September 17, 2019

The World is More Than a Wedding

“The Invention of Life,” by René Magritte, 1926.

When my kids were still preschoolers,young enough to be influenced by my every word, I used to have thisspiel about marrying out of Judaism. It went something like this:”It’s an insult to the 6 million who died only because they wereJewish.” I figured that you can’t start early enough on the road tothe chuppah. Now, both of my children are chuppah material. And I amspiel-less.

Once upon a time my daughter stood beneath aceiling of sunflowers under the blue Santa Cruz skies, with thePacific at her back and her family and friends looking on throughtears of happiness. She married a young Jewish man. Good pedigree –both parents Jewish and both educated — but it didn’t work out. Sixmonths and one baby later, he realized, on Valentine’s Day, that hewanted out. After all, he had his whole life ahead of him, and whyshould he have to sacrifice it for this one mistake? He left.

A month later, he said to my daughter, “The pastis the past; let’s get on with our lives.” Not an invalid statement.And so at 25, he joined a men’s group. He learned how to drum.

My daughter, who had a baby, married, divorced andlost her father all within a span of 18 months, has not stood beneathanother chuppah, but she does stand firmly on her own twofeet.

It has been two years since my daughter and her exexchanged vows, and my family still talks with joy about the wedding.After all, we thought it had meaning. Except Elliot. He let me knowat the time that he was not pleased.

Elliot is married to my cousin Ronnie-Sue. He’s 62and works as a messenger in New York’s garment district. Herecognizes a good wedding when he sees one. First of all, he asked,why was the rabbi a woman? Why was she wearing a turquoise Star ofDavid the size of a serving tray? And what was all that stuff aboutthe Iroquois Indians in the ceremony? How come there wasn’t anyScotch to drink? Who ever heard of lasagna as a main dish? Where wasthe kishka? What happened to the hora? And, lastly, when the pictureswere being taken, Elliot was confused about who the parents of thebride and groom were because they didn’t match up to the ones whowalked down the aisle. Elliot called it California Jewish, and he wasso upset that he vowed never to attend another wedding unless Iguaranteed its authenticity.

Ironically, the last time I spoke to my formerson-in-law — when it wasn’t a one-word sentence — I asked him whyhe ever wanted a wedding. He said, with loathing: “That was yourwedding, not mine.” My wedding? Elliot would have had his kishka ifit were my wedding. I heard secondhand that after nearly two years ina men’s group, he has learned that he married to do the sociallyacceptable thing, and he has forgiven himself for that dastardly act.Self-redemption is almost as popular as self-love nowadays as ashortcut to self-acceptance.

Recently, I overheard two tattooed young people,their hair varnished into neon green spikes and $150 sneakersadorning their feet, complain about their parents: “They expect me tograduate in four years, and then I have to get a job and supportmyself through graduate school. Is that totally f—ed? They’ll belucky if I get through this semester.” They’ll be lucky?

A New Yorker would have said: “What is it thatyour parents are demanding of you? That you be educated citizens,able to contribute to the world and make enough to support yourself?And, God forbid, that you allow me to attend a ceremony?”

A Californian would have said: “I hear you sayingthat parental pressure is upsetting you and that you would muchrather have your parents have no expectations whatsoever other thanthat you be happy. [Of course, how much happiness can you expect ifyou have no education, are unable to earn a living and look as ifsomeone used you for a voodoo experiment?]”

When we exited from the Garden of Eden, we leftperfection behind to search for, among other things, self-awareness.And for many, it is still forbidden knowledge. In the interim, thereis improvisation.

Linda Feldman, a former columnist for the LosAngeles Times, is the co-author of “Where To Go From Here:Discovering Your Own Life’s Wisdom,” due out this fall from Simon& Schuster.

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