On Being Queer at a Straight Wedding

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Joy by Caroline Koppel for On Being Queer at a Straight Wedding by Emily Mandelberg

It was a warm September day and my grandparents’ backyard had been completely transformed into a temporary wedding venue for my uncle to get married, with only 12 people watching. Obviously, the wedding happening during COVID wasn’t ideal for anyone, but everyone and everything still looked beautiful, and most of all, we were happy.

Yet, there was still something on my mind. I sat quietly in my chair, grasping the paper with the wedding blessings on them. My watery eyes glued to the words, as if they were stuck and wanted to look away, but couldn’t. Everything around me seemed to go quiet, and all I could hear was the words on the paper repeating over and over in my brain like a broken record. Man, woman, bride, groom, create life together, bond between a MAN and WOMAN. As much as I tried to ignore it and enjoy the ceremony, those words I saw on the prayers wouldn’t escape my mind. I clutched my chest, feeling as if I was going to throw up. I had known ever since I realized I liked girls that my wedding and family and future, in general, wouldn’t be the same as I had imagined it when I was little, expecting the perfect man would eventually make me believe in love just as my favorite princesses on TV did. But I don’t think it was until this moment that I truly realized it. I looked at my family around me. I always assumed they would all come to my wedding. But what if somehow they didn’t because mine would look so…different?

Every Passover we talk about the four children, each of whom ask different questions at the seder. We emphasize the importance of asking questions and of being curious. So, I decided to do exactly that. After the ceremony, when everyone was getting their refreshments, I went over to the rabbi. I made small talk with him for a couple minutes, thanking him for doing the ceremony. Then, I asked. I told him how I noticed how all of the prayers talked about specifically a bond between a man and a woman, and asked him if a Jewish wedding would still work if it were a woman and another woman instead? I breathed a heavy sigh as he promptly told me how it indeed was absolutely okay and that the language is simply changed around. I thanked him and went back to my family.

I don’t think the rabbi had really told me anything I didn’t already know or anything that influential or earth-shattering, but to me, it meant the world. Knowing that there was still a place for me in my tradition felt like a warm hug that wrapped tight around me and would never let go.

I often think about the last of the four children, the one who doesn’t know enough to ask a question. The Talmud teaches us that we are to answer for him and be the voice that he doesn’t have. This often reminds me of all of the children who are struggling with their sexual orientation and identity, but yet are too scared or don’t know enough to reach out for help or ask questions. I also think of the children for whom it is dangerous to ask or say anything about their queer identity. I feel not only grateful that I got an answer to my question, but hope that I too can speak for these kids, just as we are taught to speak for the fourth child. I hope that they too can know how they are welcome into their tradition, just as each and every one of our ancestors have been. How they too will be welcomed under the chuppah one day if they so choose, and hope that they gain the knowledge to be able to ask their question. After all, the rabbis always teach Jews to question everything, so those words on the prayer pages will include them, too.

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