Reflections on a year of marriage

Ok, so I know this is belated from when I had promised it, but alas – here comes my reflections series.

Post by Melissa

I am still in denial of the fact that I have been married to my best friend for a year.  If  I have learned any one thing this year, it is to keep laughing.  We have a ton of fun and that is something which brings us through the hard times, and we will always have that to share.

Over the course of our first year of marriage, we have been through some very difficult experiences, as well as some truly wonderful ones.  We were lucky enough to be able to celebrate the marriages of some of our closest friends, welcome new babies into the world, and be honored guests at B’nai Mitzvah.  On the flip side we also have had to deal with death and divorce.  The cycle of life keeps on reeling, and even just a few weeks into our second year of marriage we’ve already attended a funeral and a Brit Milah.  Every time I get to share a special event in the life cycle with D, I smile internally.  Even for sad events, having him by my side makes it a better moment – and I hope that never goes away.

As mentioned, we have been able to celebrate the marriages of numerous friends throughout the year.  At every Shabbat Kallah (a gathering of women to celebrate the bride the day before her wedding, keeping her calm and surrounded by her friends and family) I was asked for my insights on having a happy marriage, and I had to think back to the best advice I was given.  A good friend of mine got married the week before I did, and her mother told her that a marriage is not about giving 50-50, or 60-40 – it is giving 100-100.  Each person must give 100% of themselves to their marriage in order to make it a truly happy union. Those words truly stuck with me.

To add my own insight would definitely be to keep playing and laughing.  D and I have a very playful relationship, as I have mentioned before.  I truly believe that being silly and playful is something which will always keep us young and help us through the difficult times in the years to come.  Though our playfulness can sometimes annoy one another, we know that at the end of the day, we are each bringing our 100% to the table and we may just need to step back for a moment and see what the other is going through. Some days need hugs, not pokes. Some weeks need serious discussions, not goofy banter. All of which is ok and keeping up with it keeps us happy in the big picture.

This all ties into the almighty key word of any relationship: compromise.  Our regular readers know by now that this has been a big part of our Sephardekenazi life, and it only grows more prominent with every passing week.  While I have made many compromises this year, I know there are many more to come, and as long as we can talk through the options rationally and laugh about it later – I think we are prepared to handle come what may.

{For the record, while I typed this post, he washed the Shabbat lunch dishes and made me fresh popcorn. I have an awesome husband.}


What you see isn’t always what you get…

Post by Melissa

As an outwardly frum married couple* we often get asked “where are you from” or “when did you move here” with no pretense.  While they seem like simple questions,  the subtext (based on context and nonverbal cues) is that because the asker (another frum person/couple) has not seen us in their community, we must be new to town or just visiting.  Clearly in a city with a relatively small Orthodox community, they should know all religious people.

D and I are well aware that we do not fit the mold of a typical Conservative Jew, and that even more so we do not fit the average person’s idea of a typical Conservative Jew, so we are happy to smile and tell people briefly that we live near the traditional Conservative synogauge in town – and can just smile back at the looks and comments we receive. In fact, they can make great stories!

Once, at our local Kosher market/deli a woman stopped to ask us many questions and share all about the young adult community here thinking we were new.  After awhile it came out that we had lived here for a few years, and then where we live. Without missing a beat she says, “You live by X? So where do you daven (pray)?”  We still laugh about that moment.

More recently we had the honor of attending a simcha (joyous event) at a local Chabad house where some friends of ours regularly learn.  I had 5 women ask me where I was from, without it being part of a bigger conversation (and given the small number of women present, it was probably about 25% of the female attendees).  To each one I would answer briefly, as usual, and in all but one case the conversation ended with a confused and dismissive expression while the woman walked away from me.  The one woman who didn’t, I actually was able to engage in a nice conversation with and made a new friend to go shopping for stylish modest clothing with!  (Of note, D was only once asked the question and it was part of a conversation about how we knew the family who brought us.)

