Meeting at the Well, Meeting in the Middle

post by Jessica

When R and I met, we were just two college students hanging out a Hillel. One of the first conversations I remember took place (appropriately) in the Hillel kitchen, when he was washing dishes and I was hanging around the door. He asked what I thought of the “little” Jewish community. I looked at him like he had grown a second head, and asked him where he thought I was from. He thought Chicago – but the truth is, the Hillel was the biggest Jewish community I’d belonged to since we left South Africa. We started a friendship on this basis, since he was a “townie” and I wasn’t from the big city.

Fast forward two years, and we start dating. His friends wonder what took him so long (one friend told him he thought we’d been dating for at least a month beforehand). My friends freaked out. I actually lost two friends over it, which I never thought possible. They objected that he wasn’t “right” for me, without ever seeing if we worked as a couple. I can understand, in a way.  He was a mashgiach (kashrut supervisor in the kitchen) and a member of the Orthodox minyan. I led Reform services more often than not, and gave the dvar Torah almost every week. On the surface, this seems like a recipe for disaster.

The thing was, our Judaism was what drew us to one another. We both actively engaged our Judaism, and meshed so well on so many other levels, that I think we both felt that it might be possible to make it work. We would go to Hillel on a Friday night, separate for services, eat dinner together and I would eat Shabbat lunch with his parents. It became more difficult when we started to talk about marriage, but in a way it was easier because we knew going in that there would be differences. We figured out first if I could have an Orthodox wedding and be comfortable with it, and we decided based on the information we found on the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) website that we probably could, as long as we found a rabbi willing to do it for us (which we did). At that point, we bought Two Jews Can Still be a Mixed Marriage. Although I’m not sure I appreciated all the answers, the book asked a lot of insightful questions that helped us think about the relationship now and down the road, which was incredibly useful.

However, I think that our most important efforts in working out our differences came after we made that commitment to one another. In Israel, we were trying to integrate into a new community while navigating a new phase in our relationship, and dealing with all these issues on a daily basis. I learned a lot about traditional Judaism – enough that I felt mostly comfortable with the lifestyle, although there were things that I was still having difficulties with. R learned to think about Judaism outside his own experience – especially as experienced by a woman. In the three years since then that we’ve been married, we’ve again figured out more about making this work – especially as we move towards another phase, that of having children.


8 thoughts on “Meeting at the Well, Meeting in the Middle

  1. I have to question your statement that “On the surface, this seems like a recipe for disaster.” To me, this shared commitment–even though it was played out in different forms of observance–seems like (at least on the surface) a recipe for awesomeness. I’m thrilled that it did work out that way.

    Later, let’s talk about my dad and stepmom’s wedding, which was officiated by an Orthodox rabbi and a Reform rabbi. Simultaneously. 🙂

    • Well, several of my friends clearly thought it was destined for disaster, but they weren’t looking at the whole picture – just at some very specific facts about how we were currently practicing. In reality, we worked really well and it was one of the most natural things in the world for us to get married. And I love it more every day.

      And your dad and stepmom’s wedding sounds totally fascinating. That would be a totally fascinating post! (Interested?)

    • As someone who was on the outside, it did look like a recipe for disaster to many of us. R and J’s practices and stated goals seemed polar opposite at the time, and to a handful of college students, it was hard to see beyond that. We didn’t see what happened when they were alone or how their conversations were, so it was harder to see the big picture. {Well, I was off campus that semester, so I didn’t see anything and just chose to trust J when she told me how awesome it was and that they were working through things as they arose}

      And yes, that does sound like an awesome guest post 😉

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  3. I too found aspects of the book frustrating. But it did raise many good points.

    My husband and I met at shul…as children…and yet we still come to our faith and practice from very different places. We both make compromises…get frustrated…and find ways to make it work for our family.

  4. As an outsider to the R & J relationship, I have to say I was baffled when they announced they were dating. But on the other hand (as Caroline mentioned), their differences are exactly what keeps them engaged with each other! Now, I only feel happiness and joy for your choice 🙂

    Does that book cover the case of a Jew who marries a new Jew (my hubby dunked and was converted about a month before our wedding, but I swear it’s like being married to a non-Jew sometimes!)? I should probably get a copy instead of asking you 😉

  5. I like it when people confront this issue! In all likelihood, I will be a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man, raising Jewish children. I know that a lot of different people have different opinions on this, and if my conversion didn’t, pretty much, RELY on my finding a Rabbi that was okay with this situation, I likely wouldn’t care much about it.

    At the end of the day, it’s not the fact that his maternal grandmother isn’t Jewish that affects our lives together, (despite the fact that this is all it would take for the CRC to say “Oh well that’s a horse of a different color!” all Wizard of Oz style). It’s the fact that he is completely secular, non-observant, and completely disinterested in religion as a whole.

    But we find a common ground. We keep a half-kosher kitchen (meat-dairy-traif, not as hard as it sounds), I keep Shabbat (or at least try to), he doesn’t, but he’s willing to accommodate my needs on Shabbat (and having a Shabbos Goy around all the time isn’t too shabby). We agreed that any kids we have will be raised Jewish, but that ultimately their religious beliefs are their decision, and neither of us will push them in any direction, just as long as they complete their studies until Bar/Bat Mitzvah age.

    A marriage is about more than your religion, your culture, your upbringing, it’s about taking two completely individual people and turning them into a team, and that takes a LOT of work, no matter similarities both people already have. I really just wish that more people would understand this, and that I can find at least one Beit Din that can see things my way, (preferably in my observance level).

    • Morgan, you’re very right that any marriage is about creating a team and working together. While that might be easier if the people are more similar, it’s still hard!

      Good luck with your journey – I know all of that has been a long time coming!!

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