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June 15, 2007
I'm Jewish; my husband's "not." We've been married for seventeen years. We used to have a problem, one that caused discord in the most intimate of marital realms--the bed. He knew I liked my blankets poofed around me like cumulus clouds, a few folds stuffed between my bony knees for cushioning. Yet he selfishly insisted that the bedding remain tight as a drum. It got so bad that, even in his sleep, he'd smooth away my clouds by pulling the sheets and blankets his way. I'd wake up every morning blanketless and frigid.
Then, one hopeful, starry night, we made some changes. On his side of the bed, we tucked the sheets in tight. On my side, we let the sheets hang, and I used a pillow to cushion my knees. We slept happily ever after. That's how Joe and I work things out.
Joe and I are living proof that couples can be happily married even when they have nothing in common. Joe's computer prowess is legendary; I can't figure out how to make a tilde. He's a confident athlete, a charm at baseball, ice skating, skiing, and biking. I wheeze when I run, fear heights and speed, and otherwise radiate klutziness. I salivate over all the wonderful culinary possibilities that are breakfast, but in seventeen years, Joe hasn't once deviated from his standard coffee and toast. I could go on, but you get the point.
Actually, we do have something in common. We both share a healthy disregard for convention and an illogical tolerance for ambiguity. Joe abandoned Catholicism, if he ever really subscribed to it, and spends no time pondering the existence or desires of God--anybody's God. Yet it's fine with him that I love Jewish literature, Jewish history, the Jewish "take" on life. And although I love my heritage, I don't go near the boxing ring where Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform battle for the title of Heavyweight Judaism. I hate boxing. But despite these apparent contradictions, we are rearing Jewish children, attending family-centered synagogue events, and blessing the wine at our Friday night Shabbat (Sabbath) dinners--together.
It helps that we really enjoy each other's company. Every night after our boys go to sleep, we're like kids at a pajama party. We eat ice cream in bed. We watch "Whose Line is it Anyway?," muting commercials to tackle the day's crossword puzzle. We might talk about what we heard on NPR, or share an insight from a book one of us is reading. Taking turns to describe our kids' latest antics, we keep ourselves amused, informed, and sane as parents. We roll our eyes, scratch our heads, shrug our shoulders. We laugh a lot. Where others see Catholic and Jew, we see, simply, Joe and Jeri.
Is everything exactly the way I'd like it to be? No. I'd attend services more often if Joe were happy to come with me, but he isn't, so I don't. I'd take more Jewish adult ed courses if Joe would join me, but he doesn't. I well up hearing Jewish voices chant Oseh Shalom (a liturgical song for world peace). I browse our haggadah (book read at the Passover meal) just for fun. I shudder when Joe sprinkles hot sesame oil on his kasha varnishkes (an eastern European dish made of buckwheat groats and noodles). Joe understands, but he'll never feel Judaism the way I do.
How can I live with his absence from this aspect of my self? Look at it this way. He lives with my inability to speak Portuguese, his mother tongue. He lives with the fact that we can't play interesting duets together because my rudimentary recorder-playing will never match his mastery of the oboe. He lives without my appreciation for his considerable professional accomplishments in hi-tech because I don't understand beans about computers. We love each other, but we'll never be each other.
One of my favorite bumper stickers reads "Question the Dominant Paradigm." I think this is excellent advice for working things out in interfaith marriage. The rabbi, the pope, Oprah, W., your mother, your mother-in-law--they don't lie down next to you in bed each night. It's nobody's business whether you make your bed with crisp hospital corners, or just leave it a crumpled mess every morning. You're the only ones who will wind up lying in it.
Seventeen years ago, Joe and I married in a simple civil ceremony because the rabbis withheld their public endorsement of our marriage. When we exchanged vows before the judge, it was Joe who showed his acceptance of me--all of me--when he followed Jewish tradition and slipped the wedding ring over my index, as opposed to ring, finger. If I could transport myself back there, knowing what I know now, would I do it all over again?
In a heartbeat.