An excerpt from This Jewish Life by Debra Darvick
The Story of Daniel Shapiro
There is a tale from the Baal Shem Tov that makes me smile every time I think about it. The story resonates for me in a very personal way because it describes how Greg and I have felt about each other from the moment we met. The Baal Shem Tov tells us: “From every human being there rises a light that reaches straight to heaven. And when two souls destined to be together find each other, their streams of light flow together and a single brighter light goes forth from their united being.”
When I began to come to terms with being gay, the hardest thing for me to reconcile was the assumption that my homosexuality would prevent me from ever having the kind of Jewish life that my parents and all our friends had—the kind of life I grew up with. It was a devastating thought. I was raised in a committed, loving and close Jewish family in Montreal. I attended day school until seventh grade and was active in my synagogue all through high school. But ultimately there came a time when I could no longer deny that I was gay—and I realized being gay did not preclude me from leading a fulfilling Jewish life.
Greg and I met on a blind date. As soon as he opened the door to my knock, we felt an instant connection to each other. We spent three hours over dinner talking, mentally ticking off all the similarities in our lives—our trips to Israel as teens, fluency in Hebrew (a plus on both of our lists), nurturing family relationships, lawyer fathers. We both love kids and had wanted to have them but dismissed it as ever becoming a reality. Talking with Greg, I began to wonder if having a family might actually be possible. Driving home from that first dinner, Greg said, “So tell me, what is it that you’re looking for?” I was excited that he was asking, even though this was only our first date. His question made it clear that he wasn’t looking for a short-term, casual fling any more than I was. “I am looking for the love of my life, a partner to spend my life with,” I told him. I called my sister the next day and told her that I had found him.
In time, Greg and I bought a house together. Many people interpreted this move as our commitment to the relationship. But our commitment to each other wasn’t based on some material purchase. True, the house was a substantial joint expenditure, but it was not a statement of lifelong devotion. For that we wanted a wedding—a Jewish wedding. We wanted to make not a political statement but a statement of our love for each other and our joy in having found each other. We began to search for a rabbi who would agree to perform the ceremony.
We didn’t know what we wanted the ceremony to look like, but we knew we wanted it to be solidly based on traditional Jewish rituals. I imagine saying “traditional ceremony” and “two grooms” in the same breath sounds like an oxymoron. For us, a wedding celebration was the natural next step in our relationship, and since we both have strong Jewish identities, we knew from the start that the ceremony would be Jewish.
We met with five rabbis with whom we had interesting and insightful conversations about marriage. But somehow we did not feel the connection we were looking for. When we met Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh, something clicked. She had such a sense of energy and excitement about working with us. Although she’d never performed a same-sex ceremony, she was eager to explore the possibilities. As the potential officiant at our wedding, she was more concerned that both of us were Jewish than that we were two gay men. Had one of us not been Jewish, she would have refused to officiate. I was glad that she held consistent standards for her congregants, straight or gay. As such, we knew our wish for a Jewish ceremony would be possible.
Rabbi Missaghieh met with us several times in advance of the ceremony to study the Orthodox rabbis’ wedding manual. Greg and I wanted to understand the intentions of each prayer and ritual to better choose which would make sense for us to incorporate into our ceremony. We considered variations of the traditional wording of the vow for the exchanging of rings and thought about substituting the phrase “in the tradition of Moses” for “according to the laws of Moses.” In the end, we decided to replace the reference to Mosaic law with a selection from the Second Book of Samuel in which David speaks of his love for Jonathan. Some gay activists read a homosexual union into their friendship. We have no way of knowing what the nature of their friendship was. Taken at face value, theirs is a story of incredible and abiding loyalty. That was enough for us. Instead of chatan and chatan, groom and groom, we chose the phrase reim ha-ahuvim, or loving partners, which in my opinion specified quite distinctly what Greg and I are to each other.
Greg and I also wanted to involve the children who would be at the wedding. Between our siblings’ children and those of our friends, there would be nearly a dozen kids there. We decided that as part of the ceremony we would invite all the children to participate in a seed planting. We have cedar boxes edging the perimeter of our deck and decided to give the children little packets of grape seeds to plant. The fruit of the vine is a symbol of great gladness in Judaism, and we wanted the children to know that as the grapevines grew over the trellis that makes up our sukkah, we would always have a reminder of their special place in our lives.
The day of our wedding was California perfect—sunny, warm, the sky a cloudless blue canopy. Our actual chuppah was a surprise gift designed and made by some friends of ours. They had taken rose petals and olive leaves and scattered them loosely between two layers of sheer, silvery fabric that were then stitched together to form our wedding canopy. The four poles holding our chuppah had been coated in silvery glitter and then encircled with eucalyptus leaves. Visually and aromatically, it was quite something. Each of our siblings held one of the four poles. As Greg and I stood beneath the chuppah, we looked into each other’s eyes. I could see my thoughts reflected in his face, that the thing we both assumed was the most unattainable dream we could have ever hoped for—committing to our soul’s mate in a Jewish ceremony surrounded by friends and loved ones—was happening.
“With you I make this covenant for I love you as my soul. Journey with me in peace and the Holy One shall be with you and with me.” Saying those words from the Second Book of Samuel together with Greg was the most powerful experience of my life. It fulfilled all my hopes and more. By finding Greg, the best parts of me were strengthened and made brighter. After the wedding, a friend came up and said that our ceremony had redefined her view of marriage. Again and again we heard from our guests that they could actually feel the energy of our love for each other beneath the chuppah. The Baal Shem Tov spoke the truth.
We know people came to our wedding with some uncertainty. It’s hard not to have anxieties about things that are unfamiliar to us, that are new and outside the routines of our daily lives. Greg and I, by creating the ceremony we did, by loving each other as we do and sharing it with those we care most about, were able to open up true possibilities of understanding where none existed before. Our wedding elevated our relationship with every person there to a new level of closeness and understanding. The ceremony wasn’t about making a gay statement; it was about love.
Greg is the partner of my soul. The divine energy surrounding our love is something that exists beyond ourselves. We are simply the vessels, fortunate to have found each other in this life.
This story is a section from my book, This Jewish Life. The book contains more personal stories like this one. Fifty-four voices enable readers to experience a calendar’s worth of Judaism’s strengths — community, healing, transformation of the human spirit, and the influence of the Divine. This Jewish Life is a year in the life of a contemporary Jew told by a variety of individuals.
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