A Girl, a Guy and a Waffle House

  

Femi at a Waffle HouseIn case you didn’t notice from the pictures, Femi and I are a devilishly handsome, interfaith, interracial couple. We also happen to live in the South. While Atlanta is a shiny blue dot amongst a sea of red, it’s still the South. There are challenges we have down here unique to any other part of the country. Case in point are the reactions we get to being an interracial couple. In the interest of fairness, let me say that not all of them are bad. For instance, people at restaurants remember us because we stand out (which the narcissist in me LOVES). And, when I see other interracial couples out, we give each other a nice smile of solidarity. Plus, it’s scientifically proven that we will make beautiful children.

But then there are the not-so-great reactions. Older, white men, stare incredulously at Femi like he’s committed a crime. While black women stare daggers at me because I’ve “stolen one of the good ones.” That’s tough for me to wrap my head around because my falling in love with Femi wasn’t part of some master plan to undermine the black women of the world. However, I do understand their anger, even though in this case it’s misplaced.

The worst example of this took place in one of the most sacred institutions in the South: Waffle House. Northerners, imagine an IHOP, but better, and you get Waffle House, where the elite meet to eat. Waffle House is supposed to be a judgment-free zone. It’s like the Statue of Liberty of food joints; give me your tired, your poor, your hungover masses yearning to eat hash browns (scattered, smothered, and covered, in my case). Imagine our surprise when one morning, when Femi and I were sitting on stools at the counter, we shared a quick kiss and a black, female server stopped in her tracks, gave us the ugliest look I’ve ever seen, and kept walking. We were shocked; the questions started flying. Did that just really happen? Maybe we imagined it? Femi, can I finish your cinnamon raisin toast? While this wasn’t the first look we had ever gotten, this was by far the most brazen. Femi is lucky because he can let that kind of thing roll off his back, whereas I know I’ll carry that moment with me the rest of my life.

Becky and Femi

Becky and Femi (at a Waffle House)

One place where we have rarely been judged for being interracial has been the religious community. I have brought Femi to several Jewish events over the course of our relationship; we’ve done Shabbat dinners with friends, attended Atlanta Jewish Music Festival events and he’s done Passover seder at my house twice. Conversely, Femi and I have been to his mother’s church, the Community Church of God, three times. Besides the religious differences between the two communities I should also note that most people at my Jewish events are white, while the Church of God has a mostly black congregation. Yet we’ve felt completely welcome in both situations. I will say I’d love to see more Jews of color at the community events I attend so Femi doesn’t feel so tokenized, and I think conversations are beginning to happen to change that. Meanwhile, the Church of God is such a welcoming and friendly place. Everyone I met seemed genuinely happy to meet me, and didn’t ask me any questions about my faith (which is something I worried about). We sang and clapped along to the beautiful church choir, and even though there were portions of the service that didn’t overlap with my specific religious beliefs, their general mantra is to be a good person and love thy neighbor—who can’t get on board with that?! Really the most awkward moments were of my own doing when I’d feel particularly moved by a song or a passage and I’d say stuff like “hell yeah!” or “damn right!” and Femi would have to nudge me and politely remind me that we were in church. Seriously, sometimes I shouldn’t even be let out of the house.

There are plenty of naïve people out there who think we’re in a post-racial society. Not to burst bubbles, but we’re not. That’s going to take many years of open dialogue, and many years of separation from past generations of backward thinkers. But it’s nice to know that Femi and I have access to a few communities who appreciate the depth of our relationship, and don’t just stop at the colors of our skin.

A Tale of Two Kitchens

  

Nataliya and her fiance

“We’re not doing this!” Andy was visibly upset. “I won’t do it!”

It was a year into our relationship and we were in his car heading to his dad’s house in the middle of nowhere.

Driving

On the drive to Andy’s dad’s house

The topic that inspired this reaction was none other than kashrut, a set of Jewish dietary laws that I happen to follow. While I am not incredibly strict and will go out to non-kosher restaurants, I will only eat vegetarian, dairy and halakhically (by the law) approved fish.

Andy knew that I kept kosher from the very beginning of our relationship but because I still went out to restaurants, he never thought much about it. As we became more serious and talked about moving in together, he finally began to understand how dating a traditional Jew would affect him. I had explained to him that if we were to move in together, our kitchen, and everything in it, would need to be kashered.

Kashering is the rather intensive process of making a kitchen kosher and it was not up for negotiation. Andy was not particularly pleased when I explained to him what it would involve, and in particular, what he would have to sacrifice.

His protests were valid and I completely understood where he was coming from.

Food is a significant part of life and kashrut not only dictates the kind of food we can eat, but also its preparation, storage, separation of dishes, utensils and pretty much anything in the kitchen that touches food.

