How I Dealt With My Secular Family During My Orthodox Jewish Wedding
I was a kallah! A bride!
I was 23, an old maid by some Orthodox Jewish standards.
As a newly religious person, a baal teshuva, I was getting used to the idea that I was marrying so young. I thought, “You don’t even have a career yet. You just got engaged after one month and dating. Are you crazy? You don’t know this man!”
But I truly felt that I had found my life partner – my bashert.
Since my chosson, my groom, and I, had come from secular families, we were facing some challenges. Everything that was important to us was the opposite of what we had grown up with. Both of our families were worried and tried to “fix” us. However, we stayed firm in our belief.
In the beginning, before we found our place in the Orthodox world, we made some interesting mistakes. We were zealous, I suppose, and trying to do everything the “right” way, according to the Torah. Little did we know at the time that there are many “right” ways and various customs.
We both asked our rabbis lots of questions regarding how to relate to our families. And many times, we asked multiple rabbis those same questions.
For example, my brother was engaged as well, and his impending wedding was a huge mountain of a problem. He was marrying a non-Jew on a Saturday, Shabbos, during the Three Weeks, a time of mourning.
You better believe that I was expected to be there, and so was my chosson.
One rabbi advised us to show up after the ceremony (which was easy as the ceremony was done on Shabbos and the location of the wedding was at least a half hour away from our homes), say words of good wishes, and then leave.
Another rabbi said that should also attend after Shabbos, but sit on the floor in the middle of the festivities and proceed to cry for the destruction of my brother’s future Jewish family.
This rabbi truly felt that when my brother would see how important it was to me that he not marry a Jew, he would leave the relationship. I’m not fond of outward displays of extreme emotion, so we went with the first rabbi’s advice.
My chosson also made a doozy of a decision by not informing his parents that we were dating. When we got engaged, he called his parents, who were on an extended stay in Israel, and told them that we were getting married. You can imagine their surprise.
Of course, while they were away, my chosson used the opportunity of their absence to start showing the outward symbols of Judaism that a man wears, the yamulke and tzis tzis.
You can imagine whom they blamed that on. The big question, of course, was why did he not tell them that he was dating? Well, he learned from one rabbi that dating should be kept private and that no one should know.
One big problem that came up between my mother and I was the b’deken. This is the custom where the bride wears an opaque veil over her face for the chuppah. The chosson greets the bride while she is sitting in a chair.
This is the first time he sees her in her full bridal glory after a week of separation. He proceeds to check her out to make sure she is indeed the same person he proposed to, and then covers her face with a cloth. She is led out to the chuppah by her mother and mother-in-law. The veil does not come off until after the ceremony.
The bride has the privacy under the veil to pray, to cry, or to process her emotions as she sees fit, without anyone seeing her. This was part of the ceremony that I truly looked forward to until my mother wanted to nix the whole thing. She insisted that I not do this. She could not understand why I would pay for having my makeup done only to cover myself up.
I was in a quandary. I was obligated to honor my mother’s wishes, but this part of my wedding was very important to me. I spoke with my rabbi, who explained that the Shalom Bayis, or keeping the peace between my family and me, was more important than the custom.
So, I had a regular veil made of netting. I made much thicker than the average veil, so I could still honor the custom in a smaller way. I got married and life went on. As a wife and part of a new unit, I could express my desire for Yiddishkeit my way, without parental interference.
Fast-forward 23 years. My daughter was now a bride and I was planning her wedding. My mother called to make some requests regarding seating. She wanted some couples who were relatives to sit together.
I absolutely did not want to entertain this idea. This wedding would be strictly separate seating. She sensed my hostility to her request and asked where it was coming from. This is when I realized the size of my grudge for her not wanting me to wear the opaque veil.
When I explained my feelings to her, she simply said, “I did not understand the custom. I really thought you meant to wear the veil for the entire wedding!”
Thank G-d that my daughter and her chosson were on the same page as me regarding how to proceed with the wedding. There was only separate seating and my daughter wore the most beautiful opaque veil.
It was an epic moment when her chosson placed the veil on her head, and after, I pinned it on her so it would not fall off. It was an emotional few minutes as her soon-to-be mother-in-law and I each took her hands and guided her to the chuppah.
This was a symbolic understanding that she truly trusted us to lead her to her life’s partner.
What can I say? I guess my mother did not have the Jewish education to understand what the meaning of the veil was. She had never had the opportunity to experience the spirituality that lies beneath the veil.
After I thought about it, I determined that I should swallow my pride and drop the grudge that I have held for all these years. Things all worked out in the end anyway, and now, my daughter and son-in-law are building a strong Jewish home, just like my chosson and I prayed and hoped for.
Batsheva Isaac is a mother of eight from Los Angeles. She spends most days working in the education field and feeding her family. In her downtime, she writes.