Ours is a mixed marriage, the type rabbis and many mamas decry. We are admittedly not two of a kind. He is the son of devout Catholics. I am the daughter of ultra-Reform Jews, who mostly remember religion when it comes to weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funerals.
And that’s not where the mish-mosh mix ends. He grew up in small-town Reno, Nevada. I grew up in sophisticated NYC and glitzy Las Vegas.
He shopped at REI. I was a regular at Bloomingdale’s and considered the yearly arrival of the Neiman Marcus’ holiday catalog a blessed event.
He wore cowboy boots – and not the fancy Tony Llama kind, but real shit-kicker work boots. I wore high-heeled spikey Salvatore Ferragamos.
We married at my brother’s home. A few days before the wedding, the rabbi came to the house to review our vows and get the lay of the land.
“Rabbi, please tell Jon he can’t wear cowboy boots to our wedding,” I pleaded.
My brother, who was passing by in the hall, stopped dead in his tracks. “We can’t?” he asked.
I turned to the rabbi, seeking divine intervention. Instead I got:
And so, it was ordained. The groom, the brother, AND the rabbi all wore cowboy boots with their tuxedoes to MY wedding. Yes, it was a mixed wedding right from the start.
Even our honeymoon was a mixture of styles. Part 1 – planned by the plaid, flannel-wearing outdoorsy husband-to-be – was at Yosemite National Park.
“You’re taking our sister camping?” asked my three brothers incredulously.
“No,” Jon patiently explained to each of them. “I’m taking her to the historic Ahwahnee Hotel. It’s elegant, with fine dining and good wine. Presidents … royalty have stayed there. I promise. She’ll love it.”
Jon was right, but leaving nothing to chance, I had planned the second week of our honeymoon – a stay in NYC, at where else, but the Plaza Hotel, back when it was still in its glory days. We saw Broadway shows, ate deli, and museum-hopped till we dropped.
Married life began. Culinary tastes were the next exotic frontier to cross. But for roasted duck, bacon and pork shumai, my new spouse preferred vegetarian dishes and cherished his much-used pasta maker. I was – and am – a card-carrying carnivore who didn’t know how to cook. Like all good Jewish girls, the only thing I made for dinner was “Reservations.”
As a gift, my devoted presented me with four books. The first three were cookbooks, including one titled The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. I was, to put it mildly, less than enchanted.
“Why cookbooks?” I demanded.
“I thought it would be fun to cook together,” he replied sweetly.
Happily, the fourth book was poetry, and the romance continued. Happily, Jon never gave me another cookbook.
For many mixed marriages, the children’s religious upbringing is a battleground, but not for us. Early on, we decided the children would, as tradition deemed, be raised as Jews. Their names, as tradition deemed, would honor family members who had passed. Our children even attended a Jewish Day School we helped found – a school Jon worked hard to help launch and support during its early difficult days.
Holidays were likewise easy. My family always had a Christmas tree and a menorah. So, there was no December tug-of-war. In the Spring, we hid the afikomen and my best girlfriend delivered Easter baskets so my children would not be deprived of Peeps and other treats.
The only regret of my 32-year mixed marriage? I don’t have a ketubah, the marriage contract binding traditional Jews.
Our hippy-dippy, cowboy-boot-wearing rabbi adored my husband and was delighted to marry us, but the one thing he would not do – without Jon undergoing a detailed course of study and conversion – was give us a ketubah.
Years before our marriage, I had discovered my grandparents’ and my parents’ ketubahs, bent, yellowed, and forgotten amid a stack of family documents. My grandparents’, dated 1916, was written entirely in Hebrew. My parents’, written less than two decades later, was in both Hebrew and English.
Looking at those documents, I had two thoughts. First, I marveled at how quickly the pace of assimilation, the demand “to be an American” had altered that traditional contract, prompting, what must have been at the time the shocking inclusion of the English language.
My second thought was not sociological, but sentimental. I thought how lovely it would be to one day frame and display those two familial papers alongside a third – my own ketubah.
But, that was not to be. And, of course, my mixed marriage more than my parents’ English-Hebrew ketubah marked an even bigger shift away from tradition. Yet, after 32 years together, I celebrate both my Jewish identity and my mish-mosh marriage.