Jon and Amanda (Lafferty) Zrihen with their wedding party at their Lake Tahoe wedding
Jon and Amanda (Lafferty) Zrihen with their wedding party at their Lake Tahoe wedding

A Jewish boy, an Irish girl and a guest list of every skin tone

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My son got married this summer, and while I was watching the event unfold and trying to keep from bawling like a baby, something else entirely occurred to me.

My sons grew up in Vallejo, going through the public schools here. The wedding party and guests reflected this in such a way that I realized that this city is, in some ways, exactly what Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed for the future.

Everyone at our event, which resembled the United Nations in its diversity, was a lovely, caring person who was there because they’re important to us, and vice versa. I’m pretty sure that this is what most Vallejo-centered events tend to look like: the rainbow pallet of humankind.

In other words, the guest list at my son’s wedding was based not on the color of anyone’s skin, but on the content of their character.

This should not be so surprising, considering Vallejo’s position as the most ethnically diverse city in the United States. But too often it’s the unfortunate stuff here that grabs the headlines. Even when the city’s ethnic diversity is mentioned, what that translates to in the lives of the people who live, work or visit here is rarely included.

My son’s wedding photos tell that story.

It was a Jewish wedding, in that there was a rabbi officiating and the couple stood under a beautifully decorated chuppah. All the men wore yarmulkes, and Jon stepped on and smashed a glass at the end of the ceremony — which, tradition says, reminds us that “even at the height of personal joy, we recall the pain and losses suffered by the Jewish people and remember a world in need of healing.”

The bride and her family are of Irish extraction and the groomsmen and bridesmaids are from families who originally hailed from everywhere in between.

It seems to me that other cities and countries trying — and too often failing — to figure out how to get diverse populations to learn to live together need to send someone to study Vallejo.

I know that my sons have “other mothers” of all hues and that their friends consider me their other mother, and have told me so.

So, at least in Vallejo, King’s dream — “That one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” — has basically become second nature to my son’s generation.

As King envisioned, “When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!’”

Well, at Jon’s wedding, they were singing some rap thing about being stupid. But they were doing it together, and that’s pretty close in my book.

This article first appeared in the Vallejo Times Herald, where the author is on staff.

Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
Rachel Raskin-Zrihen

Rachel Raskin-Zrihen is a longtime Bay Area journalist and co-author of the book "Jewish Community of Solano County." She is a wife and mother of two grown sons and grandmother of three.