For a Catholic-raised atheist who is not Jewish and was not used to food restrictions, it was quite jarring for him to suddenly be told that he would have to abide by them.

Thankfully, a year later as we were preparing to move in together, we were able to talk it out and eventually, negotiations were made where we agreed to set up two ‘kitchens’ in our apartment.

We dubbed them: Kosher Kitchen and Catholic Corner.

Kosher Kitchen is the main kitchen in our home. It’s where the majority of the cooking is done. The dishes in our apartment are all his. We rekashered his dishes in a local mikveh so that they could become our dishes. He even participated in reciting the prayers and dunking all of his utensils, pots, pans and well, pretty much everything kitchen related, into the mikveh pool.

“Can you kasher our kitchen every day?!” he had said incredulously as he watched me pour boiling water all over our counters, making them especially clean.

I had separated out everything into meat and milk items and he has been doing a decent job keeping up the separation, with a mishap every once in a while. It’s hard to be mad at him when it happens because of the guilty and horrified look on his face when he realizes that the fork that he has been using to eat his chicken is actually for dairy.

However, when he wants to avoid these situations, he always has the option of using his own kitchen space.

Catholic Corner is a corner by our front window which has a convection oven and a hot plate. Andy has a separate set of pots, dishes and utensils and even a separate sponge at our shared sink for those times when he eats non-kosher food.

Originally, he had a separate fridge as well but I felt like that was overkill. As long he wrapped everything up and it was well contained within its packaging, there would not be a problem about cross contamination and in the two-and-a-half years that we have been living together, it has never been an issue for me.

It may seem unfair that Andy cannot cook non-kosher food in the main kitchen, but I am the one that does the majority of the cooking for both of us. I am also the one who brought my beliefs to the table from the very beginning.

Andy realizes how important my religious and cultural traditions are to me and since that fateful conversation in the car four years ago, he is my number one supporter and now practically an expert on kashrut.

Keeping kosher is not always easy but not because Andy isn’t Jewish. It’s because we have a fairly small kitchen and having two of everything means our space is extremely limited.

Thankfully, together, we make it work.

The DIY Conundrum

  

Save the Dates

Our wedding is three-and-a-half months away (yay!) and we have a lot to do. We checked off the major items and now we must decide on the smaller pieces. Should we do those things ourselves or hire professionals? The invitations, the honeymoon, and more—these are things we could design, plan and book ourselves if we want to. But do we want to?

In a dream world, which one could argue I spend too much time in, my love of Pinterest and TLC shows would translate into the DIY wedding of my dreams with no stress and at a fraction of the cost. These details that we have to plan now are not covered by the wedding contest that we won, so we can choose how to handle them. Do we put our stamp on them and hopefully save money, or do we spend money and let professionals handle them, because most other vendors are covered by the contest?

Sometimes I get lost in thought envisioning an alternate universe without the contest where I am three and a half months out but have drowned in a treacherous sea of bad DIY art projects flooded with ribbon and lace. It’s not a pretty scene. Maybe winning the contest saved me from myself, and I should let trained professionals handle the rest. After all, it’s a predictable formula where David Tutera has to swoop in to save the day: Girl gets big ideas for DIY wedding. Girl gets in over her head. Girl pulls all her hair out. Girl ends up hiring professionals.

save the datesFor the save the dates, I did do them myself, and it was a DIY project that I’m very proud of. I hired a designer and friend of mine whose work I am fond of and we designed the font, colors and style that felt right for me and Jose. We designed them as postcards to save time and money, and I hand-cut each one with a ruler and X-Acto knife, which took a few hours on a Friday night. Jose and I even added our own touch with a cute hashtag (thanks Melanie!).

For the invitations, I’m at a crossroads now. Do I design them from scratch and source the paper and printer to live out my wildest fantasy of a very unique invitation, or do I go to an invitation shop, pick what we like most and call it a day? It’s a black hole once you start Googling what past brides have done and what they’ve learned from the experience. There is good advice, but mostly there is just too much advice. Sometimes you gotta try it for yourself. Sometimes you gotta get dirt on your hands (or in the case of paper, blood!). But that’s a very scary proposition and could end up taking more time and money than we want it to. Regardless, I visited Paper Source in Center City to look at paper, and I’m feeling very inspired to do them myself! I think I can pull it off.

