This past Shabbos was our 5th wedding anniversary. I made my husband his favorite pie and, before Shabbos, his mother and stepfather called and sang us a “happy anniversary” song. Beyond that, that was all that marked the occasion. I found myself sadly transported back to 5 years ago in my heart and mind, again reliving the circumstances under which our marriage began.
We’d already been a family for a few years, but we’d been waiting to marry, hoping that the conversion process would catch up with us so that we could do it “right.” To clarify, we weren’t converting for the sake of marriage, but our wedding was one of those things indefinitely on hold until the process completed. Two years in, the last of the recession began to really make us nervous about our jobs and my ex was no longer covering the children under his insurance. We worried about what could happen if I did lose my job. Every logical sign pointed to the idea that it was time for us to at least be married civilly.
We went to our sponsoring Rabbi, who approved of the idea. He and others who were advising us also hoped that maybe this would help show the Beit Din that we weren’t just converting for the sake of marriage, something that is strictly forbidden in Orthodox Judaism. We were advised on what we could include, but more importantly what we absolutely must leave out of any ceremony so that we would not be violating halakhah, Jewish law. I began planning the wedding.
It was one of the hardest times of my life, but I think that most brides could probably say that. Weddings are just stressful things and in this case, it was my second wedding and his first and we were having to let go of a lot of things to make it happen. His heart was all over the place and he couldn’t really be present during it all. My family kept putting me off as I tried to pin down when they’d be coming for the wedding. Finally, my mother broke the news to me.
My father did not see the point in coming to my wedding. He expected it to have Hebrew in it and since he doesn’t know Hebrew, he didn’t want to be there. Plus, since this was my second wedding, they really didn’t see the point of coming. Grudgingly, my mother offered for her and my brother to come down to Florida for it. I thought about it and finally, I said, “No thank you.” To me, it seemed worse to have them there if they really did not want to be included. In response, my mother told me that they really weren’t happy with me marrying a Jew anyway and that I was disowned and disinherited.
There were so many tears those months leading up to our wedding, but I just kept going.
I realized I was making a choice, perhaps just as weighty as conversion itself. By turning my back on my family, our farm that my family had owned for generations, and everything else to marry my husband, I was in effect choosing his people over my own. I understood how this was probably painful for my family and likely was what was at the root of bringing out the very worst in them. I drew on what I had been learning in my conversion studies to help me through that time and to continue to honor my parents, even when they were showing so much hatred and ugliness. I needed to see the pain beneath it and respond to that. I didn’t lash out at them, but I did tell them that I was still here when they were ready to talk about it and I continued my wedding plans.
The children were a bright spot in all that sadness. They both eagerly embraced the idea of our wedding, even calling it, “Our wedding.” They saw it as something that belonged to them as much as us, a family ceremony that would help recognise what had already happened years ago…that we were very much a family as much as any other, no matter how we’d begun. I chose a wedding dress to match the flower girl dress my daughter loved and we planned on how to do our hair to match each other. A wonderful Jewish woman we were friends with agreed to serve as our officiant. We worked in as much Torah as we could into our ceremony, including affirmations we would say to each other. There was no chuppah, no blessings, but there was a lot of love.
Our wedding day came rainy, but the rain broke as we stood on the beach and faced each other, our children with us. His mother and stepfather and father and stepmother all came. They knew what we had been going through and they supported us taking this step and that meant so much to me. We had friends and family with us and afterwards, we had a small reception at home with food and l’chaims.
Two days later, I did lose my job. My contract was canceled by a heartless employer who’d decided I was overqualified and who had known my wedding was that weekend. I hadn’t even taken time off for the wedding, working the Friday before and the Monday after. Because we’d wed legally, though, my children and I were safely on my new husband’s insurance. I was proud to change my last name to my husband’s.
I do not for a moment regret marrying my husband. I often regret the circumstances under which it happened, but I also am thankful that Hashem led us to marry just in time, right before it was needed. I’m grateful for that and for all the people who were able to be there and support us, both on that day and all the difficult, painful days leading up to it. 5 years ago, I stood on a beach and professed my love for my husband and became part of his family. In that moment, I also made a decision that went directly against my own family, but I made that decision with my eyes fully open, knowing that there would be consequences now, whether I ever made it to the end of conversion or not.
My relationship with my family remains strained, although they have backed away from fully disowning me. The more observant we are, the more strained that relationship is. My father, in the “joking” way he tries to control, just on Friday joked about feeding my son bacon and cutting his peyos if ever he grew them. I politely changed the subject, making a mental note not to leave my children alone with them ever. I walk the tightrope between honoring my father and mother and following Torah and protecting my children.
My relationship with the people I have been working so many years to join also remains strained as I wait for acceptance.
My relationship with Hashem, though? Has never been stronger. It is when I am most alone that I often feel the most closeness there. This Shabbos, with memories of a wedding that was so bittersweet so near to me, I was gifted with that closeness as a comfort.
This is my path, with its own unique obstacles, and I know He has given me everything I need to walk it. I just need to trust in Him.