Something happened recently that, I’ve realized, I’m going to have to get used to. As I approach the ripe age of 30, this thing is inevitable, like gray hair and an appreciation for comfortable walking shoes. It’s my friends, you see — they’re getting married.
Hyperbolic thoughts of my own mortality aside, the wedding I attended recently was beautiful. It helped that it was in Carmel, at a historic ranch steps from the beach. It also helped that the bride and groom were close friends of mine — a couple who have been together since we were all in college, which is nearly a decade now. The fact that the wedding served as an excuse for a drunken dance party and a reunion for my far-flung college friends didn’t hurt, either.
But the ceremony struck a chord with me for another reason. The bride is Jewish and was raised somewhat observantly (more so than I was, at least) in Beverly Hills. The groom is a nonobservant Irish Catholic, and grew up in a laid-back family in Santa Cruz. I don’t think either would describe themselves as religious. The ceremony included a chuppah, a blessing over a shared cup of wine (recited by the bride’s father), the breaking of a glass and, later, “Hava Nagila,” with the terrified-looking bride and groom lifted in chairs among 150 of their laughing friends.
And yet: no mention of God. The ceremony was officiated by a dear friend of the couple’s who helped set them up. She’s a very spiritual Unitarian Univer-salist.
The statistics, of course, tell us that this nuanced mishmash of tradition-sans-religion is far from rare in the weddings of my generation. Such ceremonies are a natural way for interfaith couples to express their love and hopes for their future together, while honoring each of their families’ cultures.
They’re also increasingly necessary: According to InterfaithFamily.com, the Boston-based nonprofit that helps interfaith families explore Jewish life, the current rate of intermarriage among Jews is about 47 percent. That matches up pretty well with what I know about my Jewish friends, most of whom rank “being Jewish” somewhere around 15th on a list of desirable qualities in a partner — well below “sense of humor” and “kind to animals” but somewhere above astrological compatibility.
I know my friends aren’t a truly representative sample of anything. But I also know they’re not anomalies. I understand this is deeply troubling to some in the Jewish community. Inter-marriage is one of those “symptoms,” like faltering synagogue membership, that some point to when arguing that my generation is checked out of Jewish life and, worse, is contributing to its decline. And I think I understand many of the deep-seated anxieties at the heart of that argument.
That said, and I know I’ll get some grief for this: I don’t buy it. I don’t think Judaism is being threatened by Jews marrying non-Jews. Take these friends who just got married — when they have children, those kids are going to learn about Judaism. They’re also going to learn whatever their parents want them to learn about Catholicism. Maybe they’ll do Passover seders in L.A., Christmas in Santa Cruz. That’s the future for a lot of people, regardless of how much it upsets others — and in my opinion, they’re shooting themselves in the foot with their judgments and implications that Jews who intermarry are destroying our people. As InterfaithFamily.com puts it, “Maximizing the number of interfaith families who find fulfillment in Jewish life and raise their children as Jews is essential to the future strength and vitality of the Jewish community.” So maybe, you know, not shunning them would be a good first step?
One thing I know for sure: When my friends tell their future children stories about their wedding day, the kids will come to know that everyone — even their fairly traditional Jewish grandparents — thought the match was fated.
“In Yiddish, there’s a word, ‘bashert,’ that means soul mate, that means a couple is fated to be together,” said the bride’s mother through tears, when it came to the speeches over dinner. “When we saw how happy our daughter was, there was no question — this was bashert.” And then, simple as that, it was time for the drunken dance party. L’chaim, indeed.
Emma Silvers lives in San Francisco. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.