'When you meet the right person you really don't see the religion': Jewish man, Muslim woman happily married
Wedding was 'culturally' Jewish, but with Bollywood dancers to honour the bride's background
His mother wanted him to marry a nice Jewish girl. Her mother didn't talk to her for months, then kept offering up dates with Muslim men within days of the wedding.
But their interfaith marriage works.
"I never thought I would, but when you meet the right person you really don't see the religion, the colour, you just marry that person," Shaaz Jusko Friedman told CBC Calgary.
"We really didn't do it intentionally," she said, remembering her first encounter with Jarred Jusko Friedman about three years ago.
Shaaz is Muslim. Jarred is Jewish.
"We were going out for lunch and he forgot his wallet, so I volunteered to pay for his lunch. He said 'OK, I will take you out for lunch again.'"
They worked together at the City of Chestermere, about 20 kilometres east of Calgary.
He was a city planner. She was working in the same department while securing accreditation to become a pharmacist in Canada, after arriving from India.
"We liked each other's company, but still, at that time, we were not dating each other. I was not trying to impress him, I was just being myself."
Jarred says growing up in mostly Jewish communities in Toronto and Montreal, the idea of dating someone outside of his faith didn't occur to him until he moved to Calgary.
"Why was I thinking that? Who am I trying to make happy?" he asked himself.
"If I marry somebody who is Jewish, is that making other people happy? I was limiting myself to meeting the right person, and I did meet her when I opened myself up. Ultimately I am happier now than I was before when I was not with her."
Shaaz had a different experience growing up as Shaaz Nazan in Hyderabad, India.
"I never grew up with any Jewish person in India. I didn't even know that we had Jewish people in India," she explained.
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A few months after the first meeting, Jarred was visiting his family in Toronto, which usually involved his mother trying to set him up with a nice Jewish girl.
That's when he realized Shaaz meant more to him than being just a friend.
Shaaz says this prompted some very specific questions that came out of left field.
"He was like, 'Would you be open to marrying somebody who is not a Muslim?' I didn't know he was talking about himself at that time. He will still in my friend zone, not more than that. He made me think," she said.
"At the same my mom was trying to fix me up with some of the [Muslim] guys who were living in the U.S. at that time."
As the relationship got more serious, the couple decided to tell their parents.
"I posted pictures on Facebook and my mom said, 'Who is that girl you are with? She is pretty,'" Jarred recalls.
"I told her she is Muslim. She goes, 'That's OK, she is pretty.' Within the Jewish community, it is kind of emphasized that you try and marry somebody who is Jewish."
Shaaz's mother had a different reaction, at first.
"She was like, 'I am not going to accept this. You will see me dead if you do this,'" Shaaz said.
"I was not getting mad at her, because it is not her fault. It is just that she has not been exposed to these kinds of things."
Shaaz says her mom stopped talking to her for a couple of months and when they did reconnect, her mom continued offering Shaaz other marital options.
"Days before my wedding to Jarred, she tells me about this guy who was interested in getting married," the 29-year-old said with a laugh.
"She was trying to set me up just days before my marriage. She was like, 'My job is to tell you so that if in the future you have regrets, you should not blame your mother.'"
The couple married July 3, 2016, in Toronto. They did their best to make it an interfaith wedding, but it wasn't easy.
It ended up being "culturally" Jewish, performed by a cantor with Bollywood dancers to honour Shaaz's background as they couldn't find an imam who would participate.
"I would have loved to have had an imam and a rabbi. That would have been really nice but we couldn't do it," Jarred explained.
The couple now lives in Airdrie, Alta., where they say they feel more acceptance. That's a different experience from living in a northeast Calgary community.
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"We do get looks from people, the double-take. Jarred is like, 'Shaaz, I think they know you.' Just stop pointing, they don't know me. No, they are staring at us," she said with a smile.
The two have shared each other's cultural traditions like food and holidays, and say their different faiths have made the relationship richer. They also share how religion will be introduced to any children they might have.
"As long as we can explain the holidays, [Shaaz] can do Ramadan and if they want to fast, that is totally their choice. We have Yom Kippur in Judaism where we fast, and I will tell the kids about that and if they want to fast, that is their choice but I don't want to impose religion on them," Jarred said
"Religiously, the kids will not be one or the other. They will be exposed to both but they won't be officially 100 per cent either Jewish or Muslim. Maybe that is for them to decide."
The trick to making an interfaith relationship work is communication, Shaaz says.
"If you have doubts in your heart and in your mind before you get into it for real, it is not going to work," she said.
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"You have to be very open about things. You have to talk about what you are insecure about, if you are. You should not be scared of having conflicts."
The cultural aspects of any faith are attractive to Jarred.
"What I like about religion is that it can bring family together," the 36-year-old said.
"You get to see your cousins and aunts and everybody sits together and has a nice meal. It is not a religious ceremony, it just that a family gets together and that's what I like."
Shaaz's mother has even come around, somewhat.
"She is a different person now, she says 'Hi' to Jarred. She talks to him. On FaceTime, she says, 'Where is Jarred? How is he doing? Are you taking care of him? Are you planning to have children?'" Shaaz said.
"Now she wants to be a grandmother, now that she knows her daughter is married and doing well, she is now more accepting."
She says she feels fortunate to live in a country that is accepting of different cultures and relationships.
"What I am today is because of where I came from and what Canada has given me the opportunity to do. It is both. I would not be the person I am today without the combination of these two things. They didn't ask if I was Indian, they didn't ask if I was Muslim, all they saw was my capabilities and if I could do the job that was assigned to me," Shaaz explained.
And without coming to Canada, she would not have met her Jewish husband, Jarred.
"That was not something that was on my list," she said.