While we are used to these sorts of questions and the scrupulous looks in response to our answers, they still are irritating on the most basic level.  While we have learned to accept them as part of being outside a mold, our friends do not.  Those who we shared the funny run-in at the kosher market with were amazed that this happens to us, but figured in the context it was amusing.  Meanwhile, the friends who watched the questions at the simcha were appalled.  It became a larger topic of conversation later in which a variety of friends tried to understand why people would jump to conclusions and then not wait to hear more about the people who were so different from what they expected.  The best assessment was that they don’t know how to relate to someone who looks and talks like them, but is actually very different.

That said, I want to encourage you to take to heart the age old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover.” While you cannot avoid making a first impression, leave your judgements aside as you meet new people.  You never know what you can learn from a person, organization, or event which is different than you initially thought. You might be missing out on a new friend.

*Based on my wearing a skirt and sleeves with my head covered and D having a beard and knit kippah on the top of his head, and sometimes visible tzitzit.

{My apologies for the delay in posting. It is still a Melissa post even though its on Thursday…}

Memorable, For Now

"Things NOT Appearing at Our Passover Seder" - post by Jessica

Passover preparations are now finished in our house. In a few hours, we’ll head to my in-laws for the seder and enjoy the two days of the holiday with them. It was a marathon sprint, but we’re almost there!

I have been thinking about writing this post since we started our series on Passover. I liked the topic of our favorite or most memorable seder so much, and then realized that I wasn’t sure what to write about! Maybe it’s because that seder experience is one I really enjoyed at the time, it’s not one that I really want to repeat. Funny how things go like that.

It was my senior year in college, and my roommate and I had foiled our kitchen in glory. It was impressive. Especially for two newbies at it, like ourselves. It wasn’t probably totally kosher, but it was the closest I had ever been. We’d stocked up on food, and I braved the seders.

Each night, I attended two seders. On the first evening, I led a seder at Hillel, along with the Hillel JLI rabbi (for whom, thinking back, it was probably a trying experience), and we were done relatively quickly. We used the standard Hillel text that I had helped put together, and added a few bits and pieces here and there, and the food was good. Afterwards, I went to R’s parents house. We were already dating at this point and I had been invited, like last year. Unlike the year previous, however, I was no longer a newcomer – I was more and more like family, even though we weren’t engaged yet. On the second night, I drove the hour home to my parents congregation (not yet having any compunction about driving on holidays) and enjoyed the seder with them. The small congregation had brought in a retired rabbi to lead the seder, and although he was a great scholar and an engaging leader, he made a number of gaffes to make the experience less enjoyable. Chief among them was the omission of the third cup of wine. I had suspected he had done the same thing the year before, and this year paid close attention in order to confirm it. Afterwards, driving back to school, I arrived at R’s parents house and just about the same point in the seder, since they had started a little later on the second night.

Perhaps I should think of the first time we were able to have seder as a family, three Passovers ago, or our seder in Jerusalem four Passovers ago as among my most memorable. I think, though, that this particular Passover captures a particular period in my life – when I was still technically single but in a serious relationship, still very much a student, still very much connected to everything that had gone before, and just venturing into what was still to come.

Wishing everyone a healthy and happy Passover to those who celebrate, a healthy and happy Easter to those who celebrate, and looking forward to continued writing.

The First Annual Sephardekanazi Seder

Post by Melissa

As we have well established by now, my husband is Sephardi (Spanish-Portuguese to be exact, though he learns about a variety of Sephardic customs and adopts what he identifies with) and I am Asheknazi. We are both very tied to the customs and traditions of these  identifications, and when it comes to Pesach (Passover) this is only intensified.  We have found ways to combine our heritages before, but hosting a seder for the first time somehow was a much bigger ordeal.  In fact, it led to some very interesting conversations and a lot of compromise because neither of us was going to win on everything. I wanted to share some of the big things which we had to think about.

