Mazel Tov! You’re engaged…but your fiance isn’t [insert religion/race/ethnicity here]
By Rebecca Lehrer
I was thrilled when Neil (my now-husband) proposed. Surprised in the moment and just bursting with the knowledge that I had found my dude in all the noise of the world. But I was also nervous and scared. Not scared about being married or settling down, that was the awesome part. I was scared about being the first person in my family to marry someone who was not Jewish (and not planning to convert) and not only not Jewish, but not from a minority group or immigrant family.
Marrying a non-immigrant, non-Jew felt like a scary step in possibly the wrong direction.
In fact, I felt like I was the first person of all time to do so, and that I had a serious responsibility to do it well, thoughtfully and without compromise. Growing up there was always this looming cloud of assimilation, that my generation would disconnect from the values of being an immigrant and dilute our culture. Marrying a non-immigrant, non-Jew felt like a scary step in possibly the wrong direction, or so I had been told. Who would my children be? Would I be satisfied?
I spent a lot of time thinking about this and agonizing over it in the 3 years we had been together before getting engaged. It wasn’t always the most productive thinking. Many nights I burst into tears at dinner (seemingly) out of nowhere and exclaimed something to the effect of, “You are also going to have to drive our children to Hebrew School!” …um, yeah. But I also did some real soul searching, great therapy and found a way to understand and communicate my needs and expectations.
My married friends of all Mash-Up combinations (Indian/Jewish, Persian/White, Korean/Colombian/Mexican, Nigerian/Russian, British/American, etc.) confronted similar issues. We were consistently met with three challenges: the familial and cultural expectations for a wedding during the planning process; the fear of insulting family members, both ours and our partners’; and the uncertainty around how to prioritize or represent our respective cultures.
But we made it through! And so will you.
Together with Rebecca Pfiffner, we’ve brought together our hard-earned tips on how to navigate some seriously sensitive territory. First on your to-do list: Figure out what you want by answering our questions. Examples of answers below.
The Mash-Up Americans: What traditions/rituals do you assume will be a part of your wedding?
You, Newly Engaged Mash-Up: A huppah, a ketubah, and breaking of the glass … AND mariachis AND a horah.
What traditions/rituals do you absolutely need to be a part of your wedding?
I may not need to get married inside a church, but I absolutely want a Catholic ceremony.
What have you not yet said to your fiancé(e) because you are kind of afraid to even say it to yourself?
I never thought my future children would be black.
What are you most excited about?
Having never traveled to Korea, I’m excited to feel like it’s a second home through my partner’s family and friends there. Also, kimchi.
What are you most afraid of? Play out the entire scenario.
My future children wearing crosses and getting married in churches. Me weeping, but being a hypocrite.
Is there something that puts a knot in your throat when you think about it?
I am less of an Armenian because I’m not marrying an Armenian.
Who can you talk to about this completely honestly? Pro-tip: this should not be your parents. They have the memories of elephants.
Now have a glass of wine and walk away from this for a couple of days. Once each of you know what you want, the next step is talking about it.Worried about how to broach the subject? Check out our pro-tips for planning a Mash-Up Wedding!