A Judeo-Christian wedding on Independence Day

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Flowers in Newport

Mark Silk

Flowers in Newport

Flowers in Newport

Flowers in Newport

On July 4 we drove over to Newport, Rhode Island, for the wedding of the son of old friends, who belong to the United Church of Christ. Newport is where the father grew up, in a family of Protestants who did the work the rich of the place needed done. The mother grew up in a devout Catholic family on Long Island. The bride’s family is from Long Island too — Jews who belong to a Conservative synagogue.

Because Conservative rabbis don’t perform mixed marriages, bride and groom, who live in Boston, chose a Reform rabbi who would. He was joined by the groom’s U.C.C. minister, who played second fiddle, liturgically speaking. The ceremony took place on the lawn of an old estate overlooking beautiful Narragansett Bay, under a flower-entwined chuppah, the traditional Jewish wedding canopy.

The usual Jewish vows, by which bride and groom consecrate themselves to each other “according to the religion of Moses and Israel,” were read and repeated in the original Hebrew, with the rabbi smoothing that phrase in his English translation into “according to the traditions of our people.” According to the traditions of our people, the groom stomped a wine glass. Each family is very fond of its new member and think this is a match made in heaven. The mothers-in-laws danced joyously.

Among the guests, the evolution of religious practice occupied some of the discussion. The groom’s mother’s oldest friend, a classmate from the Diocese of Rockville Center high school, described the decline of Catholicism in her own family — from her 87-year-old mother who attends Mass daily, to her own infrequent practice, to her 30-year-old son who will be married next month without benefit of clergy. An uncle of the bride talked about how the Jewish population of Long Island is shrinking. “It is what it is,” he said. Synagogues are closing and merging. “It is,” he said, “what it is.”

At our table, a middle-aged couple, themselves in a mixed Jewish-Christian marriage, talked about their son, who identifies himself as “a radical queer singer/songwriter, organizer, parent, and workshop facilitator based in Boston.” He wears skirts and has his son call him “imah” — Hebrew for mother.

The expectation is that the newlyweds will raise their children to be Jewish, which according to the matrilineal traditions of our people they will be. It is what it is.

  • Ben in oakland

    “Because Conservative rabbis don’t perform mixed marriages, bride and groom, who live in Boston, chose a Reform rabbi who would.”

    According to antigay thought, that conservative rabbi could and should be sued for refusing to perform a wedding in his liturgical capacity.

    Right? Right?

  • MH – Secular Misanthropist

    My wife and I are a couple with mixed religions in our family of origins. Seventeen years ago we were married by a friend who was also an ordained minister. Our goal was to have the service feel religious enough so that both sets of parents felt like we were married, but not so religious that either set of parents felt left out.

    It was a bit of a balancing act for the ceremony, so I imagine that it was a bit tricky for this couple as well.

  • Jack

    Okay, but it reads more like an extended form of a “what-I-did-today” Facebook entry than an article.

    But if they pay you for this, good for you.

  • Garson Abuita

    That Conservative rabbi, however, likely would perform a same-sex marriage for two Jewish spouses.
    I have to disagree with Director Silk’s observation that the “usual” practice is for both the bride and groom to consecrate themselves to each other. Traditionally only the groom does this, as halachically only a man can perform kiddushin — the consecration or “making holy” — on a woman. At my wedding, which we tried to make as egalitarian as possible, my wife said “I give you this ring according to the custom of modern Jewish women.”
    Few things in language are worse than “it is what it is.” It is an Orwellian thought-terminating cliche. Books could be written about the decline of the Jewish population of Long Island and especially how that has affected the non-Orthodox. In fact someone probably has written a book or is in the process. Instead, we have to say “it is what it is” and not discuss it.

  • Jack

    Garson, Mark Silk is…..what he is. (Sorry)

    He’s not as deep as you are. I mean that matter-of-factly.

    My uncle once said that if you expect too much from people, you’ll be perpetually disappointed.

  • Garson Abuita

    Thanks for your kind words Jack. I take Mark Silk with a grain of salt, as I believe he means to be taken. I’m only writing to correct any misconceptions other readers might get about Jewish weddings, which are laden with many layers of law and traditions.

  • Jack

    And thanks for your good posts, Garson. I look forward to reading them.

  • Robert P. Lynch

    Wrong. The First Amendment makes such suits impossible. Clergy can, and do, refuse to officiate at the weddings of people who may legally be married all the time. My own picky point on Mark’s writing, re: “THE” Diocese of Rockville Centre’s Catholic high school. There are a number of Catholic schools in the Diocese, some run by the Diocese itself; there used to be more.