Six months later…reflections on an interfaith wedding and life as married couple

First, a confession:
Hey there, Mia here, who married Ethan in July and wrote about the wedding planning last spring and summer. I have been meaning to write this final wedding-related post for months. Part of me held off because I was still reeling from the whirlwind events related to the wedding. I also wanted to take some time to let the whole experience sink in so that I could share some meaningful reflection. Truth be told, I think I was subconsciously procrastinating because writing this post, like printing photos for our wedding album, symbolizes the end of wedding-related activities. (But not the marriage!)

So here we go:
Our wedding day was the perfect combination of fun, celebration, solemnity, humor, gratitude, old and new traditions, community, reverence and most of all, love. Don’t just take my word for it ~ Ethan and I were humbled by how many of our guests expressed the same observations. At numerous times I was overcome, and had to pause to take a deep breath to prevent myself from sobbing with awe and joy. There was nothing Jewish or gentile about that ~ it was 100% natural and free-flowing.

Shabbat surprise:
Two days before the wedding, Ethan’s family hosted a Shabbat dinner at a local schul for his observant family and friends. My immediate family as well as my 16-month-old niece, Jewish aunt and Buddhist uncle also attended. It was interesting observing my relatives who were not familiar with a Shabbat dinner and their thoughtful expressions often seen on anyone who doesn’t quite know what to expect next. I remembered how I used to feel that way, and marveled at how far I had come in terms of learning Jewish traditions and practices. However, I realized as the guests were gathering that I was slightly anxious about this dinner setting a “Jewish tone” to the weekend, especially since it prevented me from visiting with out-of-state guests on my side who had arrived in town early. This concern was dispelled when my niece, who loves music, bopped along in her high chair to the sing-song prayers and clapped at the candle lighting. After the final blessing, she clutched a small box of raisins in her tiny fist, raised it high, scrunched her face up in an earnest expression, and, amidst the post-prayer silence, proclaimed loudly her support of the dinner in baby babble. She sounded just like when the cartoon warrior princess from the ‘80s, She-ra, exclaimed with sword raised, “I have the power!” She was clearly moved by the spirit of the gathering! Everyone loved it.

The Big Day:
The day of the actual wedding, the weather behaved, everyone showed up on time, and neither Ethan nor I got cold feet or tripped walking down the aisle. Despite having participated in seven or eight weddings, I was unprepared for how emotional I would be as I approached him. Here was this amazing man who accepted me 100% for who I was, who was standing before his family and friends to say that he chose me. I am still in awe! Getting married under a huppah didn’t faze me at all since I had officiated two interfaith weddings that also used one. In fact, I enjoyed the sense of enclosure it provided, the creation of sacred space, and the more intimate dynamic when friends and family stepped under it to read a blessing to us. We used Ethan’s talit as the canopy, and even though I have never been bat mitzvahed, I appreciated the significance of the talit, and loved that such a special item of his played a role in such a special day of ours. To know that I would recall the feeling of standing under it whenever he wears it for future high holidays, etc., forged my own sense of connection with it. I have a similar feeling when I look at our ketubah that uses interfaith text and hangs proudly in our dining room.

I think it would have been slightly disconcerting for me had we just had one officiant who followed a traditional Jewish wedding service because that was not the tradition in which I was raised. (See our previous post about working with two officiants.) Having two stand with Ethan and me under the chuppah grounded me and really reinforced the communal aspect of the ceremony.

Said ceremony, as outlined in an earlier post, included a mix of Jewish, Celtic, and Native American wedding traditions that many guests said blended beautifully together. I will confess that the only tradition during the entire day that felt slightly foreign to me was dancing the horah; I didn’t really know the exact steps, nor did many of my family members and friends, so we just threw ourselves into the circles, grabbed hands, and kept up! Sadly I got separated from my new husband who ended up flanked by his family members, which made me feel like this was “their thing.” But I have a terrific photo of Ethan, his step-dad, my brother’s wife, and my mom all smiling and dancing together in one of the circles, and I love the unity of that moment! Any lingering concerns I had about whether members of Ethan’s side would think the wedding “wasn’t Jewish enough” were mitigated by the enthusiasm with which they participated in the various celebrations, and the warmth with which they embraced us and me on that day.

Six months later:
So here we are several months later, during which time I attended the fall high holiday services and/or dinners, as well as a traditional Jewish wedding of one of Ethan’s step-sisters, with a slightly different perspective knowing that such rituals would be part of my future for the long term. I’ve come to realize that Ethan’s family’s traditions can now no longer be seen in black-and-white terms as “theirs versus mine,” since his family is now my family. Just as how Ethan willingly helps me set up my Christmas decorations, and helped me bake Christmas cookies for a “Christmas Mia-style” open house I held for some of his family in mid-December.

