Destination weddings are the new rage. I just attended a mountain top wedding in Vermont , temperature 18°. Seated on benches, the guests were wrapped in blankets, surrounded by outdoor heaters. Under the toile fabric and pine decorated birch-log chuppah, the beautiful non Jewish bride in a strapless gown and her Jewish groom vowed to honor and cherish each other for the rest of their lives. The reception included toasts, dancing, and fabulous food, but no cake cutting drama – the five tiered cake was cut and served up from the kitchen! Tradition and modernity were juxtaposed in the creation of a moment that will reflect the couple’s lives from now on.
I am looking in the mirror for a moment and reflecting on my own marriage of 42 years to the only Jewish boy in town. Colleen and Misha’s story is yet to be written, but my thoughts on this major transition in life may be of interest. In 1968 our interfaith marriage was viewed with curiosity and concern; we were cautioned by both families and friends that it couldn't work, but we didn't listen, of course. At nineteen and twenty, we knew everything, and it felt right to us - all that mattered.
I confess that religious practices and food preferences created conflict, but we addressed these issues head on, because they were obvious cultural differences. Luckily I liked to cook and eventually learned how; some of Frank's favorite Jewish dishes even became favorites of mine and my gentile family. As for religion, we agreed to disagree and carried on with our lives, never merging the two, and never abandoning our beliefs. Our children grew up respecting both religions and are moral independent thinkers today. All that worry and concern about the children was for naught. As our cultures clashed, our lives became richer and more interesting, as we mined family traditions for the best and sometimes created our own.
It was those subtle cultural traditions that color everything that caused more trouble. How do you react to a crisis? What are the rules for spending and saving money? How do you discipline the children? Who will do what household chores? Those daily decisions, clouded by family of origin culture, threatened peace in the union. The cultural piece was invisible and the conflict became personal. Most conflict has culture at the root.
The caution that should be observed in forging relationships, not just a marriage, is not to avoid the possibility of conflict, but to embrace it with ferver and learn the lessons that exploring different cultures provides. Tradition and modernity can co-exist peacefully. An adventure awaits.