I’ve been married at least a dozen times. Each time, the groom has stared into my eyes with a trembling, trusting gaze. “With this ring,” he’d say, “I set you apart unto me as my wife.”
“You got this,” I’d whisper reassuringly. “But look at her — the BRIDE.” He would then turn to the woman he was promising to spend his life with — and not me, the officiating rabbi.
When I prepare couples for their sacred moment under the chuppah, I guide them through every step of the ritual. I help them create an egalitarian wedding contract and consider proper footwear for the customary breaking of the glass. We discuss communication, intimacy, the role Judaism might play in their lives, family, money, and even death. During the ceremony, I lead them in reciting the Hebrew statement of betrothal as they exchange rings.
I was 24 and single when I began rabbinical school. The unspoken message was to get married while we still could. Future colleagues warned us about the difficulty of meeting a partner while carrying the title of “Rabbi.” Was I being told to polish my nails instead of my sermons? What was a smart, ambitious young woman like me — who loved whiskey, puns, and yes, wanted to find intimacy — to do?
It didn’t matter that the first woman rabbi was ordained in this country all the way back in 1972. On dating apps, I’d be asked, “Wait, women can be rabbis? Can you have sex?” What were my chances if guys asked questions like that? Some raved of an unparalleled love of bacon, or wanted to work out their unprocessed grief and guilt. Some couldn’t stop identifying me with the white-bearded rabbi of their youth or worse, their childhood image of God. Some would ghost me, and I’d sit shiva for the relationship that was not to be. Yes, it seemed my title of “Rabbi” was a man repellent.
“Someone will discover you,” a member of my suburban Boston congregation encouraged when I took my first job at 29. My beloved cantor and so many well intentioned congregants would try to set me up with eligible young men. I suppose I embodied the hopes of my flock: a young woman instilled with values through whom the future of the Jewish people could be secured! The truth is, I wanted all of these things, too.
When I moved to Jamaica Plain and a new job, I upped my game and paid for every single dating app I could find. A message appeared from “TzedekNerd.” JusticeNerd? I was intrigued. He’d sent me a respectful, curious message — three months prior. Now that I was a paying customer, the message was revealed. I responded immediately, apologizing for the delay. He thought it was cool that I was a rabbi.
As we were sharing drinks on our first date in Jamaica Plain, the reverberation of white supremacists’ chants rang out in Charlottesville, Virginia, terrorizing the Black and Jewish communities. That Shabbat, my congregation hosted 1,700 people of faith, civic leaders, and concerned neighbors for prayer and solidarity. He participated from the pews and called me the next day.
His name in Hebrew means gift, and he is precisely that. We planned to marry in May 2020. But the pandemic forced us to postpone our vintage vegetarian wedding. As disappointing as it was, we knew we had the makings of a great story to tell one day — perhaps to the offspring of a rabbi and a man who loves her for all that she is.
When we finally stood, a few months later, under our own chuppah at the Loring Greenough House, Jamaica Plain became our own little Garden of Eden. Matan offered words of love and commitment. And I didn’t have to tell him to look at his bride.