As I watched “Love, Faith and Other Dirty Words,” the tremendously inventive play created from interviews with 25 intermarried couples by the Prism group of New Center for Arts and Culture, I was struck by how similar the messages about intermarriage are to the warnings we women received from the older generation at the very beginning of the women’s movement of the 1960s. We were told, “Marriage is hard enough without the complication of unclear roles.” Today, young people are told, “Marriage is hard enough without the complication of intermarriage.” In the 60s and 70s, women were told that ambiguous roles will lead to strife. It did, but those of us who survived have much stronger marriages. Today, couples who grapple with their religious differences find themselves much more in tune with their beliefs and values.
The process of creating a marriage is quite similar whether you are forging new gender roles or creating a family with more than one religion. Both parties enter a contract that is often merely understood, not explicitly stated. As the circumstances and the individuals change, each wants modifications in the marriage. Before the second wave of feminism, women were expected to be in charge of home and hearth while the man brought home the kosher brisket. In terms of intermarriage, many persons commit to raising Jewish children or even promise to avoid religion in their home only to discover, after the children are born, that their past religious beliefs are important to them. Either way, either explicit or tacit, expectations are not met. Women in the 60s heard from both their spouses and the older generation, “You made a commitment to hold a certain role in the marriage, and now you are changing the rules in the middle of the game.” In both cases, radical innovations are required. Both persons need to think outside their boxes—how can a marriage grow if it doesn’t accommodate to the growth of the individuals within it?
The young Catholic woman in the play had promised to bring up her child Jewishly, only to find her own background nuzzling into her life claiming a space. Similarly, women in the 60s and 70s found their aspirations screaming inside them for a place in the marriage. In both situations, the older generation warned that it would be extremely difficult to manage relationships with ambiguous rules. And it was. But those who listened to their thoughts went on to hold careers while remaining in marriages and bringing up a younger generation.
Perhaps there is a lesson for all of us as this new generation grapples with exposing our children to more than one religion in a home. It may be difficult and confusing at times, but it is also possible that the changes will fortify both the individuals and the Jewish community. The changes from the second wave of feminism not only created marriages that allow both males and females to have both careers and families, but it changed Judaism. Despite exhortations that the women’s movement would destroy the Jewish people, it actually made it more dynamic. Witness the Jewish renewal movement and the growth of women’s roles in the community as rabbis, minyan members, and bat mitzvahs. It is possible that intermarriage too may leave a vibrant and exciting stamp on the Jewish community.