The Gift of a Real Jewish Wedding

by Ellen S. Glazer

Several years ago I had a running buddy who was a rabbi. We covered many miles together and many topics, among them his beliefs about interfaith weddings. As a member of the Conservative Movement, he said he would not perform interfaith marriages because he felt that Jews should be married in Jewish ceremonies and, in his words, “It’s not a Jewish ceremony if it is between a Jew and a non-Jew.” Interestingly enough, when two of our fellow runners – both Christians – asked him to marry them, he happily said yes. “After all,” he quipped, “they are not asking me for a Jewish wedding.”

For many years I respected and attempted to agree with my now late friend’s outlook on interfaith weddings. When I married a non-Jew nine years ago, we asked a friend who is a judge to perform a ceremony that included Jewish prayers and customs. It would never have occurred to me then that I had any right to ask Jewish clergy to perform our marriage, even though I felt confident that my then future husband would fully support our having a Jewish home.

Things shifted over time. As I grew older, my Jewish identity became more important to me and with it came a commitment to Jewish continuity. Two years ago, when my older daughter, Elizabeth, married a non-Jew in a ceremony that was devoid of all religion, I celebrated her marriage but was sad that her ceremony felt empty in many ways. I realized then how very much it mattered to me that my younger daughter, Mollie, have a Jewish wedding. That happened last weekend: Mollie and her husband, Sawyer, were married under the chuppah, with the seven blessings, the broken glass, and many mazel tovs. To all this, I could surely say, “Dayenu.” However, what brings me the greatest joy and more important, what I believe was the greatest gift to Mollie and Sawyer, was that they not only had a Jewish ceremony, they had it performed by the member of the Jewish clergy that they – and I – admire most in the world. Cantor Jodi Sufrin of Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Mass., married them.

I have known several interfaith couples who have been married by rabbis they quipped were “rent-a-rabbis,” people willing to perform Jewish ceremonies for interfaith couples. Often there was no Jewish study or preparation for these weddings. Perhaps that “could have been enough,” but having had the “real thing” – a Jewish wedding by the person of their choice – my daughter and son-in-law begin their marriage with a more solid Jewish foundation. From the start, Cantor Sufrin made it clear that if they were willing to make a commitment to having a Jewish home and raising Jewish children – and if they demonstrated that commitment through study and discussions – she would marry them. There was never any sense, either before or during the wedding ceremony, that theirs was any less of a marriage because it was interfaith. In fact, I would argue that the effort Mollie and Sawyer made to have a real Jewish wedding by their first-choice clergy made their ceremony all the more meaningful.

A friend of mine once said, “The goal is not just to raise Jewish children. The goal is to raise Jewish children who want to raise Jewish children who want to raise Jewish children.” I believe that Cantor Sufrin and those of her fellow clergy who graciously perform Jewish ceremonies for interfaith couples do a real mitzvah: They provide couples with warm, sweet memories of Jewish blessings. What better foundation is there for a Jewish home? What stronger motivation for proudly, joyfully raising Jewish children?

I believe my running rabbi was wrong about interfaith marriages and were he alive today, I would surely argue my point on an early morning run.  I would say that my son-in-law need not be Jewish in order to raise children who are proud to be Jewish. As my daughter likes to recall, “When we introduced ourselves at our first Introduction to Judaism class, Sawyer said, ‘I’m here because I’ve heard a lot of good things about this religion.’” Everyone thought it was funny at the time, but the words were true then and they are truer still today.

The author's daughter, Mollie, and her husband, Sawyer, marry under a chuppah at a wedding officiated by a cantor.

Ellen S. Glazer is a clinical social worker in Newton, MA, specializing in infertility, adoption and donor conception and the author or co-author of several books on infertility and related areas.

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6 Responses to “The Gift of a Real Jewish Wedding”

  1. avatar

    Almost 14 years ago I married my Jewish husband under a chuppah I made by hand with a loving Rabbi (my husband’s cousin.) The Jewish memories that were created there ultimately led to my choosing Judaism for myself after we were married. And, overtime, I studied more, had an adult bat mitzvah, became a Hebrew teacher and am raising 3 amazing Jewish children. I am so grateful to our cousin and Rabbi whose belief in us set us on a path where Judaism is part of the essential make up of our marriage and family.

  2. avatar

    Yep!! As I said of my wedding, how was I expected to raise Jewish children if my marriage wasn’t blessed by a Rabbi. We found a rent-a-Rabbi, but it was difficult. I’m glad to see that things are improving and that interfaith families raising Jewish children is not only more accepted but made easier.

  3. avatar

    This topic makes me want to leave, as quickly as possible, the Reform movement. I stay in the Reform movement because I believe that there are many other observant Reform Jews out there who believe as I do: bringing our 12-year old to services every week; enthusiastically attend Religious school; attend Camp Harlam; and get actively involved in our Shul, among other things. Maintaining a Jewish Home, I hope, will ensure that she marry Jewish and have a chupah with a Rabbi and/or Cantor along with all of the ceremony that fits around it. It’s nice that Sawyer thought Judaism was “cool”, but I think, more importantly, my future son-in-law will say it’s cool and not have to convert.

    • avatar

      I don’t get it. What difference does it make whether your imaginary son-in-law converts or is born Jewish? For that matter, what difference does it make whether he’s Jewish at all, if he loves your daughter and helps her raise Jewish children?

      And why would you consider leaving Reform Judaism just because some other people believe differently about this topic than you do?

  4. avatar
    stephanie beilin Reply July 17, 2012 at 9:50 pm

    You are an inspirational writer. I was honored to be part of Mollie and Sawyer’s celebration.

  5. avatar

    As someone studying for the rabbinate, I so appreciate this thoughtful take on this difficult topic. You have made it less difficult for me.

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