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.