This story originally appeared in the Jewish Journal MA, and is reprinted with permission.
UMass medical students Jhilam Biswas and Danny Barker met in 2006, before classes had even started. His undergraduate academic interest was anthropology; hers was sociology. They shared passions for world travel and global health issues, and both valued religion, culture and family. Jhilam is Hindu and Danny is Jewish.
“Initially, Jhilam and I were both nervous,” Danny reflected. “Would the wedding feel ‘too Hindu’ or ‘too Jewish?’ Would we dishonor our traditions by mixing them together? Could we incorporate both cultures so that each family felt respected?”
Prior to their October 13, 2013 wedding, the couple engaged in many conversations with their religious officiants—Rabbi Lev Baesh of Austin, Texas, and Jhilam’s uncle, Dr. Ranen Chatterjee.
For Sharmila Biswas, Jhilam’s mother, researching and planning her daughter’s wedding actually taught her something new about her own tradition.
The baraat was actually a highlight of Jhilam and Danny’s wedding. Danny donned traditional Hindu clothing and rode a bejeweled horse down Worcester’s Main Street, all to the beat of the dhol (an Indian drum) and the rhythm of Indian music. The entire wedding party followed: dancing, clapping, laughing and kvelling.
When planning the wedding, the families met regularly to discuss ideas. There were difficult conversations, and compromises on both sides.
“The parents followed their children’s lead in what would be incorporated in the ceremony,” said Jeri Barker of Swampscott, Danny’s mother. “The planning process, and negotiating all the details, brought us all closer together.”
Once the structure of the ceremony was sketched out, the couple designed a booklet for guests explaining the traditions and their meanings. Friends and family members contributed their unique talents and skills.
Dr. Peter Barker, Danny’s father and a passionate gardener, worked with the florist. “My neighbors, friends and I enjoy growing the big, beautiful, dinner plate dahlias,” he said. “I wanted to personalize the wedding flowers by including our dahlias. Some guests got a kick out of recognizing their flowers in the displays.”
Jhilam and Danny chose to be married in Worcester, the city where they met. They fell in love with the elegant and sophisticated Mechanics Hall, a beautiful Renaissance Revival concert hall built in 1857. For Jhilam, whose family has a long history of musicianship, the venue had special significance.
“In the months leading up to the wedding, I described the ceremony to my family and friends as ‘half-Hindu and half-Jewish,’” Danny said. “Looking back on it, that description doesn’t seem quite right. I now recognize it was possible for the ceremony to be fully Hindu and fully Jewish, all at the same time.”