EXETER, NH. Rabbi Lev Baesh has performed hundreds of weddings during his career averaging between 20 and 30 ceremonies every year. Thirteen years ago, he began officiating at interfaith wedding ceremonies and has since traveled the world marrying people of different religions including Hindu and Jewish.
He currently lives with his partner in Exeter and works for Interfaith Family, a Web-based organization that supports interfaith families that want to connect to Judaism in some way.
An INDIA New England reporter interviewed Rabbi Baesh, 45, on Valentine's Day.
How many Hindu-Jewish weddings have you conducted?
There are enough that I'm not the only one who does them. I probably had five Hindu-Jewish weddings in the last three years in the Boston area. I just did a wedding for a Sikh-Jewish couple. They moved to Hong Kong, I think, the next day.
The first one I did was in New York Huntington, Long Island. There is a big Hindu community there. That wedding was filmed by a Japanese film crew that was investigating interfaith marriages That was about eight years ago. That was a huge wedding, more than 600 people [came]. ... They did the whole Hindu ceremony and the Jewish ceremony and the party. The groom rode around the hotel on a horse. In India, the groom would go on a horse in full dress to the bride's house. They had jugglers, acrobats, dancers and musicians. [For the Hindu part of the ceremony], the bride wore a sari and [was] painted with henna. He was wearing red. While we were eating between ceremonies, she put on a white wedding dress and he put on a tuxedo. She was still covered in henna because it doesn't wash off right away. She was really beautiful because her hands, feet and face were painted with designs.
Which one was Hindu?
The bride was Jewish. It is usually [this way]. I've always had a Jewish bride. The grooms tend to do what the brides want. The grooms tend to give over to the brides. [A Jewish wedding ceremony where the groom is Jewish], that's pretty rare.
Rabbi Baesh explained later in the interview that all Jewish-Hindu ceremonies he officiated at were really Jewish weddings "with some recognition of Hindu culture, but not Hindu religion necessarily."
Are Hindu-Jewish weddings a growing trend?
I'm getting more calls for Hindu-Jewish weddings. I'm also referring couples to other rabbis when I'm booked. I think this is true for all cultures. This generation is more comfortable mixing cultures than my generation. [There are] many more black-Jewish [weddings], Israelis [marrying] Russians, Russian Jews marrying Christians. [This is especially true] in the Boston area because of MIT and Harvard. There are weddings between people who both came from different countries, they are both first generation Americans. They meet in college or graduate school.
Do they tend to be immigrants or the children of immigrants?
[The Hindu people I've married] were all first generation Americans. Their parents were immigrants.
When I did the really big Jewish wedding, everyone from the Hindu side of the family [didn't come to the Hindu ceremony] because they knew it would be really long but during the Jewish portion ... the seats were full, and people were standing in the isles.
It was the first time I saw a Hindu wedding, [and when I] watched it, I realized how similar our traditions are. The structure they build for the wedding [a mandap] is really a huppah, except it's decorated differently. It's a four-poled structure that's open on four sides. [Also in Hindu weddings], the bride and the groom walk around the fire that they throw rice into seven times. ... In Jewish weddings, the bride traditionally walks around the groom seven times. In the Jewish ceremony, it's about transferring the woman from the father to the husband. The number seven in Biblical tradition is a whole number, like the number ten is a complete number in Western culture. [Number seven is a whole number in Judaism because the week was important since they used a lunar calendar and] because the world was created in six days and the Sabbath.
What was the Sikh-Jewish wedding like?
The Sikh wedding was really beautiful. I asked them if there is a family fabric to use as the covering of the huppah. His whole family dressed in traditional Sikh clothing, everyone came from England for the wedding. It was really beautiful. [It was] about a month ago at an art studio in downtown Boston.
Have you had any Jewish-Muslim weddings?
I've had five or six Muslim-Jewish weddings, but only one where the groom was a practicing Muslim. The groom was from Mali and they met in the Peace Corps. The fabric on the huppah was a Mali cloth and the wedding cake was decorated in Mali pattern.
Have any of the couples you married gotten divorced?
I only know of one couple that got divorced. I'm pretty good about helping couples who are trying to connect. If couples look like they're already having troubles [when] they are coming to meet with me, I'll point that out. I say that I don't think I can officiate at [their wedding]. A couple of times I've turned people away. ... Statistically, [the divorce rate among interfaith couples] is the same as for everyone else. Forty to 60 percent get divorced.
Do any Hindu-Jewish weddings stand out?
I did a wedding for a Hindu-Jewish couple at the aquarium. I think they love the aquarium. They got to go in and look at the penguins. [That was] five or six years ago. ... It was a beautiful, interesting place to do a wedding. The ceremony and the dinner were outside under the tent. [But they could go in and look around.]
Do they have any water snakes there?
I don't know. I was pretty much paying attention to the people and the penguins.