This last weekend, I officiated two weddings, which were both interfaith and intercultural. Friday night, Andrea, an Ecuadorian Catholic married Adam, a Jew from Las Vegas, in her hometown of Guyaquil. Sunday afternoon, Nse (pronounced as if there is an extra e in front of the n), a devout Christian nurse born in the US to Nigerian parents, who grew up in Nigeria, married Hadar, a secular Jew, and one of the most prominent physicians in Israel. (The first time I spoke to Hadar, we spoke in Hebrew, but he used the English title phrase of this blog entry to describe them as a couple.)
Both weddings were very special. The second one had one of the most fascinating audiences one could ever see in one place, with couples in traditional African garb seated beside young Israeli girls in summer dresses. I officiated the ceremony, and was joined at the end of it by Nse’s pastor, Reverend Dr. Gabriel Nwumba, who gave a rousing sermon punctuated with lively Amens from the audience, and then together we blessed the couple with the Priestly Blessing. Perhaps one of the most poignant moments was when Nse’s unassuming nine year old daughter read the words of Ruth to Naomi, “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you dwell, I will dwell, your people will be my people, and your God will be my God…” Hadar and many others were visibly moved to tears.
Here are the words I shared with everyone:
The more I thought about Nse and Hadar, the more I understood that this couple is really teaching us a double lesson. First of all, they teach us a sorely needed lesson in today’s broken world, and that is, that we need not let differences of background, race or religion stand between us, and prevent us from loving each and every human being. After all, these two individuals come from different countries, races and faiths, and yet they have such a strong and powerful bond of love between them. The thing is that that observation caused me, as is typical amongst us rabbis, to ask another question! With all the differences between them, how do they do it? What is their secret?
It became very clear to me that this couple had realized what few couples fully realize, and that is that every marriage is an intermarriage. Regardless of who we fall in love with, regardless of who we marry, we are marrying someone who has had a different set of experiences and has a different personality. Therefore, you cannot put your love and your marriage on “auto-pilot”. In order to forge love into a successful marriage, you must engage in open conversation and communication, carefully and deeply consider your differences, and commit to a loving relationship that will overcome these differences. This is Nse and Hadar’s secret. This is how they do it!
It is also very clear that Nse and Hadar have a deep appreciation for the fact that marriage is not a one shot deal, rather this it is just the beginning of a journey of mutual understanding and compromise. In fact, to symbolize this, some ministers will ask married couples in the congregation to hold hands while listening to the vows of the bride and groom, and silently recommit themselves to each other, at that time.
Thank you, Nse and Hadar, for setting an example for the rest of us in showing that in all of our human relationships, we can and should love our fellow human being, regardless of our differences. Thank you also for teaching us that every relationship is a work in progress, and that we need to commit every day to bettering our interpersonal relationships with all, and most specifically with our mates and lovers. Hold on to that. Wake up every morning with the resolve to cherish each other and the wonderful life you have built and continue to build together every day, and I have no doubt, your bond will remain unbreakable.