Memorable moments from my mishmash mixed marriage

Ours is a mixed marriage, the type rabbis and many mamas decry. We are admittedly not two of a kind. He is the son of devout Catholics. I am the daughter of ultra-Reform Jews who mostly remember religion when it comes to weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals.

And that’s not where the mishmash mix ends. He grew up in small-town Reno, Nevada. I grew up in sophisticated New York City and glitzy Las Vegas.

He shopped at REI. I was a regular at Bloomingdale’s and considered the yearly arrival of the Neiman Marcus holiday catalog a blessed event.

He wore cowboy boots — and not the fancy Tony Lama kind, but real sh**kicker work boots. I wore high-heeled, spiky Salvatore Ferragamos.

We married at my brother’s home. A few days before the wedding, the rabbi came to the house to review our vows and get the lay of the land.

“Rabbi, please tell Jon he can’t wear cowboy boots to our wedding,” I pleaded.

My brother, who was passing by in the hall, stopped dead in his tracks. “We can’t?” he asked.

I turned to the rabbi, seeking divine intervention. Instead I got: “We can’t?”

And so, it was ordained. The groom, the brother and the rabbi all wore cowboy boots with their tuxedos to my wedding. Yes, it was a mixed wedding right from the start.

Even our honeymoon was a mixture of styles. Part 1 — planned by the plaid, flannel-wearing outdoorsy husband-to-be — was at Yosemite National Park.

“You’re taking our sister camping?” asked my three brothers incredulously.

“No,” Jon patiently explained to each of them. “I’m taking her to the historic Ahwahnee Hotel. It’s elegant, with fine dining and good wine. Presidents. Queens have stayed there. I promise. She’ll love it.”

Jon was right, but leaving nothing to chance, I had planned the second week of our honeymoon — a stay in New York City at, where else, the Plaza Hotel, back when it was still in its glory days. We saw Broadway shows, ate deli and museum-hopped till we dropped.

Married life began. Culinary tastes were the next exotic frontier to cross. But for roasted duck, bacon and pork shumai, my new spouse was a vegetarian with a much-used pasta maker. I was — and am — a card-carrying carnivore who didn’t know how to cook. Like all good Jewish girls, the only thing I knew how to make for dinner was reservations.

As a gift, my devoted presented me with four books. The first three were cookbooks, including “The Enchanted Broccoli Forest” by Mollie Katzen. I was, to put it mildly, less than enchanted.

“Why cookbooks?” I demanded.

“I thought it would be fun to cook together,” he replied sweetly.

Happily, the fourth book was poetry, and the romance continued. Happily, Jon never gave me another cookbook.

For many mixed marriages, the children’s religious upbringing is a battleground, but not for us. Early on, we decided the children would, as tradition deemed, be raised as Jews. Their names, as tradition deemed, would honor family members who had passed. Our children even attended a Jewish day school we helped found — a school Jon worked hard to help launch and support during its early difficult days.

Holidays were likewise easy. My family always had a Christmas tree and a menorah. So there was no December tug-of-war. In the spring, we hid the afikomen and my best girlfriend delivered Easter baskets so my children would not be deprived of Peeps and other treats.

The only regret of my 32-year marriage? I don’t have a ketubah, the marriage contract binding traditional Jews.

Our hippy-dippy, cowboy-boots-wearing rabbi adored my husband and was delighted to marry us, but the one thing he would not do — without Jon undergoing a detailed course of study and conversion — was give us a ketubah.

Years before our marriage, I had discovered my grandparents’ and my parents’ ketubahs, bent, folded and yellowed amid a stack of family documents. Dated 1916, my grandparents’ was written entirely in Hebrew. Written less than two decades later, my parents’ was in both Hebrew and English.

Looking at those documents, I had two thoughts. First, I marveled at how quickly the pace of assimilation, the demand “to be an American,” had altered that traditional contract, prompting what at the time must have been the shocking inclusion of the English language.

My second thought was not sociological, but sentimental. I thought how lovely it would be to one day frame and display those two familial papers alongside a third — my own ketubah.

But that was not to be.

And, of course, my mixed marriage more than an English-Hebrew ketubah marks an even bigger shift away from tradition. Yet, after 32 years together, I celebrate both my Jewish identity and my mishmash marriage.

Karen Galatz
Karen Galatz

Karen Galatz is the author of Muddling through Middle Age, a weekly humor blog. An award-winning journalist, her nonfiction and fiction essays and stories have been featured in multiple publications. She lives in Berkeley and can be reached at karen@muddling.me.