Jewish avaThis curious wedding story is about my very distant relatives – the parents of my great-uncle’s wife. I’ve recently learned about it and decided to share with you. My great-uncle’s wife was Jewish and from a rather rich family. But the most interesting thing is how they gained their fortune. The story involves adoption, extremely hard labor, unique Jewish marriage traditions, and, of course, an adorable love story.

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My great-uncle’s family was wealthy from both his and his wife’s side. They built a large and elaborate mansion with small towers, unusual passageways, stucco on the walls and ceiling, every room was decorated in its own style, and so on. It wasn’t, of course, like a Winchester house, but still beautiful and complicated. When I was a kid, I liked to visit them and look at all that décor, and great-uncle Ivan loved to show it off and tell people about any improvements. Great-uncle Ivan and his wife Helen had 2 children who are adults now. But this love story is not about them.

To understand how this particular family got its fortune, we need to start our story 4 generations back. And we’re doing this not out of envy but out of historical interest because this narration tells us not only about a certain love story but of an old tradition that concerned a lot of people.

The names of our main characters in this wedding story are Pete and Oryna. They both were Ukrainian Jews and lived in the late 19th – mid 20th century. Sadly, I don’t have their wedding photos or any photo for the matter, as they’re not my immediate family.

Pete was from a poorer family with many kids. It wasn’t easy for his parents to feed them all. And there were relatives of them (I’m not sure how closely they were related), also Jews, that were childless. A rich and happy couple who loved each other and desperately wanted kids. Another reason for them to have heirs was because, otherwise, they would be separated by their parents. The thing is, there was a tradition among Jewish people (at least in Ukraine, and I really wonder if such a tradition existed anywhere else and if it still exists today) that if a couple didn’t have children, they couldn’t be together – it was considered a shame and simply impossible. So this wealthy couple had only two choices – to adopt or break up and find new partners for life. But they didn’t want to divorce because their love and respect for each other was strong. So, they asked Pete’s parents to let them have Pete and raise him as their own son. According to the tradition, Jewish couples could only adopt Jewish children and, ideally, from their relatives so that there was at least some blood relation.

Pete’s parents thought about it and agreed. They understood that Pete would have a future as the only heir of rich people. And also, he would be able to get more attention and love as a single kid than being one of a dozen or more kids in the family. At the time, Pete was not a baby already, rather a schoolboy. Imagine how the parents sat him at the table and told him he would now have a new mother and father and would live with them. I don’t know what his reaction was like, but he agreed to be adopted. He moved to live with his new family and enjoyed the money and comfort he got.

Oryna was also from a large family, with plenty of children. She was the oldest among the kids, so her hands were full with taking care of all her siblings. At some point, her mother died and she was left to be the oldest female in the family, helping her father cope with all the chores. There was so much work on her young shoulders that she was desperate and so tired all the time she didn’t even date or meet with friends. So, when Pete met her somewhere around the town, fell in love, and popped the question (it was easier then, people often got engaged after just a few encounters or even their parents arranged a marriage for them), Oryna didn’t think much of it. She agreed to marry him at once. Luckily, Pete’s new parents supported his decision to marry Oryna and paid for their wedding. Oryna hardly even knew exactly how wealthy her fiance was, and then, her life abruptly changed from poor, hardworking existence to a rich and comfortable living.

Maybe their fortune played a role in it – because it’s sometimes easier to live and love when you don’t have to worry about earning a crust every day – but Pete and Oryna were happy together for the rest of their lives. They had two children, one of whom was Helen, my great-uncle’s wife.

Sometimes, we look at a wedding photo of a couple and wonder what their life together was like and how they lived before they met. It’s wonderful how many interesting and unique stories exist and intermingle around us. It’s a pity I don’t have photos of Pete and Oryna because I’d like to do vice versa – look at their wedding picture now that I know their love story and family story.

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