When our oldest son and his fiancé announced their engagement in May 2009, I wondered about the wedding ceremony. Neither Aaron nor Freya practice the religions – Catholicism and Judaism, respectively – into which they were born. When I asked Aaron about what kind of ceremony they’d have in October, he replied, “It’ll be kosher-style.” I refrained from responding, “What the hell is that?”
Aaron and Freya had been dating and together for nine years. Other than her brother, we had not met any members of Freya’s family. We knew that her parents embrace their Judaism with as much fervor as my wife, Ruth, and I embrace our Catholicism. The difference is they were concerned that their daughter’s eventual husband was not Jewish. (Too bad they never got to meet my late mother-in-law. When Aaron was born and we told her what we had named him, she replied, “Why’d you give him a Jewish name?” When reminded that she had given her daughter a Jewish name, she had no comment.)
While Aaron’s long-ago abandonment of Catholicism has been a challenge for Ruth and me, Freya’s religion is not; she has been family from the first time we met her. She has laughed with us during holidays, and even picked out our Christmas tree; celebrated milestones, kept vigil during times of illness and mourned when we lost a loved one. She loves our family and is loved by our family. She has been a blessing to us.
The Friday afternoon before the wedding, we met Freya’s parents. It was cordial as we talked about a variety of topics, religion not being one of them. The cordiality carried over and expanded through the rehearsal dinner, where we met more of each other’s families, and at the wedding ceremony and reception.
We knew that a “kosher-style” wedding included holding a chuppah – a Jewish wedding canopy made by my wife, her sisters and cousin – above the couple as a rabbinical student presided; signing of the ketubah – the marriage agreement; recitation of seven blessings by friends and family members; and praying the shehecheyanu – a blessing given by all in attendance. As we witnessed these and the recitation of their vows, I knew that God was with the newlyweds.
I can’t underestimate the healing nature of what occurred at the reception. People who had been strangers only a few hours earlier were talking and hugging – and dancing. Oh, were they dancing! If ever there were a defining moment of cultures and traditions coming together, it came when the horah and the polka were danced successively with no break. The music – “Hava Nagila” and the “Beer Barrel Polka” – was provided by a Motown cover band. A wonderful way for the Moskowitz-Olszewski families and friends to continue celebrating with the bride and groom.
When I spoke on behalf of our family at the reception, I was mindful of the request Aaron had made when he asked me to do the honors: “Dad, don’t make it a holy war.” It was tempting, especially since Freya’s parents were extremely upset that Aaron was Catholic, but I did not make religion an issue, as it was neither the time nor the place.
However, I did not hesitate to note that Ruth and I pray regularly for Aaron and Freya. What newlyweds, no matter what faith they profess – or don’t profess – can’t use prayer support? I closed with God’s words to the original Aaron, recorded in the sixth chapter of the Book of Numbers, and spoken through Moses: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”