For the honeymoon, we met a fantastic and inspiring “travel designer” who builds dream honeymoons from scratch. She was a riot and we loved her personality and approach. She has traveled the world and specializes in unique accommodations in cities around the globe. Things like treetop hotels and hard-to-find vacation rentals and scheduled itineraries. Ultimately, Jose and I decided that we love doing the research that goes into booking a trip and it feels more rewarding to book our own activities and places to stay, so we are going it alone without a travel agent. We booked our flight and are thrilled to say that our honeymoon will be in the Galapagos over the winter holidays! (That’s literally all we’ve planned for the trip, though. Phew, we better get on that!)

For the rehearsal dinner, there are elements we might make DIY, too. I am gluten-free by necessity since I have Celiac disease, so I want to find a place that has options for me. My future sister-in-law has a severe seafood allergy, so we also need to find a place that can accommodate her. We are currently looking at unique spaces to rent where we can bring in a caterer of our choice instead of renting out a restaurant, but there are so many challenges (and costs!) to doing that.

Our dream would be to serve food that incorporates Jewish elements, since our rehearsal dinner and wedding are during Hanukkah, and Filipino elements to honor Jose’s background (and because the food is delicious!). My dream on top of that dream is to have gluten-free jelly donuts (sufganiyot) for a traditional Hanukkah treat, but I may need to focus on the bigger picture and just plan the rehearsal dinner before I get too excited about dessert! It may be simpler and better to find the right restaurant with a price-fixed menu, so we could always end up going that route, but for this one we are exploring what DIY options may be out there.

Ultimately, the process of making these decisions is exciting and enjoyable for me, since I’m decisive about what I want and Jose is an active and involved partner. I won’t look back and wonder “what if” I chose the wrong thing, because I know that no bride can go wrong with what she chooses. It’s her wedding (and it’s just a wedding) so if someone judges you for choosing differently than they would, so be it. You are doing it your way and making it your own. That is never wrong.

Keep following my blog for more updates on our wedding planning. I can only imagine (or hope) how much further along we’ll be a month from now!

Looking Back on Our Interfaith Wedding, One Month Later

  

It is hard to believe it has already been a month since our “big day.”

It is finally starting to sink in.

It seems that we have not stopped moving since we got married. Between the holidays, Lisa’s sister getting married, and my new employment opportunities, there has been barely a moment to sit and take it all in. However, this week, we received our photos and have been listening to our playlists from the ceremony and reception. It is certainly bringing us some cheer.

wedding day

Getting Emotional

It was an incredible journey for us both. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

We had a lot of help along the way. So thank you everyone who helped. Friends, family, and loved ones. Thanks to all our wonderful vendors too. Thank you all who followed us both on this journey and the whole InterfaithFamily staff who gave us this opportunity to talk about and really explore what having an interfaith wedding is all about and meant to us. (I also apologize to our photographer because I had to resize all the photos to fit into this post, they simply do not do her work justice.)

 

 

 

 

bridesmaids

 

 

 

 

The Kettubah

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the wedding, we ended up answering a lot more questions than I thought. We had a lot of members of Lisa’s family asking about the Ketubah ceremony, while others asked about the circling of one another toward the beginning of the ceremony.

We also received a ton of compliments. The donut table (instead of cake) was a huge success. You could not tell the difference between the adults and children because all of them kept staring at the table with hungry eyes, even with a belly full of delicious meatballs. Our Jewish friends also said that when it comes to the Hora, Lisa and I hit it out the park. It was their most fun moments of the wedding.

What’s next in our journey? That is a great question. We are hoping after the New Year to settle down a little bit more. There should be some clarity in our close future. I also hope to attend temple more regularly. For the first time in awhile, we do not have a deadline for our life and maybe that is the best gift of marriage. It is what you do with it after the big day.

 

    

A is for Abraham, B is for Ball (of meat), C is for Cake, and D is for Doughnuts!

  

In the Torah, Genesis 18:2 talks about how Abraham welcomes strangers (who would turn out to be angels) into his tent and gives them food and drink. For their kindness to strangers, Abraham and Sarah are blessed. Modern translation: If you want to be blessed on your wedding day, make sure the people are fed.

So, let’s talk about food.

Our wedding menu is going to be a lot like in our home. I keep a version of kosher… no meat and dairy (although I am a vegetarian so not too hard), no shellfish, fast on certain Holy Days, and eat certain foods on others. Lisa maintains a higher protein, lower carb diet. She also loves her traditional polish kielbasa on Easter and Christmas. Our diets may seem worlds apart, but we always enjoy a meal together as often as we can.

When you first think of food at a wedding, you think wedding cake. We first thought against it. However, my mother asked us to get one for the reception. The reason being is that when my parents got married on their front lawn 30+ years ago, they had very little. The only thing they had was a Carvel ice cream cake. They even had to borrow the $10 to get that. It holds a special place in their hearts and to honor that we decided upon a small cake to cut. It’s one tier, simple design, almond flour base with apricot filling cake.