As we were preparing for the open house, I quietly contemplated how blending the two December holidays would work for our future kids. Would they fall into the “yours, mine and ours” mode of thinking, or would Ethan and I be successful in creating a home in which both traditions merge well? (For the record, Christmas was never about celebrating Christ’s birth for my family; it is a time of gathering with loved ones, adding light, magic and sparkle to a dark season, and sharing gifts and giving back to the community and those less fortunate to demonstrate your love.) A recent rabbi-rabbi-lev-baesh">Boston Globe feature noted the increasing number of interfaith families in Massachusetts, which is good, but acknowledged that sometimes it’s hard for the kids who feel like they are straddling worlds, which is disheartening. Later that evening, as Ethan and I sat with 10 of his family members in our living room, each of them began sharing aspects of Christmas that they “actually like,” most particularly non-secular songs, food, and made-for-TV movies. Ethan’s step-dad then led everyone in a rousing rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I got choked up when I looked around the room and realized, “This is going to work. Both histories and realities can be honored without sacrificing anything.”

That is how I hope Ethan and I will continue to live our lives together and to raise our children: to demonstrate that core values cross faith and traditional divides, and that love, family and community are what matter most, no matter what language, song, or decoration you use to honor them. Am I afraid that members of Ethan’s family will look upon our kids as “not Jewish” with some sadness? Yes, and that isn’t easy for me. But then I think back to the joy, acceptance and inclusiveness of our most wonderful wedding day, and feel confident that we will be able to make it all work out. To paraphrase She-ra, “We have the power!”

All the parts

Gosh.

Eight weeks left until the big day and I feel like we have barely gotten started on what needs to be done.  Life just flies by so fast now that I know June will be here before we know it.  Between the invitations that haven’t gone out and the Ketubah that is yet to be made, I feel like we have more on our plate now than when we started.  How did that happen?

Decisions.  Decisions.

Lu and I have taken every step to internalize each piece of tradition and make it our own.  It is a big task to be able to separate ritual from tradition and I often feel that life would be easier were we to take things at face value.  But hey.  What’s the fun in that?

Tradition ends where the new age begins.  Right?

I mean.  There comes a point where a chuppah is just a chuppah and a ketubah is just a ketubah.  But why not make these things ourselves?  Why not create them so that they don’t create us.  I feel like we spend a lot of time internalizing and a lot of time in conversation about these traditions.  We make each piece a challenge.  And the truth is: I love it.

It makes me feel closer to Judaism.

We have spent the better part of a year planning this thing and the more that we have to learn, the more I feel connected.  The more that we have to figure out together, the more I feel connected.  The more we meet with Rabbi Berman, the more I feel connected.  The more I write this blog, the more I feel connected.  It’s like I’m creating a new relationship with an old friend.  My Judaism is fresh.  It makes me feel good.

I know that we have much learning to do.  And just like when our son, Raiden was born, I know that we will never be ready.

The best that we can do is to do our best.  We will begin our life together knowing that we didn’t just take what was prescribed and that we are in every capacity to carve out our own path.

Life is such a wonderful journey.

-Alx

Love Thy Mother-In-Law

Where does one put her individuality and feminism aside for the greater good? This is the question I face.

I’m talking about our processional at our wedding. What I didn’t know is that it is Jewish tradition for the parents to not only walk their child down the aisle but to also stand under the huppah with them. For various reasons mostly dealing with logistics, we had decided that only us, our son, and the rabbi would be under the huppah. Needless to say, this was quite the punch to my mother-in-laws gut. However, she accepted this with the consolation that she would still get to walk her son down the aisle.

That’s where the issue begins. I didn’t want my parents to walk me down the aisle. As a thirty-two year old mother who has been on her own in the world for quite a while, I felt that no one needed to “give” me away. I am giving myself to Alx. To add to this, there is some heavy water under the bridge when it comes to my relationship with my father. I’ve come a long way in life emotionally but on this issue I’m torn. Do I put aside my issues and let my parents walk me so Alx’s parents can walk him?

From what I understand, in Judaism this is a symbolic gesture of releasing their child into adulthood. They’ve supported and cared for them under their own roof and they are now escorting them with love to the new home that the child will make with his/her spouse. It’s actually a heart warming ritual but what about when there is unresolved issues between child and parent(s)?

