I got married June 30 at the Chabad Residential Treatment Center.
Yes, you read that correctly. I didn’t get married at the Four Seasons but at a drug and alcohol rehab facility on the corner of Olympic and Hauser boulevards. It was the most un-orthodox Orthodox Jewish wedding a girl could have.
Aside from the fact that it took place at a rehab, the attendees included the following: Orthodox Jews, gay men, transsexuals, sober folks, residents of the rehab and people who don’t fit into any of those categories.
Who would have guessed that this would have proved the means to reconnecting me and my husband with his estranged family?
You see, my husband and I were two former stray dogs who ran loose on the proverbial highway of life. We’re both recovering addicts — I have eight years and my husband has 10 years clean and sober. The reason we decided to get married at the treatment center was because that is where my husband was for the first two years of his sobriety, and we wanted to give back to a place that had given so much to him.
We had such a vast array of guests because we’re both underdogs and understand the misunderstood. We see the beauty in the abnormal. But mostly, we believe in second chances, and we were fortunate enough to get them.
Both of our lives had been burned to the ground before we met. I was a drug addict in an unhappy marriage to a man who hadn’t touched me in more than six years, had just been fired from my job, was homeless and sleeping in my car. My now-husband had gotten into some serious trouble with the law and got a nudge from the judge to get his life back on track. He entered the Chabad treatment center in 2003 suffering from multiple addictions. We met after he heard me speak at an AA meeting.
The severely destructive paths that we were on all but decimated our relationships with our families. Unfortunately, he caused a lot of shame to his family through his behavior while drinking and using — he was arrested and had to be bailed out of jail by his parents — and they became estranged.
His brother and sister couldn’t bear witness to his unraveling, so they cut him out of their lives. His parents were in shock, so they kept their distance, not really knowing what to do. Then there was my family, who was not supportive of my choice of partner because of his troubled past as well as my horrendously embarrassing first marriage to a questionably gay man.
What finally swayed my family is meeting my love for the first time. They saw what a transformed, wonderful and good man he is. He has this calm inner light that shines brilliantly. I believe that light is God-consciousness.
I found this quote by Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach recently, and I believe it defines who my husband is:
“Every Jew must firmly believe that inside him there resides a pure soul. Regardless of what his situation may be, even if has strayed from the right path, the inner essence of his soul — which is a portion of God — remains pure and unsullied. … From this tiny center of the soul that has not been tainted by evil, the transgressor derives the strength to do teshuvah (repentance), make amends for his failings, and soar to the loftiest spiritual heights.”
My husband has soared to his highest self by working a stellar recovery program for 10-plus years now, repenting and redeeming himself. Most importantly, he has a strong connection to his higher power.
For years, my love would write letters to his brother and sister, trying to make amends. Those letters went unanswered for 10 years. When we got engaged, he decided the time was right to try again for reconciliation. Much to his and my surprise, both his brother and sister responded to his calls and e-mails. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
We had no expectation that they would attend the wedding, but at the last minute they showed. It was a miracle — my husband’s entire family came to our wedding. His mother, father, sister, brother and cousins all flew to Los Angeles from back East.
The door to forgiveness was open, and they all walked through. Seeing my husband’s brother — a man who previously said he would never speak to him again — joyously dancing the hora in front of us made me cry for days.
His sister was so grateful that the wedding gave her family a chance to reunite. I kept looking over at my mother-in-law, who sat with her entire family surrounding her, in tears. She never thought this day would come. It was a special day and what seemed like the hottest day of the year. The love radiated as strongly as the sun.
Everyone who attended the ceremony commented on how intense it was because it was healing on so many levels. My husband’s family relationships are finally mending. It goes to show you: Never give up hope. Miracles happen. It is only when you open your heart that you will be able to reach out and begin to build a bridge of reconciliation.
Mara Shapshay is a blogger, writer, performer and stand-up comedian.