Half-Jewish Groomsman Walks Into a Full Catholic Wedding…

Here’s a story I wrote for my friend Rachel Rosenthal’s amazing blog Bridesmaiding (which you can see here).

When I was 10 or 11, they showed us a movie in school about a little Polish immigrant named Ivan who moved to 1930′s New York when he was 10. The only scene I remember is one where all the other little boys on the playground play a joke on Ivan by giving him a banana (you know the ole’ give the immigrant a banana prank, right?). He’s never seen a banana before and has no idea what to do with it so he just starts biting the banana peel and the other little children laugh at him. Of course Ivan could have easily shot back with “I just survived the holocaust. Do you really think I give a shit about your fruit boomerang?” but Ivan wasn’t that witty and that wasn’t the point of the movie (I think).

This is a story about the time I bit the banana.

One of my dearest and closest friends in the whole wide world is my friend, Becky. We’ve been friends since freshman year of college and I think the reason we became such good friends is because neither one of us had ever met someone like the other one before–Becky was a popular girl on the high school basketball team of her preppy, New England town and I was a sarcastic, neurotic half-Jew who was in the high school drama club of my economically-depressed upstate New York town. She would marvel at my complete lack of understanding of fleece-based clothing and I was fascinated by her inability to get any references to the musical “Oklahoma.”

So when Becky got engaged to her college sweetheart Jesse, I was both honored and terrified to be a member of the wedding party. I was 25 and I had never attended a wedding before and any knowledge I had of weddings usually ended with Ross saying the wrong name, or a lavish musical number with Kermit and Miss Piggy. But hey, weddings happen everyday and I knew there’d be a rehearsal the night before and years of theater had taught me that the key to a performance was the rehearsal. That and reading the script beforehand.

The wedding was on a Saturday and so the wedding party had to attend the rehearsal on Friday night before the big day. This rehearsal consisted of a woman telling us, “Boys, you’re the ushers so you’ll be helping people to their seats. Then, the wedding will start. We’ll do all the wedding stuff and then everyone goes to the trolley out front. Everybody got it? Great.” And with that, we left. I figured, “Hey, that was easy” and went on with my night not realizing that I was mentally planting the seed for a major Staples campaign.

It’s hard to know that you don’t know what you don’t know, and if I knew then what I know now (namely that it was going to be a strict Irish Catholic wedding) I would have asked many, many, many, many questions. But then again I’m sure that Ivan’s parents didn’t have the all-important “banana” talk with him before he got to the playground because who knows that that’s going to come up?

The more we talked about the wedding that night, the more anxious I was becoming and I must have had a good deal of uncertainty on my face because Jesse came over to me and another Jewish groomsmen and said, “Hey guys, don’t sweat it. Just follow the guy in front of you and if you have any questions during the ceremony, just look my way.” Jesse is great like that. He’s the guy that’ll tell you what a nickel defense is in a quiet voice so no one can hear but you. He’s the guy that’ll say it’s ok to wear khakis to a dinner outing when Becky is telling you otherwise. He’s the guy that’ll tell you to peel the banana. But again, if I had known that I didn’t know what I didn’t know…

Luke at his own wedding, with his beautiful bride. Credit: Kate Leigh Photography

Luke at his own wedding, with his beautiful bride. Credit: Kate Leigh Photography

The wedding day arrives and it is indeed a FULL Irish Catholic wedding complete with readings, singings and a full-fledged mass. I followed Jesse’s advice to the letter; standing when the guy next to me stood, head down when the guy next to me did the same, and repeating the words the guy next to me said.

But then came… the Communion.

Now I don’t know much about Catholicism, and I knew even less then, but I did know that as offenses against Catholics go, eating the Communion wafer is in the top 3, somewhere behind Pope jokes and bringing up the whole torturing of infidels during the Spanish Inquisition thing (how did Mel Brooks get away with that?). The problem was that all of the groomsmen and bridesmaids, including the guy next to me, got up when the priest brought out the wine and the wafer. I freaked out. I didn’t know what to do. Thankfully the other Jew was on my right so I asked him, “Do we have to go do this?” and he sensibly replied, “I guess so.” So I got up.

Now I should mention at this point that I am something of an amateur magician–I know 3 card tricks and I had a magic set when I was a kid. Actually, I should mention that I think of myself as an amateur magician and I know a little sleight of hand and in the 5 seconds I have to come up with a plan, I decide that I’m going to take the wafer with my right hand, pass it across my mouth, palm it and place it in my pocket. Clearly this is the most sensible approach to the situation. I turn to the Jew to suggest the same plan and see that he has decided to hang back in the pew. See, he had smartly looked at Jesse and asked him with his eyes if he needed to go, and Jesse had said, “No.” I, of course, went for the banana.

Now in my mind’s eye, here’s what happened: I took the wafer, passed it smoothly across my mouth, gave a swallow with a hint of a David Copperfield-ian smirk and walked casually back to my place at the pew, with none the wiser. In reality, and in full view of the camera taping the wedding which was placed directly beside the priest passing out the wafers I, ashen-faced and sweaty, snatch the wafer from the priest with my right hand, ram it into my rented-tuxedo jacket pocket, take a quick swig of the wine (I had forgotten to plan for the wine!) and shuttle back to my spot at the pew, hoping God and the rest of the wedding completely missed my smooth moves. [I have since watched the footage of the wedding and it was painfully obvious to everyone in the church that I do not have smooth moves.]

The ceremony is only a few minutes longer and with a, “I now pronounce you man and wife” we file out of the church and into the trolley en route to the reception. Becky and Jesse board first so when I get on I run to the back, take the wafer out of my jacket pocket and plead with Becky, “YOU HAVE TO EAT THIS OR I’LL GET IN TROUBLE WITH GOD!” She laughed hysterically and pleasantly swallowed the wafer.

The thing about biting the banana is that it wasn’t that Ivan was dumb and it certainly wasn’t that he was confused. He just didn’t know that he didn’t know what he didn’t know. He tried and failed, and the lesson we were supposed to learn was not to laugh at him for being different and we all have a Coke. I learned that every once in a while you’re gonna try to bite the banana, so try not to do it in front of God, a video camera or 150 Catholics. And if you do bite the banana, make sure you’ve got friends who love you nearby to peel it for you. Who then laugh at you.

Photo Credit: Kate Leigh Photography

Reprinted with permission.