(photo credit: AP)
The shidduch – looks perfect, what we would call “invei hagefen v’invei
hagefen.” Fruit from neighboring vines. Chelsea and Marc have known each other
most of their lives, having met as teenagers at a salubrious Democratic pow-wow.
All four parents are elected Washington politicians; both fathers involved in
scandals. They have both lived under the glaring media light since birth and
have successfully avoided it in adulthood.
Each one is rich and could
independently obtain any advantage available on this earth.
Jewish and Chelsea is Methodist. On their Shabbat wedding under a huppa of twigs
and vines, the seven Jewish wedding benedictions were recited and the couple
exchanged vows and rings. Marc’s arms were draped with a talit and on his head a
kippa. Two officiants presided, a minister and a rabbi. Propped on a stand
behind them was a decorated document looking suspiciously like a ketuba. All of
this fully adheres to the standards for interfaith weddings reported in The New
for 15 years.
And then, the official photographs. Along with
Chelsea and her parents and Marc is an oddity I can’t banish from my mind:
Marc’s kippa. This family snapshot is not under the huppa or in connection with
any ritual. Marc could have taken it off, for goodness sake, but he didn’t.
There it is, sitting atop the celebrity wedding of the decade.
– an Orthodox Jew and a survivor of Hungarian fascism, the Holocaust and
Stalinist Communism – might put a kippa on in public if you put a gun to his
head and demanded it, not otherwise. Decorating yourself Jewishly could
variously lose you your job, your home or your life, depending which railcar you
were in, in which decade. When he leaves synagogue every day he pockets his
kippa and wears a baseball cap.
Even amongst the Orthodox men with whom I
have worked, kippa wearing is uncommon. The elite workplace in America is
conservative and conformist. Whether they wear suits or business casual, men’s
dress is rigidly uniform. One friend called Menahem retains his unpronounceable
Hebrew name, but removes his kippa at work. Menahem and others still believe
that the visual impression they give means a great deal, and they are not wrong.
When I was in London recently, walking with my son on a public thoroughfare, a
man approached us, looked from the boy’s kippa to my Japanese peasant cap and
spewed out in a strong accent, “Lie down on the road and die, you Jewish
In my youth, I was taught an abhorrence of intermarriage. Upon
reaching bat mitzva, my mother told me there were two things I could do for
which she would not speak to me again; one was to marry out. Her indoctrination
was from her mother, a freethinking humanist who never overcame her guilt for
living out the war in Australia while her clan was gassed in Europe. Despite
their inconsistency, I maintained both her free thoughts and those on endogamy,
and was outraged at my grandfather’s choosing a gentile spouse after my
grandmother died. I cut off all contact with him. In my maturity, I have learned
to be more tolerant.
Choosing a partner in marriage is such a finicky
matter today. The modern single selects her partner alone, and she alone must
bear the burden of living what is likely to be exceedingly many years in close
quarters with her chosen one. Having spent our early lives designing our
identities from whole cloth (so we imagine), we seek life partners who have
labored on their identities with comparable seriousness. A person’s history is
salient in that it reflects on the method or the materials of the design; it is
Half my office consists of Jews married to non-Jews. A
typical non-Jewish colleague is an irresistibly attractive nonbelieving former
Baptist who met her spouse at Harvard Law School. A typical Jewish colleague has
similar characteristics but met her nonbelieving former Russian Orthodox spouse
in a PhD program.
The Jewish sides of these partnerships are not cavalier
about Judaism: one had a traditional huppa and the ketuba hangs in their
bedroom. They all participate in seders and may even clean the kitchen of
leavened food beforehand.
Marc Mezvinsky didn’t change his Jewish name,
and if he wore a kippa to work, no damage would be done to his career. I don’t
know why he left this vestigial symbol of his history on his head while he
celebrated his marriage to the country’s most eligible daughter; clearly he is
not ashamed of his ethnicity nor concerned about what some London street thug
would say about it. Perhaps Chelsea values this confidence in him, his choosing
to highlight his distinct origins, even in the ceremony that signals the end of
For most, Marc’s wedding garb is one hue in the
multicultural rainbow that is America’s crown. And for me? A form of
liberation.Viva Hammer is a lawyer in