Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"The O.C.", My Father, And My Jewish Brother-In-Law

Yeah.  Here I go again with "The O.C."  I do admit that TV shows and movies often cause me to reflect on things in my own life.  And those things show up on my blog.

I guess one of the factors that causes me to have the "warm fuzzies" when watching "The O.C." is the fact that the Cohens are a family of mixed religions -- a Jewish father and a Christian mother.  And I really enjoy how the Jewish creator of the show -- Josh Schwartz -- has instilled in the marriage of these characters such great love and respect.  This is especially significant to me as my sister -- a Catholic -- is married to a Jewish man.

My two sisters and I were raised in a very Catholic environment, by very Catholic parents.  My father always explained to us that marrying someone of the same faith would probably be easier in the long run, because -- as he told us -- "there will be enough things to fight about, without fighting about your religion."  Pretty practical and sensible, right?  My father never indulged in deep philosophical reasoning about how you should live your life.  He always had very down-to-earth reasons for why he did what he did.

Anyway, my sisters and I never "left the Church."  Our faith has always been a central part of our lives.  I married a very serious Catholic man.  One of my sisters has not married, but is a kick-ass kindergarten teacher.  And my youngest sister (Gina), when she was about 29 or 30 years old, began to date a Jewish man named Aaron, and they married a few years later.

Now, my dad could have flipped out about Gina and Aaron and the fact that Aaron was not only not Catholic, but not Christian, either.  In fact, Aaron is a rather agnostic individual.  But, my dad always said, "You tell your kids your opinions about marriage before they fall in love.  Then, you accept their decisions."  And that is just what he did with Gina and Aaron.  And my dad's relationship with Aaron, before my dad passed away, was an inspiring good example for everyone.  My father became one of Aaron's closest friends and confidantes.  They took piano lessons together.  They often went out for breakfast.  And they talked about any and all subjects -- including those where they had some serious disagreements (faith, religion, and politics) -- without any hard feelings.  In fact, they enjoyed their spirited discussions and would always end up laughing.  And when Aaron's father would come out from Philadelphia to visit, he would join Aaron and my dad in their discussions and adventures.  Aaron's father actually delivered a eulogy at my father's funeral.  He said that even though their religions were different, they shared the same values in the areas of friendship and family life.  And he spoke of how he would so much miss my father, who had become his close friend.

 I will not say that Gina and Aaron's road to the altar was an entirely easy or smooth one.  Her Catholic faith remained (and still remains) important to her.  And Aaron was no doormat about his opinions, either.  Once, he presented Gina with a 12-page list of his objections to the Catholic Church.  She sat and patiently (or, maybe, not-so-patiently) went through the list line-by-line and responded to each item.  Through it all, though, my father was gracious and supportive of their relationship.  He encouraged Gina to stand up for what she believed.  But, he also encouraged Aaron to express himself.  And then he trusted that they would make a wise decision.

Their wedding, in the end, was celebrated in a Catholic church with a Chuppah on the altar.  Both a deacon and a rabbi officiated.  The "Ave Maria" was sung, as well as some wonderful Jewish music. One of the cool things about their wedding preparations -- and one of the things I found most inspiring -- was my father's sensitivity to the Jewish guests' possible feelings about being in a church with a crucifix.  Jewish people can be rather sensitive about crucifixes, as they have often been wrongfully and unfairly accused of killing Jesus, resulting in a lot of serious anti-semitism.  So, my father brought Aaron's parents to the church well before the scheduled wedding date.  He wanted them to check it out and have the opportunity to express their feelings about whether or not they and their friends and family members would be comfortable there.  Aaron's parents graciously gave their blessing for the wedding ceremony to be celebrated in that church building.

Gina and Aaron have been married for 11 years now.  They have a beautiful son and daughter.  Their children are being raised as Catholics, but the Jewish Sabbath and holy days and seasons are also observed in their home.  The children are learning to love and respect the faiths of both of their parents, primarily because Gina and Aaron respect each others' faiths.  And it is lovely to hear their little girl chant the prayer before meals in the Hebrew language.

So, when I watch "The O.C.", the relationship of Sandy Cohen and his wife and the way they treat others -- regardless of faith or politics -- reminds me a lot of the mixed-religion marriage within my own extended family.  And I am grateful for people who are gracious and grace-filled enough to make such a thing work.   And I am grateful for artists like Josh Schwartz, who are able to paint a beautiful picture for us of such a relationship.  For art can and should reflect truths about us and what we are capable of doing -- both the sweet and the salt.

Oh.  I also must say that it was great fun to hear my father tell people -- rather proudly -- that he had a son-in-law who "is one of the Chosen People."

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