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.
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.