It Took 43 Years, But I Finally Followed My Jewish Dad's Advice – Kveller
Skip to Content Skip to Footer


It Took 43 Years, But I Finally Followed My Jewish Dad’s Advice

As the rebellious daughter of a rabbi, it wasn't in the cards for me to marry a Jewish man — until it was.

kveller headers (1200 x 800) (43)

via Canva

Although my father and sister were rabbis, I never fell for men from our tribe. 

As the rebellious younger daughter from a liberal family, I stopped dating Jews after my boyfriend Jonathan voted for Ronald Reagan in our 1980 third grade classroom election. In high school acting class, I fell in love with Carlos, who wore combat boots and a motorcycle jacket and introduced me to punk music and mosh pits. As an undergrad in Madison, Wisconsin, I traded punk guys for egalitarian, vegetarian, humanitarian men with ponytails. 

As a casting director in my 20s, the hippie guys were replaced by a rotating cycle of broke, unemployed actors who often asked me for career advice at 2 a.m. after a night out drinking. While my sister became a rabbi and married one, I was still single and turning 30 when offered a job and corporate move to Los Angeles. 

Then, at 31, I met my Methodist soulmate in the sky. Flying from JFK to Los Angeles on a crowded JetBlue flight, I got up from my seat somewhere over the Midwest to use the lavatory. Standing on line for the bathroom, I turned to the cute guy behind me and said sarcastically, “So many kids on this flight. Where are their parents?” 

“I know,” he laughed. “There’s a playdate in my row.” He looked like a soap opera star – perfect curls, green eyes and dimples. Landing at LAX, I shook my hair, applied lipstick and found him at baggage claim, even though I’d carried on. “How about that flight?” We exchanged business cards and met for a classical music concert and dinner a week later. He was kind and sweet, and best of all, not an actor!

Meeting his conservative parents for the first time at one of their weekly Sunday family barbecues, my new boyfriend casually mentioned his family listened to Rush Limbaugh and told me not to bring up politics or religion, adding, “My sister voted for Clinton in ‘92 and regretted it the rest of her life.” I kept my liberal feminist mouth shut and tried to fit in. Weeks later, I brought a menorah and lit Hanukkah candles at Christmas. They welcomed me with my own red stocking stitched Jen. I joked later to my sister that if I squinted, it said Jew.

After three months of attending Sunday barbecues, sick of watching the men drinking beer from Bill O’Reilly mugs and trashing gay people, I lost my patience. I started ranting — defending gay marriage, a woman’s right to an abortion and Israel’s right to exist. Over burgers later that night, one of his sisters-in-law approached me. “Thank you for speaking up,” she said, then whispered, “Don’t tell anyone, but I’m a Democrat, too.”

He proposed to me on our one-year anniversary of the JetBlue flight. Sharing the news with my parents in New York, they were distracted by the election returns. It was Election Day 2004. Bush was in the lead. When we extended my ring finger to his parents that night in Pasadena, Fox News Network blasted in the background, and his mother chanted: “We won! Bush won!” My inner voice whispered, Don’t do this. Don’t walk down the aisle. I’d cast myself as a Jewess trapped in Lala Land, attending church in blue linen suits and pearls, hiding Easter eggs for his nieces and nephews, and about to plan a wedding my father disapproved of. I pushed my inner voice down, smiling my way through the election returns. 

We hosted a Passover seder for our families to meet six months before our wedding. “Does anyone know what this is?” my father asked, holding up a piece of matzah. He was co-leading the ceremony with my sister.

“I do,” said my fiancee’s 9-year-old niece. “It’s the body of Christ, and the wine is his blood.”

My father was speechless. My sister said gently, “That’s right, Hannah. That is what it means in your religion, but tonight we’re celebrating the Jewish holiday called Passover.” Pivoting, my father said, “Does anyone have any more questions?”

“Yes,” Hannah’s brother, then 11, held up a fork. “Is this a Jewish fork?”

Walking my parents back to their hotel after the seder, my father pulled me aside to tell me how worried he was about his future grandchildren. I argued love is more important, and we’d find a way to raise our kids with both religions. He shot back: “Hitler and Israel will never mean the same thing to a Christian person as it does to us.” 

My father and sister participated in our wedding ceremony, incorporating a few Jewish traditions. My new husband stepped on a glass. We put the shards into a glass mezuzah, promising my father we’d hang the mezuzah on the doorpost of the new historic apartment we bought in Old Town, Pasadena. 

By day, my husband demolished our home, room by room, starting with the kitchen and bathroom. He ordered tiles from Ravenna and a bathtub from Bavaria. A year went by. He never finished the remodel. The economy collapsed, and our political differences turned our marriage into a nightly war zone. The tiles and bathtub never arrived. There were no children. We never hung the mezuzah.

I was told I’d get laid off from my job unless I took a lateral move to work at the New York office; my husband didn’t want to leave his family. I argued that women relocated for their husbands for decades. This was a move to New York, not somewhere remote. Finally, one night, he’d made his final decision. “If you don’t take the job, you’ll resent me the rest of your life,” he said. “And if you make me come with you, I’ll resent you forever.” 

Separated and alone back in New York City, he shipped me a box labeled “Jewish Box.” Inside, I found our ketubah, yarmulkes from our wedding and the mezuzah filled with the shards of glass. My ex claimed bankruptcy. I started to pay off my part of our debt slowly. The divorce papers arrived the day Obama was elected. 

Months later, officially divorced and walking on the beach with my father, he said, “It’s not too late for you to find love again.” Then he smiled: “And if he’s not Jewish, at least make sure he’s a Democrat.” 

Just before turning 40, I had a date with a funny Jewish guy named Andy. Seventeen years older than me and divorced with two grown daughters, friends were worried about the age difference. My mother saw the positive: “You got to skip the oys of parenthood.” 

It took 43 years for me to finally follow my father’s advice and walk down the aisle to marry Andy. My sister officiated under the chuppah. My father finally got his hora. And bonus: I’m a stepmom and bubbe, too.

Skip to Banner / Top Skip to Content