My grandmother always had an uncanny way with words, but even I was not anticipating her remark after shuffling through my high school prom pictures.
“You look beautiful, honey, but he doesn’t look very Jewish.”
I always knew there was an expectation that I was going to marry someone Jewish. But 18-year-old me neither agreed with those expectations nor had ever contemplated that my boyfriend at the time, whose last name was Nguyen, would not look Jewish enough in pictures.
I don’t know why my family made it such a point to make it known to me throughout my years that I would marry Jewish. Maybe it was that I grew up in a community with a relatively small Jewish population and they felt the need to overcome all the intermarriage surrounding me. Maybe they figured I would live up to their expectations if only to avoid another issue about which to feel Jewish guilt.
Either way, their efforts didn’t work. I told them I would stop dating non-Jews when I went away to college, but that was more to quell the nagging than anything else. I knew I wanted my children to be raised Jewish, but in my mind, an open-minded, non-Jewish husband would work out just fine.
I was used to my high school days of attending Christmas dinner and filling up on mashed potatoes and green bean casserole because everything else looked like ham. I had become accustomed to limiting my use of Yiddish and dumbing down words as simple as kvetch and mensch to avoid needing to explain time and time again what they meant. And, when my high school boyfriend and I didn’t actually end our relationship when I left for college, I became fairly adept at omitting any mention of him to my family.
Then, during my sophomore year in college, I happened to meet a nice Jewish boy. We began dating, and I began realizing for myself that there really is something to staying within the faith.
All of a sudden, I was getting sent Passover cookies from my new boyfriend’s mom. We started making plans to spend Day 1 of Rosh Hashanah with my family in Delaware and Day 2 with his family in New Jersey. Best of all, I had become a Jewish social climber – a mere Israelite dating a Cohen.
Now, more than four years later, we’re planning our wedding together, and I don’t need to explain to him what a chuppah is. We toiled around Devon and Dempster in an attempt to find a ketubah, only to end up on e-ketubah.com, marveling at the site’s mini Hebrew keyboard that popped up to allow us to enter our Hebrew names. We’re getting married on a Sunday, and neither one of us ever contemplated having it any other way. We’re trying to convince my mom that the horah doesn’t need to be played for 30 minutes, and I guess we’ll find out how successful we’ve been come the big day.
While my grandmother has since passed, I know she would have no qualms with our engagement pictures, where both of our noses definitively indicate that we are members of the same tribe.