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My Son’s Interfaith Engagement

“I am getting married” my son Jordan said nonchalantly as he walked by the door of my home office. “Well, it’s your life,” I immediately responded.

As soon as I said those frigid words, I could have bitten my tongue. Certainly, that was not the best way to react to the news that your thirty-three year old son was taking a bride. Remorseful, I went to him, held him tightly, and congratulated him on his decision. Through the rest of the day, I hugged him several times and reiterated my good wishes for much happiness. Still, I wondered about the hurt I might have inflicted with my initial gut reaction.

I should not have been surprised that Jordan and Yolanda had decided to get married. After all, they had known each other for a few years and they had been living together for several months. Even though I liked Yolanda very much–she is a sweet and loving woman–I had always expected my children to marry someone of the Jewish faith, like themselves.

“Have you thought about what type of wedding you will be having, and who will perform the ceremony?” I asked.

“A priest and a rabbi,” he responded.

Oi, vey! If my father were not dead, this would have surely killed him,” I thought, keeping to myself the pain that was piercing my heart as he shattered my dreams. For endless days and sleepless nights I kept wondering what we had done wrong, but found no answers. Jordan had attended a Jewish nursery school, had spent summers swimming and sunning at the local Jewish Community Center, and had received a thorough religious education at the synagogue to which we belonged. We celebrated all Jewish holidays, and he had been Bar-Mitzvahed at thirteen and confirmed at sixteen.

How could this son of mine, brought up in a Jewish home, want to be married by a priest, I wondered, completely ignoring the “and rabbi” part.

Where I had been born and raised, in a sort of Jewish ghetto in Cuba, interfaith marriage was something that was not merely forbidden, but unthinkable. Only once, when I was a little girl, had I heard hushed rumors about a family who had “sat shiva” (mourned as if for the dead) for a son who had dared to marry outside of our faith. Although it seemed so extreme, this ritual had been accepted and approved by our community.

Many years later, when I became a mother in the United States, I knew that if I was ever confronted with that situation, I could never give up a treasured child. On the other hand, although I recognized that we lived in a different world today, where young people leave their nest early and travel far and wide with myriad opportunities to meet people of different backgrounds, races and religions, I felt confident that mixed marriages might occur in other families, but never would in mine.

Now that the inconceivable has happened, and one of my children had found a soulmate of a different religion, I realize how mistaken I had been. There is no denying that when my husband and I first heard the news of the impending wedding we were hurt and disappointed. Since the initial shock, however, we have gradually come to terms with Jordan’s decision. He is a responsible, hardworking man, and we trust his judgment. Yolanda is the woman he has chosen to share the rest of his life with, the future mother of our grandchildren, so how can we not love her, too?

My mother adores Yolanda, our daughter finally has the sister that she has always wanted, and our other two sons already think of her as a sibling. I am certain that if my father were alive today, Yolanda would have found a way to his heart, as she has with ours.

Although I was initially unhappy about having a priest take part in the ceremony, I ultimately accepted this decision by contemplating Yolada’s parents’ feelings. As strict Catholics, they could not have been very pleased that a rabbi would co-officate at their daughter’s wedding. Nevertheless, they have welcomed our son into their family with open arms.

Raquel Stabinski-Leib

Raquel Stabinski-Leib is a freelance writer and author. A collection of some of her stories can be found in the just-published anthology Lives, edited by Charles P. Lamb.