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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Ben-Zion, a mother of twins, celebrates Jewish holidays and Christmas. She initially moved to the United States to study law at Yale, and took her first photography class while writing her dissertation. She said she found her passion, but nevertheless completed her LL.M. and J.S.D. and moved to New York City to practice law. After three years, she said to herself: “I owe myself a try,” – and took a year of absence to do a one-year General Studies program at the International Center of Photography in New York. Her passion became her profession.

“Intermarried” is her fourth solo exhibition (on display at La Galeria at Boricua College in Washington Heights until February 3, 2014), and a monograph with the same title was published by the German Kehrer Verlag this month. Recent projects of Ben-Zion’s include photo series about life in Israel from the point of view of an expat, and about elderly people in New York City. Ben-Zion is currently collaborating with a sculptor on portraits of Holocaust survivors.

“I learned lot from this project,” said Ben-Zion. “It’s kind of [about] mutual effort and mutual will to keep a relationship.” In addition, she found out about the interplay between race and religion, “how religion is sometimes used to overcome racial differences,” as it was the case for Vanessa and Rick, who have a bible in their bathroom. They were both raised religiously, and sharing their faith helped them deal with the difference of ethnicity.

The Living Bible Paraphrased “Knowing that we share our faith and were ‘raised in the church’ became more important than our differences.” (Vanessa and Rick)
Yael Ben-Zion (detail)
The Living Bible Paraphrased “Knowing that we share our faith and were ‘raised in the church’ became more important than our differences.” (Vanessa and Rick)

In general, the interfaith couples in the project didn’t have to deal with the same issues as interracial couples: “They don’t have the burden of not going to places because people look at them weirdly,” Ben-Zion said. But in the end, she said, the really important questions they faced were similar: “Are you accepted by your community and family? How do you decide on the values that are important to you? Which values do you give to your kids?”

Patterns “We come from such strong cultures that define who we are as people – how we think, what we value, how we see the world – within the big umbrella of being ‘American.’” (Michole)
Yael Ben-Zion (detail)
Patterns “We come from such strong cultures that define who we are as people – how we think, what we value, how we see the world – within the big umbrella of being ‘American.’” (Michole)
Family “You have to understand that my mother and Lazaro’s mother cannot communicate. My mother doesn’t speak Spanish and Lazaro’s mother doesn’t speak English. This bothers my mother greatly.” (Jennifer)
Yael Ben-Zion (detail)
Family “You have to understand that my mother and Lazaro’s mother cannot communicate. My mother doesn’t speak Spanish and Lazaro’s mother doesn’t speak English. This bothers my mother greatly.” (Jennifer)
Annabel with Santa “After all, one’s religion is an accident of birth. And her birth did not accidentally give her just one religion.” (Ilana)
Yael Ben-Zion (detail)
Annabel with Santa “After all, one’s religion is an accident of birth. And her birth did not accidentally give her just one religion.” (Ilana)

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