If there’s one thing we can all agree on, politics aside, it’s that love transcends all. In celebration of Valentine’s Day, msnbc.com’s “Love is Love” series will profile a variety of couples and their stories in the week leading up to February 14 to show that “love is love,” no matter your race, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, or gender identity.
Sulome Anderson and her boyfriend, Jeremy, became a viral sensation last year after a picture of them kissing went viral on the Internet. Why? Because Sulome is half-Lebanese and her boyfriend, Jeremy, is Orthodox Jewish. When they posted the photo of themselves kissing, they held a sign that read: “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” The photo became a worldwide sensation at a time when tensions between Israel and Palestine were rapidly escalating. Though Sulome and Jeremy come from very different backgrounds, they prove that those differences don’t have to mean they are enemies. Here, they share their story.
Names: Sulome Anderson and Jeremy
Been together for: Almost a year
How did you meet?
Sulome: Online dating.
Jeremy: (Shhh, Tinder)
How did your friends and family react to your relationship in the beginning, and now? Have they been accepting?
Sulome: On my part, there were a couple of raised eyebrows at first. There are a few religious people in my family, but no one really made much of a fuss. My mother is Lebanese Christian, and she loves Jeremy. So does my father. They sit and talk for hours.
Jeremy: I think at first they didn’t take our relationship seriously, but after our picture went viral, overall, they did not react well. I come from an Orthodox Jewish family, so dating outside the faith is still a major taboo. My sister and I no longer speak after she called Sulome “a dirty Arab bitch.” One of my brothers told me he would sit Shiva (the 7 day mourning period after a family members death) if we got married … you get the idea. My father has been resistant to meeting Sulome, and as for my siblings, she has not met any of them, and doesn’t plan to. My less immediate family has been more open to the idea, but again, because of ideology, won’t embrace the relationship wholeheartedly.
What has the reaction from your community been like?
Sulome: My community has been fine with it. I guess some of my friends were a little upset that I was dating someone with political views so contrary to ours. But Jeremy has come around a little in that regard. I think we’ve both managed to consider the situation in Israel/Palestine from a humanist standpoint instead of a political one. We each brought different perspectives to this relationship, and I think we’ve both benefited from them.
When Jeremy was still a part of the Orthodox community, social pressure led to marriage at 20 years old. He has a four-year-old son from this marriage, and they are very close. I absolutely adore him. He’s a fantastic little boy, and I think he feels the same way about me. When his son’s mother found out about the viral photo, she and Jeremy were just beginning formal divorce proceedings. They had already been through their Jewish divorce, but as soon as she realized this was a serious relationship, she immediately sued for full custody and has been making our lives extremely difficult. She won’t allow her son to spend the night at our house; I’ll buy him toys and she’ll throw them away. It’s been kind of a nightmare, which is sad, considering that his son will be the person most traumatized by all this.
Jeremy: For the most part, I no longer keep in contact with my friends from the Jewish community, because sadly, since my departure we no longer have very much in common. The few I did speak with were happy that I found someone I loved, and who made me happy, having witnessed my previous marriage. They have been far more accepting than my family. I had also been working with an Orthodox Jewish-owned company when the photo came out, after which some of the employees called me a “Hamas supporter” and “terrorist lover.” I lost said job soon afterwards. I don’t think it was a coincidence. So overall, a mixed bag.
Have you ever experienced negative reactions when out in public as a couple? How do you handle it?
Sulome: We live in New York City, and we don’t have “Jew” and “Arab” tattooed on our foreheads, so no one bats an eye :)
Jeremy: Only that people wonder what a beautiful woman like her is doing with a gangly, Frankenstein-esque dude like me.
What do you say to people who might not understand your relationship? What do you wish people knew?
Sulome: I would say that while I have respect for religious and cultural traditions, we live in 2015. I feel strongly that we are past the point where it’s acceptable to hate people because of accidents of birth. Also, I have an enormous problem with this idea of “keeping the bloodlines pure.” It’s just creepy, and sadly ironic, considering a man in Germany said much the same thing a few decades ago. We’re human beings. We love each other very much. He makes me a better person, and I think I do the same for him. I’m a very emotional, chaotic person, while Jeremy is much more organized and linear in his thought processes. He makes sure I don’t lose my keys, leave the stove on or forget to take my contacts out. I remind him he has feelings and to be aware of them. We each bring traits to our relationship that the other needs. It works very well.
Jeremy: What she said. I wish more or the “critics” of our relationship (which are mostly on my side of the fence) understood that we were made for each other. I have a hard time accepting that there are still people in this world who think that some book written by some guy thousands of years ago means that I can only marry within what amounts to less than 0.2% of the worlds population. I think that if everyone does have a “soulmate” odds are they won’t be where you expect them to be.
What’s something you’ve learned from each other and from your relationship?
Sulome: I learned that I was worthy of love, and capable of giving it.
Jeremy: I learned that I could be happy, and that someone out there would love me for me, not for the veneer I put forth to the world.
What’s something about your partner you find intriguing or surprising?
Sulome: I think Jeremy is the most intelligent person I’ve ever met. He spends a lot of his time just teaching himself different things, and I’m lucky he choses to share them with me. He’s funny and outwardly quite cynical, but I was surprised to find out he has a lot of hope and faith in humanity. He talks a big game, but he’s kind of an innocent at heart—much like I am.
Jeremy: When we first met, I saw this little spitfire of a woman, a fierce foreign correspondent who’s been in some pretty dicey situations without batting an eye. Over time, I’ve been lucky to see her softer side, and how caring she is. If you’re lucky enough to be considered family or a friend, she would go to the ends of the earth for you. Unless she’s pissed at you. Then her eyes flash with a look that could almost immolate you, and she gives you a tongue lashing that stings for days. The longer we’re together, the more about each other we learn, and I for one can’t wait to find out more.
What’s your ideal way to spend Valentine’s Day?
Sulome: I’m sure Jeremy has something planned, but I’ve been in Lebanon for over a month and have missed him terribly, so I’m fine with just about anything that means I’ll be in the same room with him.
Jeremy: Well, this is my first real Valentines Day, so I’ll get back to you on that one. But I guess ideally, it would be with her. Everything else is ancillary.
Read more profiles in the Love is Love series here.