How Much of This is About Your Guilt?

No, you are not being ridiculous. You wish to see a sign, a nod of recognition in your son’s wedding ceremony that, as he binds his life to his beloved, he marries as a Jewish man. You suggest a simple tradition, the climactic breaking of a glass (you might have suggested that they stand under a chuppah), yet he refuses.

Nothing is ridiculous in this transaction. But you seem to believe that in rejecting your request he dishonors both you and “his roots as a person who was raised in a Jewish home.” Here I respectfully dissent. I invite you to consider that you may not really know why your son has not acceded to your simple and forthright request.

We Jewish parents are gifted at finding reasons to believe that we have failed to live up to our responsibility to create the next generation of Jews. Our children’s choices, we readily conclude, reveal what we had always secretly sensed, namely that we ourselves are really not very good Jews. Quick to leap into the sea of guilt where the breakers batter and the undertow drags our multi-generational people into historical oblivion, we turn against ourselves and/or against our children in a time-honored gesture of self-administered punishment.

Before I complete this sermonic blast, let me ask you a practical question that my wife, Elana, urged me to pose. You report that you placed this request to your son. But have you discussed your feelings on this matter with your future daughter-in-law as well? We think a conversation with both of them might be useful, perhaps about the whole ceremony, its structure, direction, and meaning. In my experience, couples appreciate the opportunity to discuss with elders the ceremony they plan for their induction into the marvel of marital love.

In any event, as you hear the voices that condemn you (or your child) for having betrayed our “ever-dying” people, I hope you will also consider, if only for a moment, that the continued existence of the Jewish people is a miracle, an expression of a will that utterly transcends our own striving. No single act, not even a full lifestyle, can adequately reveal or encompass the mystery of Jewish survival.

It is possible your son is concerned that his bride not feel estranged from her own wedding, that he feels a kind of displaced guilt for contributing to her choice to leave her homeland, the island city-state of Singapore. Given our Jewish sensitivity to homelessness and exile, my guess is that he wants her to know, deep in her heart, that the home they build for themselves in the US will not be founded on rejection of her heritage, abandonment of her own cultural background.

In any event, I hope you will be able to taste joy at the wedding, that you will feel grateful he is marrying a woman whom you adore, and confident that you have passed on to him the ability to give and receive love. It is here that I discern our Jewish legacy and purpose: the art of loving in a world which, though it hungers for the freedom and peace that love gently offers, rejects love again and again. It is the task of our people to say with our lives, “Nevertheless, love is real.”

James Ponet is the Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain Emeritus at Yale where he also is a visiting lecturer at the Law School. Fortunately he has been married over 40 years to Elana Ponet with whom he has 4 children and 6 grandchildren.

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How Much of This is About Your Guilt?

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