At our conference a few weeks ago, Rabbi Sam Gordon, of Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette, Ill., led a fascinating session on what he called “sociograms.” He had everyone at the session–who were mostly Jewish–break up into different groups based on how they’re different from their husband, wife or significant other. His point was to show that all marriages are intermarriages in some way, whether it be across religious, cultural, educational, political, class or personality lines.
In a column for The (New York) Jewish Week, “The Other Kind of Mixed Marriage,” Abby Wisee Schachter eloquently demonstrates this point. She says:
I thought that when I fell in love and got married to a Jewish man, I was home free. After all, there’s been a ton of hand wringing across the Jewish community about intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews. But I wasn’t going to have any of that kind of trouble. My husband and I are both Jewish, so we weren’t facing the complications of combining two very different traditions into our new home, right?
Wrong. It turns out that building a new Jewish life together — even between two Jews — creates a whole series of challenges, some of which aren’t so unlike intermarriage.
The fact is that Jewish life in America is so varied, and each person’s Jewish experience is so different, that it almost seems as if every Jewish marriage is an intermarriage.
Abby was raised in an Orthodox-affiliated, but not particularly observant, home, while her husband Ben was raised in a Reform-affiliated home. When they were planning the wedding ceremony, her family wanted an Orthodox rabbi to preside and his family wanted their congregation’s cantor to participate. She wanted him to walk seven circles around her, and he protested.
Abby also shares stories of a couple where one partner was from a Conservative home and the other is from a Reform home, but became more observant as he got older. Another couple includes one partner from a secular Jewish family and one partner from an Orthodox family. And marrying within the same movement doesn’t guarantee a smooth ride either–she speaks with another couple where each partner hails from a different extreme of the Conservative movement.
Recognizing that every marriage is an intermarriage allows us to see Jewish/non-Jewish intermarriage as one gradation on a scale, and not a point of no Jewish return. If intra-Jewish intermarried couples can overcome their sometimes significant differences in religious observance, so can interreligious intermarried couples.
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