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âI saw Aishwarya Rai on Oprah last week. You know, the Dollywood [she meant Bollywood] actress? Stunning girl!â Then came the truth bomb: âShe told Oprah that your boyfriend already has a bride arranged for him back in India. At some point, heâs going to leave you high-and-dry, marry the girl his parents chose, and move back into their house.â
I was pretty sure Aishwarya Rai hadnât been discussing my love life with Oprah. And while my future husband didnât actually have a clandestine bride arranged in India, he also wasnât the Jewish doctor to whom my grandmother had married me off in her fantasies.
âHe seems very nice,â she said of the love of my life. âBut thatâs just how they do things.â
They. Sheâd never met an Indian person before and, on some level, I was touched by her urge to protect me, even if it was born of her own frustrating, dated brand of xenophobia.
My boyfriend and I were born at the same hospital, raised in the same town and attended the same schools. From an objective eye, we werenât some sort of star-crossed pair. Still, he wasnât white and he wasnât Jewish, and for all the many things we had in common, those two facts seemed like insurmountable differences to her. At least at first.
In the years before our engagement, I ran interference, often dispelling bizarre myths about Hinduism and Indian traditions.
âJess. Your grandfather printed out an article from the computer. It said that Hindus have 300 million gods and that they worship monkeys.Â Monkeys.â
âJess. I just watched a program about women in India. If you marry him, youâll have to get a dot tattooed on your forehead. A tattoo.Â On your face.â
Super, super false (and racist.)
Without being too pushy, I tried to create opportunities for her to see us together, to help her understand why our relationship worked, despite what she believed to be deal-breaking differences.
And hereâs where the story gets surprising: during our visits, I watched my grandmother and my husband form an extraordinary bond.
As it turned out, they shared a mutual appreciation for beautiful thingsâart, music, even fashionâand were able to talk about everything from Matisse to Mozart to Alexander McQueen. It didnât hurt that my guy had developed a masterful knack for conversational Yiddish, having grown up in a predominantly Jewish suburbâand could confidently describe an ugly dress as aÂ schmatteÂ or flowery piece of music asÂ schmaltz.Â He literally and figuratively spoke her language.
Before the wedding, we invited her to visit our apartment. It was kind of a big deal. She entered tentatively, taking in all the unmarried, interfaith sin around her. Then she stopped in front of a painting by an emerging Indian artist that my husband had acquired before we started dating; a painting that I had made a lot of noise about hating, for no good reason. She gasped.
âThe colors. The lines. Itâs soâŚsensual!â I burst out laughing, not because my grandmother had said the word âsensualâ (which was definitely hilarious), but because she had simultaneously validated my husbandâs taste in art and solidified their unexpected connection.
Over the years, my husband asked her about gallery openings in the â70s and Coney Island in the 40âs. She clipped articles for him about contemporary art exhibits and Indian actors in Hollywood. They also shared one key interestâmeâand to her delight, sheâd finally found an audience for her outsized stories about my childhood. To anyone else, she would have been bragging, but between them, she was simply affirming his good taste.
My husband was attentive to her in ways that grandchildren whoâve had the luxury of time with a grandparent too often are not. And ultimately this was what made her change her mind and deem him aÂ menschÂ of the highest order.
From birth, my grandmother and I had a special relationship. My status as the favorite grandchild was an open family secret. But by the time she passed, we all agreed that my husband had become the apple of her eyeâwe even joked about their rocky start.
Friends and strangers alike often ask about the challenges my husband and I faced marrying outside our cultures. They assume that that our parents presented the biggest roadblocks. They didnât. Not by a long shot. The older generationâmy grandmother in particularâheld longer, more entrenched views on the importance of marrying within oneâs community, and thus they had a much steeper hill to climb to reach aÂ point of acceptance.
Thereâs that word: acceptance. Too often, we use it to describe some sort of blissful, interfaith end-game. In my experience, itâs just the cost of entry. Itâs what we need from the people we care about to maintain theÂ status quoÂ in our relationships. But beyond that threshold genuine love, messy and strong, is what we really crave. And that love can grow in unlikely, even inhospitable places.
That loveÂ grew for my grandmother as she got to know my husband, and I was more than happy to relinquish the title of favorite grandchild when she discovered it.
This article was reprinted with permission fromÂ Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids.Â Follow Kveller on FacebookÂ andÂ sign up for their newsletters here.
Jessica Melwani is a freelance writer and editor. A recent suburban transplant, she lives outside New York City with her husband and their two awesome, ridiculous boys. When she isn’t in the car overcoming her fear of highways and left turns, you can find her binge-watching British crime dramas or sometimes evenÂ blogging.
ByÂ Melissa K. Rosen,Â Director of National Outreach for Sharsheret
A cancer diagnosis affects so much more than you think it will. Of course I expected the physical challenges. And it came as no surprise when I found myself emotionally drained. What I didnât recognize for either of my two diagnoses was the impact cancer had on my spiritual life.
Living Jewishly has been important to me since childhood. Through the years it has meant very different things, yet has always been an integral part of who I am. I grew up in a Reform temple. My husband, now a committed Jew, grew up in a Christian home. We have spent time in both Conservative and Orthodox communities. Those varied experiences have made us sensitive to both the ways we practice and our relationships with God and community.
During my first diagnosis, I instinctively turned to faith and spirituality. I went to synagogue, spoke with God, wore an amulet with Jewish text and even received a healing bracha, or blessing, from a rabbi. My community and my faith were a large part of my recovery. I drew strength from what had always been important to me.
Seventeen years later, at the time of my second diagnosis, without even realizing it, I shut down spiritually. In retrospect, it was as if a switch was flipped. I withdrew from my community. I stopped attending Shabbat services and drew little joy from holidays and Shabbat.
Navigating cancer places unique pressures not just on the patient, but on the family as well. A medical crisis can bring family togetherâand it can also highlight differences. In my family, with our joyful and carefully constructed religious life, changes of any type were a challenge that needed to be addressed. Were the changes I made permanent? How would they impact my family? Were they actually helping me deal with my diagnosis?
I realize now, both from the benefit of time and from the conversations I have had with other cancer survivors, that diagnosis can make a person spiritually fragile. When you are diagnosed you may look to find meaning in the experience. That may mean drawing closer to faith, changing the way your faith is expressed or turning away completely. It may be an intentional decision, or something you realize in retrospect. Maybe I was mad. Maybe I needed every ounce of strength I had to deal with my treatment. What I know now, healthy and long past treatment, is that my life is missing something.
Jewish observance and commitment has always been an active conversation in my home, so Iâm not sure why it took me months to realize the changes that occurred at my second diagnosis. Now that Iâm aware of what I have lost, I have made myself a promise to fight my way back to something that has always brought me joy and comfort. Iâm not sure where I will find myself in the end, but I know one thing for sure: Iâll be in synagogue next Shabbat!
Sharsheret, Hebrew for âchain,â is a national not-for-profit organization that supports young women and families, of all Jewish backgrounds, facing breast cancer at every stageâbefore, during and after diagnosis.