Sunday, December 24, 2017


Saturday morning, I officiated Gia and Bayo’s Jewish-Muslim wedding ceremony, at Brenner’s Restaurant, in Houston, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

One of the most beautiful things about weddings is that there are no right ways or wrong ways to celebrate this occasion. Every couple is different, and they may make different decisions and choices, depending on any number of variables. In interfaith and intercultural weddings, specifically, some couples choose to build a ceremony that minimizes and deemphasizes their differences, while other couples choose to highlight their differences, and celebrate them.
Now, if you know anything about Gia and Bayo, you know what choice they would gravitate towards. They both come from interfaith and intercultural families themselves, after all. This figured into their relationship before they even met. As Bayo says, “I was curious about her Jewish-Italian heritage because it reminded me of stories my dad told of the ancient Roman Empire and the journey of the Israelites from Egypt.”
And, whatever differences they had, they were very much in sync from the start. Gia says, “I knew after talking with him that we shared the things that mattered most, and our values and ideals were so similar. We both value family, spirituality, compassion, and optimism. We both love adventure… and are very determined to reach our goals. These things are so important to share with your partner…”
And Bayo acknowledges that, though he “was captivated by her beauty and brain”, what sealed the deal for him was much deeper. He saw in Gia, “a woman of high moral standing. In my culture, good morals, trump material things. My mom always told me her prayer, was for ‘the Lord to bless me with a good woman.’ I believe she can consider her prayers answered, because Gia is the definition of a good woman.”
Once you have established that you share what is most important, values, morals and character, you can use your different characteristics to enhance your relationship. A Jew and a Muslim, for instance, can bond not despite, but because they begin their relationship during the holy month of Ramadan. As Gia tells us, “Bayo and I started dating during Ramadan… We would meet in the evening after sundown during the non-fasting period of Ramadan. Ramadan teaches Muslims how to practice self-discipline, self-control, and empathy for others who are less fortunate… Although I was not observing Ramadan with Bayo, my respect for his practices… taught me these values as well…”
Bayo shares his recollections from that time: “Gia was quite supportive and respectful of my religious beliefs and practices during the entire period.” He adds what will surprise no one who knows anything about Jews’ and Italians’ eating practices,” She sometimes brought additional refreshment to supplement my meals for added nourishment.” By the time Ramadan came to a close, Bayo says, “It felt like we had known each other far longer than a month… Our relationship grew from there… We began to see each other more often, and grew fond of each other… I soon realized that I could trust her with my vulnerabilities as a lonely immigrant trying to find his path and place in the land of the free.”
I recently heard a moving interview with Julie Lythcott-Haims, who talked about her upbringing and her journey growing up in American society, straddling different cultures and identities. Her voice cracking, she summed up what she felt was at the root of many of our challenges today, in this land of the free: “We are suffering from a lack of compassion.” It is in this context, that Gia and Bayo give me great hope, because the strength of their relationship lies in the compassion their faiths taught them, the compassion their families instilled in them, and their shared compassion for others. Let us heed their call, and follow their call, and follow their example.

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