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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.
By Stacey Zisook Robinson
Editor’s note: This author describes difficulty finding a rabbi to officiate her wedding in Chicago. We urge couples to utilize our free rabbi referral service, available here. If you are in the Chicago area, or any of our InterfaithFamily/Your Community areas, our rabbi/directors can help guide you.
Iâm dating. Again. Post-divorce, post 50, Iâm dating. I suppose itâs fittingâI didnât do much dating during the prime dating years of adolescence and young adulthood. My teens and 20s (and if weâre being really honest, most of my 30s) were relatively unscathed by the trials and tribulations of this particular social lubricant.
Not by choice, mind you. I wanted to date. Would have loved to dive into the dating pool. I envied my friends who wept and wailed and crowed with delight, sometimes all in the same conversation. I was just weird enough and insecure enough to assume that no one would ever actually want to date me, so I remained everyoneâs confidante and confessor. I gave awesome advice and my ears grew muscles with the constant stream of listening that they did.
By the time I was dating, it was less âdatingâ and more a series of negotiations over a meal or three to determine relationship status. I mean, come on: Who dated at my age? Who did small talk and boundaries? Time was ticking; letâs get a move on. In or out, whaddya say?
My criteria read something like an EEOC banner: any and all applicants accepted, regardless of race, color or religion. I probably would have given pause at political leanings; that is (still) a deal-breaker. But all the other stuff? Not a whit did I care. I fell in love, deeply, passionately, forever and for always with someoneâs soul.
It was probably no surprise to anyone that when I finally found The One, he was not Jewish. It was a huge surprise to me when I called my rabbiâthe man who had been my rabbi throughout most of my childhood and young adulthoodâand he refused to marry us.
âWhat?â I criedâliterally criedâinto the phone. How could that be? Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that my rabbi (whom Iâd not seen in more than 20 years, but whoâs counting, right?) would refuse. âMazel tov,â he said, kindly and with finality. âI wish you luck.â And he hung up the phone.
It took a while, but I found a rabbi, apparently the one rabbi in Chicago who performed mixed marriage ceremonies. On a magical day in May, there was a chuppah and a glass and a rabbi, and my somewhat befuddled bridegroom who wasn’t Jewish.
Nine months and a day laterâexactly nine months and a dayâwe had our son. But as time went on, I watched as my world, my marriage, fell apart. I forgot that if you have a relationship based upon need (because really, who on earth could ever love me; need was almost as good, right?), when the need goes away, whatâs left to hold all the pieces together?
And so my husband became my ex-husband, and I jumped back into the (non)dating pool. I wound up with a handful of relationships to call my own. Though now there was a difference: These were all Jewish men.
Itâs not that I had refused to go the Jewish route when I was younger. This was no misplaced rebellion from God or my parents. Had some Jewish man, in need of fixing or just plain in need, offered, Iâd have been all over that. Iâd have loved that. Maybe it was timing or luck. Maybe it was my subconscious. Regardless, Iâd never dated within the tribe before.
At some point in my more desperate attempts to find healing with the ex of note, however, I had found, much to my surprise, God. And with God, synagogue and Torah and community and services and committees and temple politics and devotion and Talmud and chanting and teaching andâŚ OK, Iâll make this easy: I found my Judaism. I felt as if I had finally come home. Outside of being a mother to my son, being a devoted, mindful Reform Jew was the central fact of my life, and I was determined to make âJewishâ central to my dating criteria from now on.
So, of course, when I least expected it, there it wasâlove. Again. Dating. Againâno, not again.Â For the first time. Actual dating. The Iâll-pick-you-up-and-weâll-go-to-dinner-and-then-Iâll-take-you-home kind of a date. The Iâll-call-you-in-a-few-days-and-weâll-make-plans-for-another-day kind of date, because we donât have to do everything right now; later is also good, because there will be a later.
And now here I am, dating. Heâs kind and funny and smart. He loves me, which is awesome, since I love him. We met in junior high and we found each other again in a hailstorm of good timing and strange coincidence. He likes pizza and the Cubs, has a cat named Einstein, and heâs not Jewish.
Dammit, heâs not Jewish. And it never, ever mattered to me before. But I found God, and Judaism, and mindful devotionâshouldnât it matter?
âI donât know about him,â I said to my son, now 17. We were talking just after Iâd come home from a dateânot the first one, not even the second or third, but right at that tipping point of figuring out where it all fit, having no idea if I was doing it right at all, since Iâd never actually done this before. âHeâs not Jewish. That feels kinda weird.â
My son, filled with that heady mix of cynicism and ennui that pervades every 17-year-old, said, âMom, you just want someone who believes what you believe.â
âNo,â I replied, with a growing sense of wonder, ânot that. I want someone who thinks like I think. Someone whoâs willing to dive in and learn and argue and discuss and discover. Heâs devoted to his faith and to what his faith calls him to doâserve those in need, fix whatâs broken in the world. How is that different from what I want?â
I wonder sometimes if I am betraying my faith, my people. He and I, we talk about it from time to time. He comes to synagogue with me on occasion. I go to church every once in a while with him. I think we are both a bit smugly sure, in a most loving way, that each of us is right about the whole God thing, and we kindly indulge the other in their misplaced faith.
Thereâs a chance that God smiles indulgently at the both of us, too.
But we dive and struggle and wrestle with faith, with God, with love and our imperfectionsânot to change the other, or to prove our rightness. We wrestle because it is part of the thing we share: devotion and faith.
We are completely together, differently. That is, ever and always, enough.
This article was reprinted with permission from Kveller.com, a fast-growing, award-winning website for parents raising Jewish and interfaith kids. Follow Kveller on Facebook and sign up for their newsletters here.
Stacey Zisook RobinsonÂ is a single mom. She sings whenever she can. She writes, even when she canât. She worked in Corporate America for a long time. Now she works at her writing and looks for God and grace, meaning, connection, and a perfect cup of coffee, not necessarily in that order. Stacey has been published in several magazines and anthologies.Â Her book,Â Dancing in the Palm of Godâs Hand, has just been published by Hadasah Word Press. She recently launched a Poet in Residence program designed to work with both adults and kids in a Jewish setting to explore the connection between poetry and prayer as a way to build a bridge to a deepened Jewish identity and faith.Â She blogs athttp://staceyzrobinson.blogspot.com, and her website can be found atÂ www.stumblingtowardsmeaning.com.