Weddings are a time for ceremonies and for parties. They’re a time for bringing two families together. And when a wedding also means the marriage of two cultures, it’s a little trickier, as commentator Nina Agrawal has found out.
It’s nearly the end of March: crunch time. I’m finishing up two master’s degrees, looking for a job…oh, and, I’m planning a wedding.
MUSIC: Going to the chapel and we’re, gonna get married.
Not that kind of wedding. More like this:
MUSIC: houra/Hava Nagila
You see…He’s Jewish, I’m Indian. Some call couples like us “Hin-Jews,” or “Om-Shalomers.” I’m not kidding.
Planning a big wedding—and it will be big—is a major task under any circumstances. But planning a big Indian and big Jewish wedding? I’m in over my head. So many questions: Red sari or white dress? Rabbi or pundit? Shoes or no shoes?
It’s complicated, this business of interfaith weddings. And it’s made me think a lot about being an interfaith couple.
Josh and I have been together for more than six years. Before we met, he’d been to India. He knew how to introduce himself in Hindi, and ask, Aap kaise hai? “How are you?” I grew up going to Shabbat dinners at friends’ houses and knew enough Hebrew to say Ani lo medaberet hibrit. “I don’t speak Hebrew.”
As a couple we’ve approached our differences with curiosity and respect. I’ve taught him to make chai and channa masala; he’s taught me to love seltzer and high-stakes dreidel. On Diwali, the Hindu new year, we light candles and play three-card poker. On Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, we dip apples in honey and wish each other L’Shana Tovah.
Sometimes, though, we bump up against the differences. Josh grew up in a conservative Jewish household; religion is a big part of his identity. I grew up in a traditional Indian household, and formal religion was less important than cultural traditions.
When it came time to fast for Yom Kippur or attend services at synagogue, I was at a loss– not only because I’m not Jewish, but because the whole concept of “Religion” feels foreign.
So we’ve talked…a lot. And over time…We’ve chosen the rituals and customs that mean the most to us. Now, when we invite friends over for Shabbat dinner, we light candles, and we serve Indian food.
After years of making these adjustments one by one, now, with the wedding, we have to figure out a whole bunch all at once.
It’s an adjustment for our families as well. When my parents got married in India, they barely knew each other. It was arranged, based on things like caste, family background and education.
And Josh’s parents… they met in a bar in Manhattan. Their families were from the same shtetl outside Warsaw, and I’m sure they hoped their son would marry a Jewish woman.
And yet, both sides have welcomed the other — and shown only eagerness about our wedding, with all its interfaith logistics, from trying to negotiate bigger shares of the guest list to throwing a combined Shabbat dinner and sangeet, a traditional Indian pre-wedding dance party.
That’s freed us up to focus on the ceremony. As we stand under our wedding canopy – which Jews call a chuppah and Hindus a mandap – we’ll exchange garlands as well as rings. We’ll circle a fire seven times, and invite relatives to recite seven blessings. And when it’s finished, we’ll all dance. That part doesn’t need any explaining.
Nina Agrawal is getting married in August. There will be paneer as well as schmear.