September 16, 2019

A Modern Wedding Book for People of the Book: Author Anita Diamant Offers Insight Into Traditions and Trends

Brooklyn-born author Anita Diamant is known for penning best-selling novels including “The Red Tent” and “The Boston Girl,” but she began her career writing nonfiction guidebooks on aspects of contemporary Jewish life. Her first book was 1985’s “The New Jewish Wedding,” which she revised in 2001 to reflect cultural shifts.

Now, she’s making it a trilogy with the publication of that original work’s latest update, “The Jewish Wedding Now.” The Journal caught up with Diamant to find out her thoughts on interfaith marriage, her advice for couples planning their special day, and her take on which Jews party the hardest.

Jewish Journal: You’ve written two books on Jewish weddings, why write this third version?

Anita Diamant: When I told people I was doing another update, many thought it was because of marriage equality, and that’s certainly a reason. I think the book reflects that and other realities of 2017, such as the internet now being a primary source of information for people and a new do-it-yourself culture surrounding weddings. For example, in the previous edition, I was discussing how to find a rabbi. Now, part of this book discusses why you should use a rabbi when your best friend can get deputized online so easily now.

JJ: Your book goes to great lengths to be inclusive as it pertains to same-sex couples, Jews of color, unaffiliated Jews and particularly interfaith couples. You even made it a point to stick to gender-fluid pronouns. Why did you feel it was so important to do that? 

AD: That’s what I strive for in all my Jewish guidebooks. I know it speaks primarily to the liberal Jewish community, but that extends very far. This book is meant to offer a universal design, like a kitchen that’s designed for people with disabilities that’s also useful and aesthetically beautiful for people without disabilities. Using language that’s inclusive frees you to think more broadly about Jews and about humanity. It creates an open door and removes a stumbling block for some people but doesn’t diminish access for anyone.

“In the previous edition, I was discussing how to find a rabbi. Now, part of this book discusses why you should use a rabbi when your best friend can get deputized

online so easily now.” — Anita Diamant

JJ: What’s your response to those who oppose interfaith marriage and claim it weakens or dilutes the Jewish community?

AD: Most people born in Jewish families now have non-Jewish machatunim (in-laws), nieces and nephews. You can fight against it, but that doesn’t change the facts. It’s about how we respond to facts on the ground. Are you going to figure out ways to make this an
opportunity or just declare the sky is falling? I’m on the opportunity side.

JJ: What’s the key to finding the right rabbi? Do you even need a rabbi?

AD: It’s actually chemistry. You have to want to have coffee with them again. It’s that gut-check thing. And yes, I do advocate working with a rabbi. What rabbis bring to the chuppah is, yes, tradition but also a skill set that includes holding the room and understanding the dramaturgy of the rituals. They’ve done it before and have navigated complicated family dynamics before. They can also teach you a lot. It can add enormously and the learning can help keep the focus off a to-do list and more on the joyful rituals.

JJ: I love the section in the book where you discuss the chuppah, its mystique and what materials people now use for the chuppah.

AD: With the chuppah, it’s such a nice opportunity to knit Jewish family together. You might ask if there’s a piece of cloth important to the non-Jewish family to use for the chuppah. It’s transformative and creates a united Jewish family. It has a lot of power and symbolizes coming together. Someone I know is going to use a tablecloth from a Swedish grandmother. It doesn’t have to be anything in particular.

JJ: Why include a section on divorce in a book about weddings?

AD: It’s a very short section! But a lot of us, about 50 percent of Americans and more than 50 percent of Jews, get divorced. More than anything, the chapter is just relevant information. If you were married under a chuppah, you should be able to have a Jewish ending so that can feel good about the prospect of starting over again. It’s also just interesting to know that rabbis, since the beginning of time, realized that not all marriages will last forever.

JJ: What’s your favorite Jewish wedding ritual? 

AD: My favorite ritual is the yichud, the short break after the chuppah where the couple takes a deep breath and lets it all sink in before they go party. To me, that’s incredibly wise. It’s a wonderful psycho-spiritual moment.

JJ: In the book, you mention that, although Ashkenazi culture is still dominant, new appreciation is developing for the rituals and customs of other Jews like Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. What are some of your favorite rituals from some of those corners of the Jewish community?

AD: Sephardic mikveh rituals are gorgeous. The rituals around brides are more lively and loud with henna and sweets and singing. There’s such so much joy with Sephardic customs and the food is just better. There’s this great menu that enhances everything and that’s also a part of Jewish tradition. Latin-American Jews also party pretty hard. The dancing is phenomenal.

JJ: How about a prominent Jewish wedding you would’ve liked to attend?

AD: Did Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Todd have a Jewish wedding? I’ll say Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fischer. I bet it would’ve been very interesting to see how they incorporated different traditions. That’s a very 21st-century Jewish wedding with celebrities, a Jew and someone who converted. That’s the kind of thing that would’ve been unheard of in the past.

JJ: What would you tell stressed couples out there planning a Jewish wedding?

AD: There’ s a Yiddish phrase that basically translates to: “There’s no wedding without crying.” It’s normal. Everyone has a blowup with family. It’s stressful. My book really encourages you to think about the ceremony. Make it real. Make it meaningful. n