Marriage among Jewish Israelis of mixed ethnicity on the rise

Sefi and Anna Ben David at their wedding ceremony in Israel

In an interview with Israeli internet radio station TLV1, Talia Sagiv, the author of On the Fault Line: Israelis of Mixed Ethnicity discussed Jewish Israelis of mixed ethnicity. Sagliv is a child of an Ashkenazi mother and a Mizrachi father, who were married in the late ‘70s, when mixed marriages accounted for only five per cent of all marriages between Israelis. Today, Sagiv’s research shows that Israeli marriages of mixed ethnicity are more frequent, with one in five young Jewish Israelis born to mixed parents. They have also become more socially acceptable, she said.

Based on her extensive interviews and research, Sagiv argues that today “it is much easier, it’s much less of a dramatic issue to marry someone of a different Jewish ethnicity in Israel.” Sagiv contends that mixed Israelis are “much more aware of their ethnic identity than people who fully Ashkenazi or fully Mizrachi,” as they are well versed in both perspectives from their station at a crossroads between cultures.

Before a Jewish couple of mixed ethnicity gets married, they have to decide which of their unique cultural customs to incorporate into their wedding ceremony and which to pass on to their children. The blending of Jewish cultures and traditions is becoming an increasingly common feature of Israeli society. The distinguishing traits of ethnic groups of Jews have existed for over a thousand years. Each group has its distinct religious traditions and cultural customs.

Israeli Rivkah Ben-Yisrael is Ashkenazi with a British background, while her husband is of Yemenite origin. She told The CJN their wedding ceremony was a “mash-up of Ashkenazi and Yemenite customs.” Under the wedding canopy, her husband’s father and brothers sang a traditional Yemenite wedding tune. Ben-Yisrael loves the inclusion of the different ethnic customs into their unified family. She proudly claims that her husband is “more inclined to view us as ‘Israelis’ who have no need for all these differences now that we are living in our homeland.”

Israeli-American Anna Ben David’s origins are from Romania and her husband Sefi Ben David’s origins are from Morocco and Burma. Ben David participated in a traditional Sephardi henna ceremony before the wedding with her family and her close friends. In the henna ceremony, the bride wore a decorated headdress and jewelry. Ben David and her husband attend a Sephardi synagogue on High Holidays and she describes the tunes as “less familiar than at the Ashkenazi synagogue, but it’s still interesting and special” to participate, she said.

Ben David believes that her “future children would probably describe themselves as Israeli or Jewish more than any specific ethnicity”, as Ashkenazi or Sephardi.

Most of the people who Sagiv interviewed in her book described the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardi as the “way you treat religion, the way you use language, the way you celebrate holidays.” They referred to Asheknazi and Sephardi identity as influential in “the way you behave in a funeral, in the way you want your wedding to be, the kind of food or music that you consume.” Israeli Jewish ethnic identity is expressed through these cultural aspects of life.

Inter-ethnic marriages among Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Mizrachi Jews are a reflection of the development of contemporary Israeli society and a symbol of the modern day Israel. The cultural mosaic is a realization of the Zionist ideal, with marriage among the diverse Jewish ethnic groups as a means of creating a unified Jewish culture in Israel.