When I was a little girl, I would fantasize about my wedding day and its over the top grandiosity. My groom was a tall Italian man that came from a large Catholic family. We would marry in the Vatican at St. Peter’s Basilica and the Pope himself would preside over the wedding ceremony. During the full Catholic mass, we would be serenaded by the boys choir, nuns from the convent and cathedral bells. Fast forward 30 years to my actual wedding day, and I find myself in a synagogue with an Orthodox Rabbi and blue yarmulkes everywhere.
I am a first generation Dominican-American and Jewish convert. I like to refer to myself as “Jewminican.” It came as no surprise to my Dominican Catholic family when I expressed my desire to convert to Judaism. As a child, I was encouraged to explore and to learn about different cultures and unique customs and traditions. My mother infused our home with a sense of acceptance and understanding. Even though I choose to convert from Catholicism to Judaism long before I met my husband, the overwhelming assumption by many is that I had to convert to Judaism to marry. Interestingly enough, The Talmud, which is a central text of Judaism and consists primarily of discussions and commentary on Jewish history, law, customs, and culture, actually forbids converting for love. The Talmud reasons that conversion must not be undertaken for the sake of any personal advantage or reward, but strictly out of belief in the truth of Judaism.
As my wedding day approached, I found myself challenged as to how I would bridge the cultural chasm between my telenovela Latino family and my newly adopted Jewish family. The long-standing Catholic wedding traditions that I daydreamt about as a little girl would now be replaced with Orthodox Jewish wedding traditions. Aside from a white wedding gown and some rings, the differences were massive. I was lost and it was scary!
Instead of the traditional rehearsal dinner on the day before the wedding, Jewish custom calls for the bride and groom not to see each other for one week preceding the wedding, thereby heightening the anticipation and the excitement of the wedding day. Before the start of the wedding ceremony, customarily, the bride and groom are in separate rooms as their wedding festivities begin, this is called the Kabbalat Panim. Jewish tradition likens the couple to a queen and king. The groom celebrates with the male guests, and the bride is seated on a throne or regal chair, surrounded by the female guests, with her mother and the mother of the groom immediately on either side. The men encircle the groom and, while singing and dancing, escort him to his bride for the Bedeken.
The Bedeken is the veiling ceremony, during which the groom places the veil over his bride just before the marriage rites. This ceremony is often considered one of the most moving elements of a traditional Jewish wedding. If the bride and groom have maintained the custom of seclusion before their wedding, this will be the first time they have seen each other in seven days. The groom approaches his bride and lowers the veil over her face and recites a blessing over her.
The ceremony is based on the Biblical story in which Jacob did not see his bride’s face beforehand and was tricked into marrying the wrong sister. The Badeken is a remarkable part of the day; it signifies the beginning of the ceremony, brings both families together, and imparts blessings upon the bride and groom before they walk to the Chuppah to get married. After the groom places the ring on the bride’s finger, the Ketubah is read aloud. The Ketubah is the marriage contract which delineates the husband’s obligations to his wife, showing that marriage is more than a physical-spiritual union, it is also a legal and moral commitment.
But nothing screams “Jewish wedding” more than the sound of breaking glass. There are varying opinions on what the breaking of the glass symbolizes. To some, it’s a symbol of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, a representation of the fragility of human relationships, and a reminder that marriage changes the lives of individuals forever. Either way, it’s the official signal to shout, “Mazel Tov!” and start partying!
It was a privilege to bring together my Dominican and Jewish family and friends to celebrate a Jewminican love story. Hardly ever do you see a Rabbi salsa dancing and Dominicans eating matzah. Seldom are we afforded the special opportunity to enrich people with new cultural and religious experiences, and in return have those same people welcome those experiences with warmth, intrigue, and joy.