It is coming via the wonderful Tres Belle Cakes. Instantly, we fell in love with the place and their owner Tracy. The sweets are the best. They also do a nice lunch with salads and croissant sandwiches. We originally went there to meet with a photographer and now I am a regular for lunch. It is a fun place and when we went for our tasting it reminded us planning should be fun. We like it so much, we are actually having our rehearsal dinner there on Friday night.

For our main dessert, we went for a Cincinnati local favorite, Holtman’s Doughnuts. Wedding cake for everyone was a bit too traditional. Cupcakes at weddings are tired. Pies are messy. We knew we made the right decision when my dad, who is not much of a doughnut person, was in town visiting and proceeded to eat 2 doughnuts in the 10 minutes that it took to drive home from the shop.

Our main course catering was a much different situation. We are working on a budget and we considered some Cincinnati favorites of Indian or Skyline Chili. Both are reasonably priced, but we realized we actually would be serving something not a lot of people may eat. Lisa was quick to point out if we are tasked with providing a good meal for our guests, we should give them one.

This weekend we decided to give a small restaurant called Meatball Kitchen in the Short Vine neighborhood a try. They had catered a work event for a colleague and when I emailed them they came back with a quick response and great pricing. They do a fun and modern take on the meatball. We took a couple friends there this weekend and we all were blown away. I loved the veggie options, Lisa loved the pork option, and our friends loved the beef option. We ordered every side on the menu and we all enjoyed every single one of them.

It has felt like all our choices were a home cooked meal or something comforting that everyone loves but with an interesting twist that plays with our sensibilities. You could call it the perfect marriage.

In a World of Conflict, Let’s Remember Love

  

Showing Support for Israel During the 2012 Conflict

It has been a hard couple of weeks for the Global Jewish Community. From the kidnapping/murder of three Israeli teens to the full escalation of war in Israel, our hearts weigh heavy. The world also lost a great leader, and my rabbi’s teacher, Reb Zalman, the founder of ALEPHand the Jewish Renewal movement. When there is so much strife in the world, it is important to remember that we are surrounded by love. Conflicts, whether global in scale or in the own home are temporary, but love is truly enduring. Love is our future and our wedding is the ultimate public symbol of that love.

We have been very busy over the past week or so getting a lot of things done for the wedding and all are an expression of love if you have the right perspective.

We worked on our registry. Which meant going to stores, picking things out, talking about do we need, or is this something that would be really nice to have. Lisa and I actually both struggle with this process. It is hard for either of us to ask for anything and the registry is just that. I try to think I am provided for, but as I am writing this I remember a phrase Scott, who is a groomsman but also my spiritual mentor once told me: “When people want to buy you things, let them. That may be the best way they know how to express love. Just because this is not the love we so often crave, it is our responsibility to be accepting of all love and treat it as a gift.”

Favorite Holiday Cookie, SnickerdoodlesWe emailed caterers. The old Jewish joke goes: What is this holiday about? Answer: We suffered. Let’s eat. Eating during Pesach (or Passover) is a sign of showing your love and thanks towards G-D for delivering us out of the land of Egypt. Or how about when G-D gave the people manna from the sky? Or even now, who does not visit home from time to time and have had their mother or grandmother make them their favorite dish or favorite cookie? Food is just one more symbol of love and emailing caters and thinking of how we can give everyone who comes to the wedding, warmed our hearts a little this week. Even if there was a little conflict of what type of food we should serve at our wedding.

My friend Erica and me at a wedding. Erica is going to be giving the "best man" speech.

I had a lot conversations with my groom’s party. We decided that the two women will wear dark red dresses to match my tie and shoes and the men will wear navy suits with gold ties to tie together the color theme we have going. I also asked my friend Erica in the party to deliver the “best person” speech. She is a professional sports announcer and seemed like a no brainer. I asked my friend Nick to officially be my best man. Mainly due to the fact it is his responsibility to get the groom to the venue. When I think about the car ride we will have listening to the music we bonded over in high school and singing at the top of our lungs on the way, I was instantly filled with love and excitement. Actually speaking to each member of my party (all four of them) this week made a rough week for me with all the time I was on the phone with them. Again, it boils down to the love I have for these people and that the wedding is just one reason to talk about it.

We did a lot of other things as well. Selected a photographer. Nearly finalized our invitation pattern. I selected someone to be my Ketubah witness (although he does not know yet).

It is best to come into the weekend and into Shabbat and remember weddings are a symbol in this world about love. Our wedding is the day we stand up and loudly exclaim it. With everything going on, it is an important message to hold up.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone currently caught in conflict.