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Life

Marriage brings people together, but this one is driving family apart

From its start in 1906, A Bintel Brief was a pillar of the Forward, helping generations of Jewish immigrants learn how to be American. Now our columnists are helping people navigate the complexities of being Jewish in 2020. Send questions to bintel@forward.com.

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In sickness and in health, till Bubbe do us part

Dear Bintel,

My daughter is marrying a non-Jewish man. We love our future son-in-law and are supportive of our daughter’s decision, but my mother (her grandmother) is threatening not to come to the wedding. My daughter is close to her grandmother so this breaks my heart. How can I bring them back together?

— Stuck In the Middle

Dear SITM, Oy vey with a side of Dayeinu!

You ask how you can bring them back together but I say that’s not your job. Your mom is a big girl and if she wants to wound her granddaughter irreparably like this, that’s her prerogative; it’s not like she doesn’t know what she’s doing. (You like how I threw in that extra helping of Jewish guilt? Feel free to quote liberally.)

Listen, I remember very clearly my own mom’s look of disdain when I told her I was smitten with a lovely Irishman. In fact, we were moving in together, and Mom flew across the country to tell me that if we were really serious and wanted to get married, it would be “hard.”

“Hard?” I asked. “How so?”

“Think about it…the different traditions and rituals and…how will you raise the kids? It’s just…hard.”

I knew there was a lot more she wasn’t saying. She was a little girl during WWII and listened to the reports from overseas. She knew what it felt like to fear her entire faith might be wiped out. So when she said it would be hard, I was pretty sure she meant for her more than for me.

As it turns out, I did marry that Irishman. And Mom was right; it is hard. Marriage is hard. It’s about respecting each other’s visions, faiths, traditions, ideals, thermostat preferences. But the interfaith part of our marriage is actually fantastic, because it forces me to really be thoughtful about which traditions I pass on and why.

I grew up somewhere between Reform and Conservative, and while I was great at memorizing Hebrew, I didn’t know what any of it meant. In college, when someone asked me why Friday nights were so special, I mumbled something about my mom’s crispy chicken. I never had to examine my rituals and beliefs until I committed to my husband and started creating a family with him. It made me be intentional.

Now, my kids go to Hebrew school and we do Buddhist meditations before bed. On Friday nights, we say the brachas over pizza. And yes, we have a Christmas tree and a menorah – a shanda! The kids love it.

This may just prove to your mother what she fears most – that your daughter will pass down some diluted version of her Jewish values. But if Bubbe cannot support this evolution of her beloved granddaughter, then that says more about her Judaism than your daughter’s. You can ask your mom why she is so opposed to this wedding or try to talk her down if you think that would help, but make sure the ensuing harangue doesn’t reach your daughter’s ears. At the end of the day, all you can do is make sure your daughter knows you have no doubts about her partner, her faith or her identity.

Send the invite, request an RSVP, and then focus on giving your daughter a beautiful day.

Abby Sher is a writer living in Maplewood, N.J. Got a question? Send it to bintel@forward.com.

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