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.