Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Very Narrow Bridge

On Monday night I had the opportunity to attend my cousin's wedding in Brooklyn. Many of you are probably wondering about the kind of people who have a wedding on a Monday, and maybe some others are wondering who goes to a wedding on Monday for that matter. Well, in the Orthodox Jewish world where Fridays and many Saturdays are off limits and myriad other days don't work because of various holidays, fasts and observances AND on top of that you have to coordinate with the bride's cycle - you tend to get creative and a Monday wedding certainly qualifies as creative.

While not my first Orthodox wedding, it still felt like stepping into another world and I almost think of this post as something akin to a travel essay. Out of respect for my family and my desire to blend, I wore very conservative clothing - high-necked t-shirt, blazer and skirt that hit at mid-calf with some closed-toe shoes. My outward appearance altered, I "passed," and no one would know on sight that I am not an observant Jew.

As for behavior, four years living in the Pikesville neighborhood of Baltimore taught me all the Yiddishisms, expressions and gestures I would need to get through most of the evening. I'm familiar with the rhythms and rituals of the different parts of the wedding ceremony and their concomitant foods - except the chopped liver piped to spell, "mazal tov," that one threw me.

For all intents and purposes, I'm just another cousin, another Chaya or Blima, from Toronto or Lakewood; completely interchangable, if a bit old to not be sporting a ring and a wig... Except that I'm not just another cousin. I'm this weird cousin, this single woman, claiming to be a family member but bearing no pedigree and no history of attendance at various family events.

Because of pure coincidence, I found these cousins six years ago and they took me in despite our incredibly distant shared past and welcomed me despite my lacking observance. Yet no one else in my immediate family (or any of my aunts, uncles or first through third cousins) have any connection to this enormous circle of people who do consider me family. How did I end up bridging this seemingly impregnable gap? How can I explain to my Haredi family who only interact with other Haredi Jews (and won't even consider speaking to some Jews) that my first cousins (who I love dearly) are Catholic?

At dinner, I'm seated at the cousins' table. They huddle at the next table over while I pick at my personal challah and chat with an old friend. Finally one comes over and asks if I'm from Arizona. She remembers me from the last wedding I attended three years ago (the sister of today's bride). When I say yes, her sister says, "Oh, I've heard about you." Clearly, my reputation preceeds me. They're friendly and congenial and two cousins even take my name and number so they can have me over for Shabbat sometime. If they call, I might say yes - it's always a little like taking a trip to a foreign country without getting a stamp in my passport.

I know this post has rambled quite a bit more than normal and maybe a stream of consciousness style is the only way to process being in a such an unusual position of briding two worlds and two peoples that are truly of the same family. And just to prove my Jewish street cred, I'll leave you with a quote from Rabbi Nachman of Bratislav, "The whole world is a narrow bridge and the main thing is not to fear."

1 comment:

SaraK said...

Great post. But don't think you feel out of place only because you aren't Orthodox. My aunt & uncle are Hassidic and I feel out of place at their family smachot, because my aunt's side of the family is Hassidic like them, and we are not. On top of that, I'm single at 31 and they have no idea what to say to me. Even though I dress appropriately, it's still not the way they dress. To be fair, some are cordial, but others just don't know what to do or say, so I get ignored.