Sixteen years ago, when I married my husband, I did not give much thought to whether he was Askenazi or Sefardi. Having grown up in what was then a small close-knit Jewish community, it held little importance; my concerns were focused around whether or not my bashert (intended) was Jewish according to halacha, someone who was upstanding in both ideals and actions, and a man solidly committed to a Torah lifestyle.
In my hometown girls married boys from various ethnic backgrounds, many of who were born and even raised for most of their lives in foreign countries. So marrying a man of Moroccan heritage, who was actually born and raised in Brooklyn, did not seem the least bit unusual to me. In fact I felt that whatever cultural differences we had would add some flavor to our family and great new recipes to my file.
For all intents and purposes there was not much difference in our lifestyles. Our goals and dreams complimented one another. My husband was educated in typical main stream Ashkenazi yeshivot and attended popular yeshiva summer camps, while growing up in what was a primarily Ashkenazi community at that time.
Over the course of raising our family together I have made some changes that have helped me to feel more Sephardic – davening a bit differently, giving up my wig (and wearing other types of headcoverings) and cooking more traditional Sephardic foods for my family. Emotionally, for the females that find themselves in this same position, it may take some time to get used to no longer observing religious rituals she grew up with, and instead running her home according to the religious traditions of her husband.
For most families this is where the story might end. Two people from different backgrounds marry, and according to Jewish law follow the minhagim or customs, of the husband’s family. In fact there are even some mitzvot that are performed differently for Ashkenazim and Sefardim, but over time everyone adjusts. Keep in mind, that although religious customs may be observed paternally, there is so much more that goes into raising a family that most couples may choose to incorporate non-religious based traditions from both families.
For the blended family things can be a bit more complicated. What about the children from the wife’s first marriage when there is a “mixed” Sefardic/Ashkenaz second marriage? My children for instance were born Ashkenazi, as both my ex-husband and I are of European decent. His family may have had slightly different family rituals than mine, but the minhagim and halachot were the same for both.
After I married my second husband I now found myself following Sefardic laws and customs, but what about my children from my first marriage? Who do you even ask direction from: an Ashkenazi rabbi or a Sefardic one? Were we obligated to run our home and family honoring two sets of customs? I was concerned that it would hinder my plans to create one cohesive family unit for my blended family.
Fortunately the rabbeim we sought counsel from, both Sefardic and Ashekenaz, understood our concerns and felt that under our personal circumstances, where my children’s biological father had very limited interaction with the children and no participation in their upbringing and education, my children should be raised and educated in accordance with Sephardic customs.
As our blended family grew, my husband and I raised our motley crew according to Sephardic heritage, until one day my daughter from my first marriage met and married a nice Ashkenazi boy. As the custom goes, she now runs her home based on the customs of her husband’s family; she went back to her birth heritage. My husband and I gave little thought to this fact and were thrilled that the boy she was marrying was a ben Torah and raised in a loving home with wonderful parents.
As most of you can attest, by and large the tradition that prominently stands as being polar opposites between the two heritages is the custom of naming a baby. While Sefardic Jews name after the living – as a way of blessing for a long and healthy life – Ashkenazi Jews have the custom of naming after a relative who has passed away as a means of keeping the name and memory alive, and to honor the deceased.