Picturing Love and Intermarriage in New York

Photographer Delves Into Everyday Lives of Mixed Couples

West Side Story A photograph in Yael Ben-Zion’s exhibit is accompanied by this quote from Ilana (far right): “When Jeff told them he wanted to marry me, they did not support it and expressed concern that they would have Jewish grandchildren. Unlike my mother and sister, they did attend our wedding.”
Yael Ben-Zion (detail)
West Side Story A photograph in Yael Ben-Zion’s exhibit is accompanied by this quote from Ilana (far right): “When Jeff told them he wanted to marry me, they did not support it and expressed concern that they would have Jewish grandchildren. Unlike my mother and sister, they did attend our wedding.”

By Anna Goldenberg

Published January 21, 2014, issue of January 24, 2014.
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In September 2009, an Israeli TV and internet campaign aimed at dissuading Jews from marrying non-Jews upset many in the Diaspora – including Yael Ben-Zion, an American-born photographer, who lives together with her French, non-Jewish husband in New York City.

So Ben-Zion, 40, who grew up in Israel, posted an ad at an online parenting board in her neighborhood, Washington Heights, and asked for couples, who defined themselves as intermarried, to participate in what has become her latest project, “Intermarried.” The photographs of 20 couples, their homes and their families provide an intimate look into the daily lives of people who have married outside their faith or race. They consist of a combination of still lives with details, such as a bible in the bathroom, and photos of the families in everyday life situations, like hugging, dressing children or breastfeeding.

Five of the couples including Ben-Zion’s had one Jewish partner. Among the others are Baha’I, Buddhist and interracial partners. “I wasn’t interested in creating a statistical survey,” she said. “I was more interested to deal with the challenges.”

The Little Prince “Obviously our mother tongues are different but it goes deeper than this. Our basic cultural backgrounds are different.” (Ugo)
Yael Ben-Zion (detail)
The Little Prince “Obviously our mother tongues are different but it goes deeper than this. Our basic cultural backgrounds are different.” (Ugo)

After an informal conversation with the couples, she started to photograph them in their homes. Some of the images are still lives, things that caught her attention, like an altar that displayed a statuette of the Hindu God Ganesha and a crucifix. The shots that show people are modeled after experiences told to Ben-Zion, such as one partner’s baptism in the bathtub. Finally, Ben-Zion asked the participants to fill out a questionnaire, excerpts of which are included in the book and exhibition, on the wall next to the photo.

They complete the photos — without diverting the viewer’s attention — by adding moving insights into the daily lives of intermarried couples. Some talk about disheartening experiences of being shunned by their families or facing discrimination and lack of understanding. Some tell the stories of how they met, fell in love and overcame their cultural differences.

Murphy bed “To make any relationship work, you have to figure out how to make all your differences work well together and race, to me, is just one small part of that whole puzzle.” (Daria)
Yael Ben-Zion (detail)
Murphy bed “To make any relationship work, you have to figure out how to make all your differences work well together and race, to me, is just one small part of that whole puzzle.” (Daria)

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