55 Years and Counting
We knew there would be trouble right from the start when the rabbi said he would not perform our marriage on campus because the Columbia University Chapel has "Christian windows."
But we did not anticipate that during the wedding my mother, a recent convert to Roman Catholicism, would stand outside the chapel crying and try to keep people from entering because, she explained, the chapel "was not consecrated." (When the chapel was built, the president of the University refused to consecrate it for any one denomination so it could be used by all. So much for that.)
This is not to say we weren't expecting some drama from my mother, who tried to persuade renowned theologian Reinhold Niebuhr to talk us out of the marriage. (He blessed us instead.) When my engagement to a Jew had been announced, I received a telegram from her accusing me of hammering the nails into Christ's feet. Both of us were working and going to school full time and hadn't realized that the announcement was to be published on Good Friday.
I had been an Episcopalian all my life and Don's family practiced mainly on the high holy days. Despite the emotions swirling around us, we were determined to be civilized about this. I could not consult with the Protestant chaplain, the Rev. James Pike, because he was off giving speeches somewhere. The rabbi was out, so we turned to by a licensed leader of the New York Society for Ethical Culture. We explained the situation and he agreed to perform the ceremony.
Wedding day. Where was the bridegroom? It turns out he was busy. Right before the wedding his father noticed a cross sitting on the altar and asked him to remove it "for the sake of the family here". Don did as he was told and put it on the floor behind the altar. An elderly sexton appeared, limped over, picked up the cross and put it back on the altar. Don's father repeated his request, so Don complied again, and once again the old sexton put it back up on the altar. The sexton won. The cross stayed.
It went well until the part where the congregation was asked if there was any objection to this wedding. Beads of sweat rolled down the face of the officiant but he forged ahead. We braced ourselves for my mother's appearance, but mercifully, it did not come. With the final pronouncement, I was so relieved that this first big hurdle in our marriage had been vaulted, I cried all the way down the aisle.
My mother did relent long enough to attend the reception, but in the years that followed she voiced her disapproval so often and so vehemently that we suspended all but urgent contact. (She sent mail to me through the neighbors, convinced my husband was censoring her letters.) In fact it wasn't until the first grandchild was born seven years later that her objections to our marriage dissolved.
For the past 55 years, we have mingled traditions, food and holidays. Three sons were raised as Episcopalians with pride in their Hebrew blood. I had told Don we could raise them in the Jewish faith if he would take them to synagogue regularly. There wasn't one in a 50-mile radius of our new Southern Maryland home, so he declined and I got to take them to Sunday school. He attended the important church milestones with us, and he has willingly contributed his editing and publication skills to our churches. The rector of my parish today calls him "St. Donald."
And my mother - during the last two or three years of her life - could not stop saying over and over, "I'm sorry." In our home the word Christian is also spelled with a small c.
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