(JTA) — Reuben Meltzer had to strike a hard bargain for his wife.
At nearly $1,000, her family’s initial asking price was too much. He and Thy Vy’s family finally agreed: $200 and eight pushups apiece from Reuben, his parents, two brothers, two nephews and the best friend who had introduced the couple.
The haggling was part of the traditional Vietnamese wedding celebration that Reuben, 29, and Thy, 35, held this summer in Melbourne, Australia. It followed their traditional Jewish wedding, which took place in June in Andover, N.J.
That the couple had wedding celebrations on two continents doesn’t seem surprising given their background: Thy’s family had moved to Australia from Vietnam when she was 10 years old; Reuben grew up in New Jersey.
The two met in Japan and formed a friendship that eventually grew into romantic love. Thy, who works in corporate banking, had been teaching English in Japan in 2008 when Reuben, a filmmaker, went to visit his best friend, Jonah Kruvant, who was teaching with Thy.
She visited the United States a couple of times, and by January 2011, the couple was in a long-distance relationship. That autumn, he joined her in Melbourne. Judaism was “something we discussed early in our relationship,” Reuben says. “I told her I wanted to raise a Jewish family.”
Thy began studying with a Conservative rabbi in Melbourne in 2011, and completed her conversion in October 2012, just prior to the couple’s engagement. Although her mother had become a Buddhist, Thy didn’t embrace any religion, her husband says. “The decision to convert was easy because through the man I love I came to embrace the religion,” she says.
Given that few of her friends and family could come to the New Jersey wedding, “naturally we wanted to have a small Vietnamese wedding for my family and friends in Australia,” she says.
Reuben doesn’t consider that celebration a religious one but rather a custom that involves respect for the couple’s ancestors. They wore traditional Vietnamese clothing: for Thy, a red dress called an ao dai, with red symbolizing prosperity and luck; for Reuben, slacks with a long flowing blue top with red emblems. The shirt’s blue pattern was symbolic of “coins to bring wealth into the marriage,” Reuben says.
The couple lives next door to Thy’s mother and the bride went to her mother’s house the morning of the celebration. Reuben, his brother, niece and nephew, meanwhile, carrying baskets and tins containing such gifts as tea, fruit, wine and incense, walked around the block before entering Thy’s mother’s home.
Once he and Thy’s family finished negotiations for the bride, the families went to a “prayer room,” where a shrine had been set up with fruit to honor the couple’s ancestors. The mothers of the bride and groom “lit a candle together to pay respect to the ancestors,” while the bride and groom lit incense, Reuben says.
Next was a tea ceremony, where Jonah served each family member from oldest to youngest, who then offered a gift and blessing to the couple. Reuben’s youngest brother, 13-year-old Uri, offered a surprise blessing.
“I think of you as two pieces of the same puzzle,” Uri told the couple. “ You’re completely different but fit together perfectly.”
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