I guess this would be easy if I were Jewish as well because then it would just be. The choice would be made for me out of tradition and ritual.

Alx and I have talked about this intimately and I’ve even spoken with my mother-in-law about it. She understands my position and has selflessly left it up to me. Even though it breaks her heart, she is willing to give up this ritual if it is going to make me uncomfortable. I have to say that I really lucked-out with mother-in-laws. Miki is caring, understanding, easy to talk to, a bit bossy at times but always, always puts her children’s well-being before anything.

She has accepted me as her daughter with open arms and an open heart. This is why I’m in the process of reconciling the issues that are stopping me from participating in this ritual. It bothers me to have my parents walk me but that pales to the heaviness in my heart at taking this away from Alx and his parents. Jewish or not, Alx is extremely close to his family and they are active participants in every aspect of his life. I want to accommodate but I don’t really know how to do that without compromising myself.

Our rabbi says that this situation is a paradox because it’s all in the viewpoint. I can have them walk me and see it as a healing moment or I can focus on the negative and allow that to ruin the moment. I can not walk with them and it might be negative since it is in reaction to the unresolved issues or I can not walk with them and retain my current viewpoint of individuality and self-sufficiency. I think it all boils down to what I’m ready to accept, forgive, and move past.

If I’ve learned anything from Alx’s family, especially his mom, is that love knows no bounds and for family we gladly sacrifice to ensure the happiness and well-being of our loved ones. For my mother-in-law, I am willing to sacrifice. I am willing to endure the pain that it will take to resolve my issues and move-on so that on our beautiful wedding day she can walk her son down the aisle. The thought of this makes me happy. Maybe this was the stimulus that I needed. The last little nudge to take those last painful steps towards forgiveness and closure on a not-so-great chapter of my life.

So, thank you Miki, for being you. For being caring, understanding, easy to talk to, a bit bossy at times but always, always putting your children’s well-being before anything and for being the little nudge that I needed to strive to become healthier, happier, and whole.

Around and Around I Go

It’s a continuous cycle that doesn’t seem to have an end. It’s not Alx’s fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not anyone’s fault.

I just can’t get over that little twinge in the back of my conscience that’s irritated with the whole Jewish wedding thing. I mean, we have already established that the wedding isn’t strictly Jewish. We’ve established that every single minute aspect will be filled with the essence of us. So why is it still bothering me? Well, I think I figured it out. It’s a point that Rabbi Berman brought up in our last meeting but I didn’t put any thought into it at the time. She hit the nail on the head though. She said that milestone events such as weddings cause a plethora of emotions to surface that really have nothing to do with the event; however, the event serves as a platform for the issues to be brought forth. Okay, either she is psychic or just that damn good.

What are the issues you ask? Where do I even start. Well, you know that perfect family set-up, Leave It to Beaver style? That’s Alx’s family except much, much cooler. They are the most tight-knit family that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Now this isn’t a bad thing. This is an absolutely fantastic thing. I love it. I love that our son, Raiden, will grow up with that.

So what’s the issue then? The issue is that my family is the opposite of that. We love each other but we are not close by any means. It isn’t for a lack of trying but we grew up with a tough love kind of dad. There wasn’t much hugging, pat-on-the-back kind of stuff going on. My mom grew-up in a traditional Japanese household where emotions and physical affections just aren’t a part of the family structure. To top it all off, my dad was in the military so we moved about every four years. Putting it bluntly, my brothers and I had no issues with packing-up, skipping town, and none of us have ever looked back. Until now.

Now, I’m looking back. I’m looking back at the missed opportunities of intimacy with my family. How does this pertain to the wedding you ask?

Well, it has everything to do with the wedding on an emotional level. I want what Alx has always had and always will have with his family. I am close with his family but let’s face it, it’s totally not the same. It doesn’t fill that longing void in the pit of my heart that bleeds because my family missed out on Rai’s first everything while Alx’s family has been there for all of it. Frankly, I’m down right jealous at times about Alx’s family intimacy and solid cultural background. It makes his aspects of our wedding pretty straight forward. I’m proud of my heritage, my diversity, even my complete fractured randomness but how do you make all of those pieces into something tangible and wedding ready?

This is my issue. This is why I’m going around and around and around with no end in sight. My pragmatic logical self tells me that it is an unwarranted fear and that all will be well. However, my somewhat schizophrenic emotional self obsesses over those fragmented pieces of me and worries that they won’t stack up. I’m thinking that Rabbi Berman has some work cut out for her. Thank the powers that be that she’s psychic and damn good.