We’re just like Mum and Dad

By Josh Glancy, February 8, 2013
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Logging on to Facebook if you're Jewish and 25 is a hazardous business these days. The festive season generated a seemingly unending spate of engagements and weddings.

Each foray online revealed another betrothal, complete with pictures of a beaming couple. The guy who used to buy me illicit flavoured vodka in Eilat when I was 14, the girl who rejected me on tour, the family friend who my parents always had their eye on; all headed for wedded bliss. And all with someone guaranteed to please even the most discerning Zeide.

The Lord only knows how many more avowals of eternal love will be plastered across the web after Thursday's Valentine's celebrations.

I had been under the impression that my generation was supposed to be marrying later, intermarrying or living alone, and that the mainstream Anglo-Jewish community was in terminal decline, the middle ground falling away with only the strictly Orthodox expanding. And that being a 20-something was supposed to be about drifting off the rails and rebelling against the conservative mores of your parents. Evidently, I was wrong.

Every day reveals another engagement

True, marriage rates in the Jewish community have been falling for years. In 1992, there were 1,029 recorded marriages. As of 2010, this had declined steadily to 836, the lowest number since records began. Given that an ever-increasing proportion of marriages have been occurring in the strictly Orthodox world, the outlook for the rest of the community has indeed been bleak.

If you'd asked me 10 years ago when my contemporaries would begin to get married. I would have predicted 30 at least. For the half-generation above mine, it seems this was indeed the case. But if the current glut of nuptials is anything to go by, something has changed.

So why are large numbers of traditional but not Orthodox couples choosing to commit to eternal union in their mid-20s? Is it that, in response to cultural and economic pressures, there has been a shift back toward more conservative Jewish values? The average age of marriage among Jews has always been lower than the country at large: 30 for men and 28 for women embarking on their first marriage, as opposed to 32 and 30.

As a community, we place a great deal of emphasis on family and ritual, with Jewish couples seeking to replicate the homes of their own childhoods. And there's the fact that the social structure of the community being what it is, many Jews meet their future partner at university (or even at nursery school, for that matter). Nonetheless, in tune with the rest of the country, the trend in recent years has been for these marriages to occur later and later.

But, in the face of the crushing uncertainty that faces a generation coming of age in austerity Britain, the security, stability and happiness that a Jewish marriage can bring is appealing. It seems many young Jews are choosing to bind themselves together earlier, taking their cue not from their older siblings, but from their parents' generation.

Have my contemporaries realised that the dream of spending their 20s living a wild, hedonistic existence before finally settling down is just that - unrealistic?

Living alone as a young professional in Britain is increasingly difficult. Property prices continue to rocket and the economic gloom refuses to lift. Perhaps young Jews want to face these challenges with a partner by their side.

Beyond economic pressures, there also appears to have been a cultural shift, with young Jews seemingly rejecting what one might call the Sex and the City dream of a youth spent in cosmopolitan dissolution.

Rather than pushing past the serious relationship that defines their mid-20s in the hope of something more, couples are coming to the realisation that it doesn't necessarily get any better than this. For many, the excitement of celebrating a Jewish wedding, setting up a first family home, having children and perpetuating the traditions that they have grown up with is the real 20-something dream worth pursuing.

In the light of the long-term decline of non-Orthodox Jewish marriage rates, this trend, if it continues, must undoubtedly be viewed as good news for the community and its future. It is undoubtedly positive but maybe, just maybe, a few of my peers will look back and wish they had misspent a little more of their youth and made a few bad decisions before eventually making a good one.

Josh Glancy is a Sunday Times journalist

    Last updated: 10:45am, February 8 2013