When the Families Meet

By Monica Sandoval-Sapherstein


It may seem strange to some that my husband and I ended up together, but it makes sense to me.

I am Hispanic and my husband is Jewish. He was raised in a traditional Jewish family in the suburbs of New Jersey. His parents, grandparents and extended family were all born and raised in the New Jersey/Philadelphia area, and most have never left there. As a teenager my husband was a youth advisor at his local synagogue. He even traveled to Israel with birthright israel.

I was raised in a Spanish-speaking household in Queens where I lived with my parents, some close relatives and many other recent immigrants from Latin America that my family took in over the years. Both my parents emigrated in the late 1970s to New York City from Chile, a long and thin country in South America that most people have heard of but know very little about. My first language was Spanish and I went to a Spanish-speaking Catholic school. Everyone I knew was Hispanic, mostly of Dominican or Puerto Rican origin. In fact, I had never met a Jewish person until I was in high school, where I met a nice Jewish girl who is still my friend.

By the time my husband and I met, we were both 22 years old and living on our own in Boston, Massachusetts, far away from our families. We met at a local bar during the weekend of Halloween. I was dancing while decked out in a costume I created myself consisting of a vinyl green mini-dress and a pink wig. Somehow, I caught the eye of my future husband. We eventually started talking and exchanged numbers. We started dating immediately and soon, after only four months, we moved in together.

The fact that I am Hispanic was very shocking to my husband when we first met. He had never dated a non-Jew, let alone someone from a different ethnicity. But, all he knew was that he liked me and was willing to try out something new. Our first few months together we discovered that we knew very little about each other’s cultures. For example, my husband was confused by the references to Che Guevara on my wall–even asking me if I were some type of revolutionary or anarchist. I explained to him that, no, I am not a revolutionary, Che is just an iconic figure in my culture and having him on the wall reminds me of my people. I would ask my husband why he needed to see his family so much in September, and he would tell me about the Jewish holidays and how he needs to spend them with his family. Despite our initial misunderstandings, our attraction was undeniable and we knew from our first week of dating that we were meant to be together.

Our families have always been accepting of our relationship, although initially they were nervous about how different our backgrounds were. My husband’s friends and family were as confused as he was about his dating outside his faith and ethnicity. They were curious more than anything, constantly asking questions about my background. My husband’s grandfather, all of 90-plus years at the time, asked me to write an autobiography, so that he could learn more about my family. So, one night I sat down and meticulously typed up my life story. Apparently he loved the autobiography and put it up at work, telling all his co-worker’s that his future granddaughter-in-law wrote it. He seemed to take pride in what I wrote, as a real grandfather would. He reminded me of my own grandfathers, one of whom passed away when I was young, while the other still lives in Chile.

After about a year and a half of dating, we were engaged. We had been unable to coordinate a meeting of our families before our engagement because of everyone’s schedules and how far we all lived from each other. Finally, we arranged a meeting at the halfway point between our families. My husband and I were nervous that maybe our families are too different and they wouldn’t get along. My parents were nervous and would say, “Our English is not very good, what if they don’t understand us?” and “We don’t have anything in common, what will we talk about?” We were mistaken, however, and underestimated our own families. At their first meeting, our families ate, drank and chatted like old friends. It was a quick meeting, only a couple of hours, but we left it excited for the wedding to come.

Since neither of our families could afford a larger wedding, and the majority of my family lives in South America and would not be able to attend a wedding in the United States, my husband and I thought it best to do a destination wedding. My in-laws were hesitant at first because they had dreamed of a big Jewish wedding, but after some discussion, we all agreed that a wedding away would be best.

Our wedding took place in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a location where my husband and I visited while we were dating and a place where we truly felt romantic. It was a small gathering of our immediate family and some friends. It proved to be a wonderful choice as our families had a chance to get to know each other better. In fact, the night before our wedding, both of our mothers danced the night away together drinking blue and green drinks with wonderful Caribbean names such as the “St. Thomas Promise.” Our fathers talked and our siblings danced and hung out.

During our wedding ceremony we made sure to incorporate both of our cultures. Our mothers read the poem “I Like For You to Be Still” by the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It was my grandmother’s favorite poem, and in turn one of my favorites. My mother read the poem in its original Spanish and my mother-in-law read an English translation. And, of course, my husband broke a glass at the end of the ceremony. Although a minister we had never met prior to the ceremony officiated at our wedding, he made sure to get to know us as much as possible and incorporate all the things he had learned about our relationship into the ceremony.

Since our wedding two years ago we have tried to be active participants in each other’s cultures and traditions. My husband has visited Chile and met my family, who welcomed him with open arms. He has picked up some Spanish words and, despite the language barrier, is able to communicate well with them. He drinks tea with me every day, as it is the tradition in Chile to have tea time, and he tolerates my Latin music. I take part in the major Jewish holidays and traditions, attend holiday services at synagogue and, although we do not yet have children, we have decided to raise our future children with Jewish traditions.

Through our family get-togethers my husband and I realized that our families share similar values of love, respect, family and the ability to just laugh and have a good time. Our home is one that embodies a mix of cultures, traditions and lifestyles. We try to accept all of our differences and we continue to learn and grow from each other, which is what is really important in an interfaith marriage such as this one. I only hope that my husband’s menorah and my Christmas tree will shine brightly in our windows every year for as long as possible.


About Monica Sandoval-Sapherstein

Monica Sandoval-Sapherstein is a legal assistant at a law firm in Washington, D.C., concentrating in healthcare and education law. She has a bachelor's degree in International Relations and Latin American Studies and is pursuing her master's degree in Political Science.