Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
We are two women who for very similar (yet different) reasons are starting off envisioning and planning our wedding without the history of years and years of tradition to tell us what to do. We both have our relationships with the faiths that we grew up in, the ideas of God that we grew up with, and our family and friends, and all of them have loud and insistent voices. Whether we allow those voices that speak in shame and judgment in or not, they are all coming to this party.
I grew up in frum (Orthodox) community my entire life, and a frum Jewish wedding was a right, not a privilege. It was a thing to take for granted, a developmental milestone, a burden, a promise, and a reward that can be given and taken away if you don’t follow the right steps. I needed to start dating for marriage at 18, get married at 19, 20 was already a little on the shelf, and then my 5.5 kids and minivan would follow soon after. No one ever talked about the timeline not working for everyone, and you don’t find out about the “shidduch (matchmaking) crisis” until you’re part of it. Not one person ever suggested that I might be gay, and I was too scared and disconnected to ask that question of myself. So I pursued finding Mr. Right and marriage as if it was my other full-time job and hid my anxiety, shame, self-doubt and resentment.
In many ways, I am grateful that I came out to myself as late as I did. I think that personally I had the tools, support, and emotional maturity to deal with it in a way that I might not have when I was younger. And I came out in a time when things were already beginning to change legally for the LGBTQ community. My first ever Pride Parade was when New York state law legalized gay marriage.
My fiancée’s story is different; she has been out since she was an older adolescent. She has had to deal with homophobia and its limitations on her life in a way I have not and can only try to understand. So, she has never really daydreamed about getting married, because she never thought that she would be able to get married.
Mary converted to Judaism 15 years ago, to an open and inclusive kind of Judaism that I had no experience with and no way to recognize. She has a belief in a Jewish God who is loving and accepting of her, who not only loves her in spite of her queerness but loves her BECAUSE of it. Mary’s Jewish and queer identities are completely intertwined.
I was a voracious reader of trashy romance novels throughout my childhood and frequently imaged a Scottish Warlord wishing me away to his castle where we would live out our days (after our frum Jewish wedding, of course). But when it became clear that the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with was the beautiful, generous, intelligent, and loving Mary Margaret Otts instead of the dashing, kilt-wearing Moshe Chaim Rosenstein… my Orthodox Jewish self, my fear and shame, my internalized homophobia could not fathom a way of bringing my relationship with my religion and my understanding of what God wants for me into marriage with a woman. It has taken me years of being out and going through heartbreak and growth to be in the place that I believe that God wants to be involved in my marriage to Mary. In order to be married in an authentic way, I need both my religious self and my queer self to be there.
So we have decided to honor the truth of our day, for both the miracle it is and the loss it is. We work with our rabbis and our kallah (bride) teacher monthly to create a wedding that speaks our combined and individual truths. We are making it a “Love Party” after an article that we read in Autostraddle where a queer person writes a letter to his family that won’t attend his wedding. We are extending an open invitation to everyone, in every community that we exist in, to come to our Love Party. We are asking that you witness us when many of our family members and friends will not. Mary has four, maybe seven, relatives coming to our wedding. I have four. Many of the friends who have been in my life for a very long time will not come because I am gay and they won’t “condone” a gay wedding. Many of the people I love have not even called or been in touch to congratulate us. For so many of our people, our love, our commitment to each other does not and cannot exist. So we are asking our communities to come and join us. And we are going to celebrate and dance all day long, honoring our miracle.
Some Jewish traditions believe that we break the glass under the chuppah (wedding canopy) because before we are born our soul mates and ourselves are actually one soul. And that before we are born God shatters that soul into two with a mission to try and find each other and reunite. In those moments of being split apart we don’t understand this painful and horrible rending. When we are under the chuppah, we are those two souls reuniting, and we bring to that our lives, our experiences, our pains and our resilience and our choice to be together. So we say mazal tov as we break the glass, because we see the cost of the loss, the compulsion to growth and strength, and the meaning of being reunited. I believe that both parts of me, the Jewish and the queer parts of me, have in their histories and traditions this rending, this breaking apart into pieces and having to create something beautiful out of the breaks.
If you are coming to our wedding, our Love Party, you will see us break two glasses: one to symbolize the Jewish tradition of rupture and repair, and one to symbolize the queer parts of us and our community that has suffered from so much rupture, and which we hope one day will see the grace and gift of repair.
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Pronounced: moe-SHEH, Origin: Hebrew, Moses, whom God chooses to lead the Jews out of Egypt.