There was no hora dancing at my brother’s wedding last week. Nor was there glass-crushing, a rabbi or exclamations of “Mazel tov!” when the ceremony was complete. My brother married out of the faith in a civil ceremony where our Jewish faith played no significant role. But his bride looked at him with adoring eyes and the vows they uttered spoke of love, sincerity and hope for a bright future together.
Thirty-six when he tied the knot, my youngest sibling was no spring chicken, and I’d worried he would spend his life alone, never knowing the joy and comfort of enduring companionship. Then he met his wife and, between them, I saw love and happiness, the promise of a partnership that could change his life for the better.
I’m 11 years his senior, and I know he respects my opinion, so I gingerly broached the subject of engagement several months ago. “If you truly want to get married and possibly have a family, you should seize the moment,” I suggested. “This woman loves you and wants to spend her life with you. If you feel the same way, you should move forward. But if you don’t, give her a chance to find that future elsewhere.”
You could say I offered heartfelt encouragement to my brother to marry out of the faith, and you wouldn’t be wrong. I did. But the choice seemed simple in my eyes: a life alone with no loving spouse by his side, or an out-of-the-faith marriage that promised a future of kindness, tenderness and love-based partnership. Call me crazy, but I believe life is too short to spend it alone.
There are different kinds of Jews in the world and my brother is firmly in the extremely secular camp. No synagogue ties for this guy, who works through Jewish holidays, eats on Yom Kippur and only attends a Shabbat family dinner if it’s convenient. I could offer excuses as to why he never dated Jewish. The pickings are slim for single Jews in Vancouver, and once your 20s are firmly behind you, it gets even harder to partner up with someone of the same faith.
His wife, exposed for the first time to Friday night, Rosh Hashanah and Passover dinners at her sister-in-laws’ homes, loved the gatherings, especially the inclusive family warmth she became part of. Of her own initiative, in the months before the wedding, she asked to consult with a Conservative rabbi about the possibility of converting to Judaism.
I sent her to one of our finest, a local rabbi who doesn’t have a judgmental bone in his body. This rabbi delivers a figurative embrace of warmth to everyone he meets and I knew he couldn’t possibly intimidate her. “If you’re thinking of converting, don’t do it before the wedding,” he advised. “Take your time, do some research and think long and hard about whether you truly want Judaism in your life. This is not a decision that should be rushed.”
Thus it was that we stood in the dappled sunlight a few days ago, the couple holding hands and gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes as they promised to love and care for each other from that moment onward. They chose to marry beneath a huppah, a hint that a Jewish life, or an embrace of some Jewish traditions, remains a possibility. But even if it doesn’t, I fully accept that everyone deserves a chance at a happy future. If that future can’t be a Jewish one, well, so be it.