The Best of Both Worlds [interview with Ron and Liessa Randle]
Some might think that Liessa broke the chain of her Jewish heritage. Others might conclude that Ron watered down his African-American culture. But as far as this couple is concerned, they have the best of both worlds. How did they overcome the disapproval of one parent? What happens in a mixed” marriage when there is tension between the two communities from which they come? What about the children? And how does faith in Jesus factor into the equation? For answers to those questions, ISSUES has interviewed Ron and Liessa Randle who have been married for 19 years.
Editor: Ron, how did your family respond to your engagement to Liessa?
Ron: They weren’t surprised—it was the third interracial marriage in our family. My parents never said objectionable things about whites as I was growing up in the ’60’s. There was no objection based on race, although Liessa was the first Jewish Christian my parents had encountered and that was an interesting twist.
Editor: Liessa, what about your parents?
Liessa: My dad always loved Ron. Race was never an issue. I think he was proud to see his own color blind philosophy reflected in my choice of a husband. However, my mother was another story. While she didn’t care that Ron was black, she cared very much that he was not Jewish. She argued that our kids would have no real identity and asked if Ron would convert to Judaism. However, that was not an option for us.
Editor: Because it would have meant renouncing Jesus?
Liessa: Yes, because it would have meant renouncing Jesus. We both believe Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and faith in him is not an option to us: it is central in our lives and marriage. It would have been hypocritical for me to ask Ron to convert to a religion I myself do not embrace. My Jewish identity was and is important to me but I identify with my Jewish heritage and my Jewish people, not the Jewish religion as it is taught today.
Editor: So your mother was afraid that her grandchildren would not be Jewish.
Liessa: Yes. Actually, I think mother’s main objection to the marriage was that fact that it signaled my belief in Jesus was not a passing phase, as she had hoped.…But nineteen years later she thinks Ron is the most wonderful son-in-law a Jewish mom could have!
Editor: How did Ron win your mom over?
Liessa: He took time to talk to her—calmly. She enjoyed deep conversations with Ron concerning religious issues. Ron did not approach her based on his faith in Jesus but on his understanding of moral and godly issues central to Judaism. She respected the way Ron loved and provided for me, and I have a feeling that she also recognized that whereas my sister married a Jew, Ron and my lifestyle reflects more of the God of Israel and his ways.
Editor: So believing in Jesus has had a positive affect on your Jewish identity.
Liessa: Yes, in fact I would say that believing in Yeshua gives my Jewishness meaning. It’s like Jesus pulls all of the loose ends together, but even more, my faith has made the God of the Jewish Bible very personal to me. He’s not just a god who is out there, nowhere to be found. At one time I was very proud to be Jewish, but now I find it very humbling to be part of the people God chose to bring the Messiah into the world.
Editor: So Ron, what does your faith in Jesus bring to the marriage?
Ron: Well, I have always loved the Jewish culture—there is tremendous energy in this 4,000 year old tradition. But also, my faith in Jesus has increased my love for people and my appreciation for our diversities. So I always respected Liessa’s roots and encouraged her in them. We see our relationship as an example of how God brings people who love him together and uses their differences in a positive way.
Editor: What do you two feel about the apparent tension between the Jewish and black communities?
Ron: There seemed to be a greater sensitivity between the races during the civil rights movement because we shared a common purpose—to overcome injustice. Now, instead of being galvanized by common social or moral issues, we are separated by a focus on materialism. For blacks, the issue of self-determination has become central, and that drives me crazy. That philosophy is spiritually bankrupt; it doesn’t take into account that all people, regardless of race or color, need to trust and depend on God. Some may ask, “Why not a black root? Why did God choose Jews?” The issue with God is not color. He chooses who he wants to choose and he loves everybody.
Editor: What about Jesus’ image in the black community?
Ron: I think most people’s initial image of Jesus is that of a “waspy looking” figure. That’s probably as much a problem for many blacks as it is for Jews. But when you get to know Jesus, that picture disappears. Images that we were taught, or perhaps even images we created, dissipate when we focus on who Jesus is and what he did for people of all races. African-American tradition is steeped in belief in Jesus and I’m dismayed at the movement away from him. The church has always been a central focus of the black community—a place of support, comfort, and help in times of need. Many of the songs we sang about the God of Israel led our people to freedom along the underground railroad.
Liessa: The growing tension between the two races really troubles me. We could accomplish so much more by working together. You can probably tell by that statement that I was brought up as a liberal Jew! Anyway, Ron and I feel that leaders like Farrakhan have created misunderstanding in the black community because they don’t know Jewish people. But as a believer in Jesus, I am also aware that an evil spiritual force is at work in the world—that helps foster anger and hostility. Maybe people who don’t read or believe the Bible can’t understand or accept that—but spiritual realities become apparent through eyes opened by faith.
Editor: Does the tension between the races affect the way people treat you and Ron as an interracial couple?
Liessa: We sometimes get stared at in restaurants. People have yelled derogatory names at us as we were walking down the street. I have to admit, my initial reaction is to be angry, but then I remember that God has ordained our marriage and we are his ambassadors. That gives me more patience when I encounter those who don’t and can’t understand interracial marriage—all we can do is pray for them. Our marriage seems to attract more attention from people who are interested in inter-racial relationships than from those who oppose them.
Editor: What about your children and their identity?
Ron: We have balanced their upbringing as best we could by teaching them both Jewish and African-American traditions. Both sets of grandparents have fostered an appreciation of their respective cultures. Most family traditions are passed down through holiday celebrations. We usually celebrated Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, July 4th and New Year’s Day with my family. The kids also experienced Hanukkah and Purim celebrations, as well as Passover seders and High Holy Days observances. Quite a few Jewish believers in Jesus attend our church, and that’s opened additional opportunities for the kids to experience the Jewish holidays and celebrations.
Liessa: I think our children’s faith in Yeshua has given them a foundation for their identity. Our kids are not perfect by any means, but people have commented on how accepting they are to those who are different—whether the difference stems from culture, or disability or age. The kids are very well adjusted and seem to walk in both cultures with ease. They have had love and support from their grandparents, aunts and uncles on both sides of the family. They have had the best of both worlds.