. Mom sang Kol Nidre. Bro, she was awful. Her voice was gone. When I looked at Debby, I realized how much she missed the atmosphere of her Conservative tradition. Later some of the Temple people told Mom that she should stop singing at services. She became furious, so she, Grandma, and Granddad quit the Temple.
Carlos: Did you quit, too?
Gary: No. Debby and I kept our Temple membership to show the family that we weren’t turning our backs on Reform Judaism. But without making a big deal of it, we also joined Beth Shalom, Kansas City’s Conservative synagogue. None of the family said anything. A few years later, Grandma sent my three kids to a Conservative Jewish summer camp.
Carlos: Bro, that was quite a journey. You know, our family memories are so vivid. Hard to grasp that our folks and grandparents have been gone for nearly four decades.
Gary: And the story’s not over. Remember, I later became president of the Conservative synagogue and, at age 62, had my Bar Mitzvah.
Carlos: I wonder what Mom would have thought of that.
- Diversity and Speech #33: Bi-Religious – by Carlos Cortés, Gary Cortés - November 27, 2022