Hagadot: We discussed making our own hagadot but decided against it after having heard what friends of ours went through in the process (Jessica will be writing about their experience with it on Thursday, actually).  So if we weren’t going to make our own, what would we use? I grew up with the Maxwell House hagadah, though a few years ago my family upgraded.  In college and grad school I used various Hillel compilations, and since moving have encountered a wide variety of hagadot. D has mainly been exposed to traditional Ashekenazi hagadot.  So while I was apathetic about what I had used before and comfortable with them for the sense of familiarity they provide alone – Dustin was eager to try something new.  We just received ten of Rabbi Marc Angel’s Sephardic hagadot in the mail.  Now we just need to familiarize ourselves with the differences.

Food: As mentioned last week, my husband eats kitniyot and I do not. Some of our guests will, and some will not. So how do we make a meal which everyone can enjoy, and feel their traditions are recognized? Serve a little bit of everything! To start the meal we will have eggs and gefilte fish, and hummus and turkish salad. As side dishes we will have roasted potatoes, and rice and lentils. Plus of course some meat and salad and matzah ball soup. Luckily, we have someone in our community who makes amazing flour-less chocolate torts for Pesach which we can serve for dessert.

Birkat Hamazon: So now that we know which hagadah we will use and what we will serve, how much do we want to push the comfort level of our guests? We can do the Sephardic birkat hamazon (grace after meals) which has some different wording and a totally different melody to accomodate as such. That is probably what makes the most sense since it will be in our Hagadah after all.  However, we have some guests who have less of an understanding of the nuances of birkat hamazon who may get lost with a new tune and words.  So we will likely use the birchonim (aka – benchers, the books which contain the various blessings around mealtimes) from our wedding – since they are userfriendly, complete with transliateration for those in need.

To round it all out, we will be using the tablecloth my grandmother embroidered for my future wedding present (before marriage was even really on my agenda) and the matzah cover and seder plate which were passed down to me from my grandparents, as the person most likely to annually host a seder and truly appreciate these items.  You can’t get much more Sephardekanazi than that!

Passover for them AND for us

Post by Jessica

All adults face the challenge of balancing work and their personal lives. For those working in the Jewish community, the challenge can be even greater, and it’s one that I know we will be dealing with constantly as my husband becomes a rabbi and I continue to work in the Jewish community.

As students, it was pretty easy to maintain a balance. As a student leader, I was working  for my own community, so any time spent would help either me or my friends. R’s work as a student mashgiach (food supervisor) also helped the student community. Things changed when we entered the workforce as Jewish professionals. Suddenly, my husband was responsible for the logistics of seders for hundreds of people, and although the Hillel had been in existence for 60 or 70 years, it was as though no one had ever done Passover before. As it turned out, this lack of preparation meant that I became a Hillel widow for the two weeks proceeding Passover. He’d leave the house by 8AM, come home for dinner at 6PM, and then fall into bed at midnight or 1AM. Neither of us had been particularly prepared for how the Hillel Passover preparations would interfere in our lives. That, combined with my relative inexperience doing Passover, made for a very bumpy ride that year. We barely got the apartment kashered for Passover, and we were so relieved to leave town to go to R’s parents house for the seders, it was a little ridiculous.

We both hated the way that first Passover had worked out. R made a commitment to make sure it didn’t happen the next year, and it didn’t. Knowing exactly how much work it would take, he started much earlier and all the knowledge he had gained the year before helped him. Not only that, he had a small group of interns to help him with the many, many tasks he would need to accomplish. It was enough that when the situation demanded, we agreed to host the seders in our home, hosting R’s parents. I’ll post more about that experience next week. It did take more than R being able to handle his work situation better, however. It took us being able to plan together, to realize that we needed to plan together, and that if we did, we could make something really meaningful for both us and our guests.

This year, the stress from Passover has been intense but manageable. As always, new challenges pop up and old ones resolve themselves in different ways. We finished our Passover shopping this past Monday, and we’re not hosting seders again this year. We get the opportunity to be with our parents again, for which I am very grateful. The best part of what we’ve learned in these last three years is that you have to deal with the known stressors. If Passover is always going be stressful, than it’s got to be something we plan for. We’re not perfect, but hopefully, the lessons we’ve learned in the last few years will help us as we go on to our next step.