Picture the type of person you think represents society’s worst enemy today. Is it a Wall Street hedge fund manager? Proud Boy Q-Anon follower? Third-world refugee? A communist? Then fast-forward a few generations to the end of this century and picture your descendants encountering the great-grandchildren of your envisioned worst enemy. Now imagine your progeny falling in love and getting married to your perceived enemy’s progeny. Are you rolling over in your proverbial future grave?
In the case of my husband and me, I’m sure our ancestors were rolling in their graves (and in their very separate cemeteries) based on our marrying “the enemy.” In fact, a mere 100 years ago, his family might have considered him dead when he married me, and mine would have mourned the loss of our children’s souls from heaven. But my husband and I didn’t let rigid traditions get in the way of our union. Instead of falling in line, we fell in love and made our mixed marriage work.
On Valentine’s Day 24 years ago Nick and I had our first date at the Rose Cafe in Venice, California, and on the same date a year later we got engaged. That he was Jewish and I was Catholic didn’t matter to us, although it certainly complicated our wedding planning. Still, we wanted to honor both of our traditions and respect the family members who were, shall we say, more “entrenched.” That’s when things got a little challenging.
Finding a rabbi willing to co-officiate was the first test of our resolve. Those we met with were warm and welcoming at the beginning, but shifted as soon as we mentioned I wasn’t planning to convert and that we were lining up a priest to co-officiate. Through family connections, we’d found a priest who had co-officiated a few Catholic-Jewish weddings, although he wouldn’t agree to the outdoor ceremony we wanted. The “rules” mandated that we must be married under a physical structure, even if it wasn’t an actual church. Our Jewish wedding Chuppah wouldn’t count.
Still, we pushed on. We found a wonderful (woman!) rabbi with inclusive views on marriage. We booked a beautiful venue. We did, however, commit a transgression by getting married on a Friday evening, which is the Jewish Sabbath. (The date was available and more affordable!) But we managed to hold the ceremony just before sundown, to keep my husband’s aunt happy. She had preferred we use a Justice of the Peace to officiate—so as not to muddy tradition—but settled for a 5:30 pm ceremony. Refreshingly, my side of the family had no problem with our blended wedding, though they still harbored concerns. For many years following, my parents would not-so-subtly share stories they’d hear on the radio about Catholics converting from Judaism. Let’s just say I continue to question their media choices:-).
While we endured many wedding-related challenges, our experience was nothing compared to what might have been even a few decades earlier. Had we been born a generation before, elopement would’ve been the only choice. A generation or two before that, our families would have disowned us. (And I can only imagine the suffering if we weren’t in a cis-gendered, heteronormative category.) We knew we had little, if anything, to complain about as we faced our “mixed” marriage, because love is thicker than blood, no matter the obstacles.
Our Jewish-Catholic wedding journey is just one small example of merging with the forbidden “other”—one that helps me better understand what’s happening right now in our divided, ostensibly unbridgeable country. Large swaths of the population are holding on to tradition, whether hallowed or shameful. Others are pushing the edge of the envelope, hoping to create something new. What will help us break through the rigid barriers to form welcome alliances? I believe it’s love—along with some imagination—that can get us past “the way things have always been