Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, a resident scholar at Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center, is author of Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children and Don't Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family and she is an InterfaithFamily Board Member.
Intermarriage is Not the End of the Line
This column is reprinted with permission from The Jewish Journal of Massachusetts
Q. My son is engaged to a great gal who is perfect for him, but since this will be an interfaith marriage, we are entering unfamiliar territory. Help!
A. First of all, mazel tov! It is wonderful when someone finds their bershert with whom they can share life’s trials and joys. As Rabbi Simchah A. Green, a modern Orthodox rabbi, said, intermarriage is not the end of the line, but rather the beginning of a journey. During this journey, both you and your child will have the opportunity to reflect on your Jewish values. Everything you practice and believe will be examined with kavanah (intention).
Call your child’s future in-laws and congratulate them, and tell them how much you like their daughter.
Since you are asking this question, I assume Judaism has some meaning for you. It could be religious, it could be cultural, or it could be that your parents were Holocaust survivors. Reflect on the meaning of Judaism in your own life, and how your belief has developed and changed over the years. Changes may also occur for your son. Be open to the notion that interfaith relationships can be enriching for both families.
The wedding is an opportunity for the young adults to reflect on their own beliefs, and figure out what is meaningful to them. Remember — your children are a product of your teachings, and those of your community. They will be carrying their pasts with them as they negotiate their future.
As you may recall from your own marriage, it takes years to feel really comfortable in another family. This is even more so when the customs are unfamiliar. This will be true for both your future daughter-in-law and her family. One of your roles will be as teacher, and like all teachers, you will need to study and learn.
In the old days, weddings were an occasion to welcome the couple to the community. Today, many couples see the wedding as a celebration of their own love. They feel it is important for them to create their own ceremony and will pick and choose amongst the customs of their separate faiths. We are fortunate that many rabbis today will talk to the engaged couple, and help them understand what traditions are meaningful to them. Couples are more likely to talk to rabbis with whom they have a relationship, or ones who would be willing to perform the ceremony. If for whatever reason your son does not want to talk with his own rabbi, interfaithfamily.com has a list of clergy who will not only perform the ceremony, but will also guide the couple. Remember, the journey does not end with the wedding.
Expert Ruth Nemzoff is happy to answer your relationship questions. Send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.