‘A Sense of Connection’ for Intermarried Couple
Phil Ansell and Sylvia Battigalli have been married for seven years. Ansell, 31, who is Jewish, met Battigalli, 32, while he was visiting her native Italy.
Today, Ansell and Battigalli, who is a Roman Catholic, live in Palms. They are members of a Reform congregation in Santa Monica and are raising their year-old son, David Guido Battigalli Ansell, as a Jew.
They talked with The Times about intermarriage. Joining them were Ansell’s mother, Sharon Goodman, 57, and stepfather, Bud Goodman, 68, Reform Jews who have been married 23 years. Ansell’s father was unavailable.
How did you feel about intermarriage when you were growing up?
Sharon Goodman: My father is from Russia and immigrated to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, during the pogrom period, and my mother was the first born in her family in North America.
So I heard much about persecution, and I was forbidden to date non-Jewish people. I had a lot of non-Jewish friends . . . (but) I never really contemplated marrying a non-Jewish person.
Did you raise your children that way?
Sharon: I was the rebel in the family. Just because something was stated didn’t make it the rule never to be examined, never to be tested.
There was a certain amount of what I heard that was not logical to me. It didn’t mean the persecution I’d heard about had never happened. But for me the information wasn’t apropos to the times in which I was living. . . .
When I was very young, my relationships were only with families and children of those families selected by my parents.
Once I got into upper elementary school, my associations broadened, and I had a lot of non-Jewish friends. And it seemed that at quite a young age I started looking at people as individuals.
How did you feel when Phil and Sylvia started talking about getting married.
Sharon: We had had the good fortune of getting to know Sylvia quite well by that time during her visits to the United States. I believe I told Phil that if we had had to pick out a future daughter-in-law for him, we couldn’t have found a finer person. And that was foremost.
I don’t think we were ever pedantic about the fact that Sylvia was not Jewish. I recall suggesting to Phil that they talk openly before they got married about some of the problems that might come up because they were of different faiths. Beyond that, I don’t think we put on any pressure one way or the other.
Did everyone in the family feel the same way?
Sylvia: Phil’s (biological) father was quite concerned that I was not Jewish. When we told him that we were getting married, the first time he ever talked to me as a real human was to take me aside and say, ‘You should really consider it carefully because problems might arise.’
And when I came to this country, his grandmother was feeling resentful that I was not Jewish and was not very nice to me, not very welcoming.
Her sister and brother-in-law were great, and his aunts and uncles were much more welcoming. I still remember that his great-uncle took me out to the Fairfax District and showed me around. He felt like something had to be done to make me feel accepted.
At a certain point his grandmother finally decided that if Phil was happy, she was happy. So she came around and we had a great love story just before she died (nine months after the wedding).
I think one of the fears on his father’s side of the family was that I would secretly baptize the child in the kitchen sink under their nose, behind their back or something. And I think that now that David has been dutifully circumcised and so on, they feel relieved.
How did you decide whether to raise your son as a Jew?
Phil Ansell: There were two things mostly. One was that it was very important to me from an ethnic sense and a sense of peoplehood that our children be Jewish.
And part of the decision to raise our child as a Jew was to raise him as Italian, which was important to Sylvia, so that he would have a sense of that connection. For example, we’re raising him bilingual.
I think our sense of his identity is that he will be an Italian-American Jew or a Jewish-Italian American.
And the second thing is that through our rabbi, I had come back to Judaism in a more spiritual way. I had not been connected to Judaism spiritually since I was in high school. And Sylvia had not been actively Catholic since she was an adolescent. But we had both had the experience of being the most actively religious people in our families.
Since you have not converted, are you comfortable worshiping in a synagogue?
Sylvia: At the beginning when I moved from Italy, it felt alienating to me to pray in Hebrew. . . . There are still things I can’t identify with. But because of the type of service we have, it’s a liturgy I really like. It’s Jewish, but there is lot of room for spirituality that is not specifically Jewish. . . .
Is it important for you that your grandchild is Jewish?
Sharon: I believe his life will be richer . . . that if he can integrate the teachings, he will be stronger.
Would you have been disappointed if he weren’t Jewish?
Sharon: I think so. . . . I think it would have been a great loss. For him. Certainly for Phil. And I think for Sylvia too. Because I think it will make it possible for there to be a bond that could not happen otherwise. We’ve had the pleasure of having the Sabbath in their home and watching David when the candles are lit and when the Havdalah candle was lit at the end of the Sabbath. And it’s something special. It’s not easily put into words.
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