Book Review: “Mixed-Up Love” | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Book Review: “Mixed-Up Love”

If you are in an interfaith relationship, you’ve probably heard at least one, or all, of the following questions:  

  • Which one of you converted (will convert)? 
  • Will you be married by clergy? 
  • What religion will you raise your children as? 
  • What holidays will you celebrate? 

In the last 50 years, the likelihood of marrying someone within your own faith tradition has dropped substantially. Interfaith marriages make up just under half of all marriages in the United States.  

The idea that those who marry across faith traditions simply do not care about religion has long been contested in the 21st century and this claim is put to the ultimate test in the co-written memoir, “Mixed-Up Love: Relationships, Family, and Religious Identity in the 21st Century.” Published in 2013, the memoir is written by husband-and-wife Rabbi Michal Woll and scholar Jon Sweeney. The couple explores marriage, family and religious identity from their personal perspectives as an interfaith couple. Woll, a Reconstructionist rabbi, and Sweeney, a Protestant turned Catholic writer, are both deeply committed to their respective traditions. At the time of their meeting, both parties were already deeply invested in religious life and had recently been divorced from spouses who shared the same religious backgrounds as them. The couple fell in love and married in a civil ceremony. 

While the memoir often highlights the many successes of the writers’ interfaith relationship, it doesn’t shy away from the challenges. In 2015, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Woll’s alma mater, became the first rabbinical seminary to admit and ordain rabbis with non-Jewish partners. In one chapter, Woll describes going through the process of interviewing for a pulpit position at a congregation that seemed like a great fit for her and ultimately losing out on the opportunity due to the fact that her spouse, Sweeney, was not Jewish.  

Sweeney also describes a difficult experience that happened at a Passover Seder that Woll was presiding over. It is common practice during the Passover Seder to ask questions, and at this particular Seder, all of the couples were interfaith. A Jewish congregant at the table asks, “you Christians who are here, why are you?” Initially, Sweeney tried to avoid answering the question but recalls being pressed for an answer. He began by stating that the question upset him and that he did not understand why he must exist at the table as “something.” In this case, a Christian. He goes on to ask the counter question, “Can’t I just be here as a human being?” 

“Mixed-Up Love” is a very personal account of what life is like for an interfaith couple and offers an intimate look at both the successes and challenges. Its deeply personal nature makes you feel as if you are sitting down and chatting with the authors yourself and each of their voices is clear and distinct. The reader is taken on a journey by the kind of writing style that develops with life experience and self-reflection. While its specificity is often an asset, it is also, at times, more than what some readers may need. Woll and Sweeney met and married after spending much of their adult lives forging their own personal, professional, and spiritual paths. Time that is necessary for the amount of self-reflection and spiritual maturity that is presented in this book. Younger interfaith couples often lack the same life experience and commitment to religious life that Woll and Sweeney have, and they may find some of those aspects harder to relate to.  

All in all, I would highly recommend “Mixed-Up Love” to any couple, interfaith or not, who is married or getting married. It’s a wonderful co-written memoir that celebrates the similarities and differences of two people from two different faith traditions, who also happen to be married. It’s warm and personal without losing its focus. The book clearly places their relationship within the larger framework of interfaith marriage and explores what it means for the future of religious communal life in America. It’s key takeaway being, the more our communities make room for interfaith couples to bring their whole selves to the community, the stronger we will be. 


This commentary, and others in the Chronicle, are not necessarily representative of the opinions of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle. We seek to publish a diversity of opinions.