After waiting 22 years to be legally wed, Mandy Rosenbaum and Liz Hecht didn’t want to short-change themselves in any area of the celebration.
Finding a rabbi to perform the ceremony was easy and finding a venue was a snap, but finding a ketubah — the Jewish document that signifies a marriage contract between two people — proved harder to come by. Fortunately, the good folks at the National Museum of American Jewish History came to the rescue.
PGN: Where do you hail from?
MR: I spent most of my formative years in Central Jersey.
MR: My father was a college administrator and my mother is a retired CPA. I have an older sister who lives in Florida now and she’s a rocket scientist. She does a lot of work at the Kennedy Space Station. She’s my claim to fame.
PGN: Have you been there?
MR: Yes, it’s amazing. They have this exhibit where you watch a video all about the space program and then this huge door comes up and suddenly the space shuttle is in front of you, the real thing! It’s an incredible, interactive museum.
PGN: What were some of the things you liked to do in school?
MR: I was a good girl. I was in community-service organizations, the National Honor Society, I worked on the school newspaper — all the geeky stuff.
PGN: What steered you towards law?
MR: When I was a little kid, everyone told me I should be a lawyer. I was constantly arguing about what wasn’t fair and what I thought was right. I always took on the underdog’s point of view. It was almost inevitable but I didn’t really see it until I was in college.
PGN: Where did you go to school?
MR: I went to Hamilton College in upstate New York.
PGN: What was the worst snow you encountered there?
MR: I can’t remember because it seemed like it was always snowing there. It was piled up from October through April, snow on top of snow, but it never stopped anything. We never had a delayed or canceled class because they were equipped to deal with it. It was great, we used to cross-country ski across the campus. We made the most of it … I wasn’t as adverse to the cold as I am now! After that, I went to the American University in D.C., and that’s where I met Liz.
PGN: Hi, Liz. So tell me a little bit about you.
LH: I was born in Milwaukee, Misc., and then we moved to Grand Rapids, Mich.
PGN: Being from Milwaukee, was it mandatory to like “Laverne and Shirley”?
LH: [Laughs] No, but I did like it, even though I was very young. But I spent most of my time in Grand Rapids.
PGN: Tell me about it.
LH: It was very suburban, really beautiful, two lakes right there. It was pretty homogeneous. I think we had maybe one student of color in my class so it was a little limiting that way. It was a nice time in history where kids could play outside. I could ride my bike around the neighborhood and go door to door by myself to sell candy bars for band and not have to worry about … [laughs]. Well, I’m sure there were ax murderers and child molesters back then too, but we didn’t know or think about it as much. It was a nice place to grow up. There were four of us kids and our house was the one where all the kids came to play.
PGN: What was a favorite thing to do?
LH: I loved photography and took a lot of pictures. I won a couple of local photo contests and was in the paper. I was in the photo club at boarding school and founded a sports photography magazine. I loved sports and photography so it was a great merger.
PGN: What’s your favorite photo, the one you would have blown up and put on the mantle?
LH: It’s not on my mantle but I have it in my office: It’s a picture of graffiti in an alley in New Hampshire. It’s black and white and there’s snow and tin and a lot of contrasts and interesting lines. I’m proud of a lot of my work, but that one really inspires me. [Laughs] Sometimes I look at it and think, Oh wow, look at what I used to be able to do.
PGN: And what do you do now?
LH: I’m an attorney as well: in-house counsel for a drug company, GlaxoSmithKline. I’m mostly involved in the biotech side, therapeutic proteins, antibodies and platform technology.
PGN: So what was your coming-out experience like?
LH: It’s funny, now looking back I realize I was in love with my freshman roommate, also straight. Most of my friends were boy crazy and I had a few boyfriends in high school and college but I don’t know, I never really felt like I was … I preferred to concentrate on my academics and sports, which were very important to me, more important than the guys I dated. Then I went to law school and met Mandy. We were friends and by the spring of the second year we were hanging out a lot. She was so sweet. She would bring me a little something every time she came over: ground coffee or some little thoughtful gift. It was really nice. I was developing a big crush but didn’t really know what was going on with me. I finally said to her, “You know, I can’t eat. I can’t sleep/ I feel like I can’t think straight,” and she replied, “You better get that checked out.” Then she professed her crush on me one night after we were studying in the law library. We went back to my place and got Chinese food and a bottle of wine and we both admitted our feelings. I told her I didn’t know what was going on because I’d always been with men, whereas she’d come out already. I told her that I liked her and was attracted to her, but didn’t know if she wanted to take the gamble.
PGN: So what’s your side of the story, Mandy?
MR: I too was not sleeping or eating and was just waiting for her to say something. I knew that she hadn’t been with a woman and I didn’t want to be … I just wanted to see where things would go. [Laughs] But I was getting to the point where I thought I’d explode! So 10 minutes before she was about to announce her crush on me, I opened my big mouth and had to say something. To this day, I wish I’d let her say it first, but it’s worked out pretty well. My coming-out was mostly in my head. I think I knew as a teenager but I managed to put it out of my head for a really long time. In college, I figured it out and decided that I would come out when I went to law school. Once I got there, I came out with a force. I came out to friends and family. Once that door was open, I was not going to suffocate inside anymore. When Liz met me, I was the big out dyke on campus, which is why I was hesitant to tell her my feelings about her before she said something.
PGN: So was there a proposal?
LH: It’s funny. We were having dinner the summer of 2013 after the Windsor decision and Mandy blurted out, “I’d appreciate it if you proposed to me.” And I was like, “How do you know I don’t want you to propose to me? Like, how does this work?” But I thought, OK, I can do this. We had a trip planned to go hiking in Europe. We had rings that we’d traded on our 10th anniversary and I knew she wouldn’t want another so I bought a diamond heart pendant [Mandy pulls it out] and I proposed to her at the top of a mountain in Switzerland. I found a beautiful lookout and asked her, “Mandy will you marry me?” She looked at me and said, “Is this a proposal?” And I was like, “Well yes, but if you can’t figure it out, I guess it’s not a very good one. Does ‘Will you marry me?’ have another meaning in a different culture?” I asked her again and she got all happy and said yes. I think we were a little jet-lagged, which led to the confusion. We had a big engagement party in June of 2014.
MR: Our loved ones had been bugging us for decades to do something — commitment ceremony, etc. — but we didn’t want to have an actual wedding until we could be legally married and we thought that wouldn’t happen for a long time. So we had an engagement party. Who knew things would happen so quickly in Pennsylvania? The decision to allow gay marriage in Pennsylvania came down a month before the party so we ended up having a big engagement party and a wedding the next year, September of 2015.
PGN: So what’s the ketubah story?
MR: We wanted to have a small wedding, mostly family, in the city. If you haven’t been there, the Museum of American Jewish History is just gorgeous. We both knew we wanted to have it there if possible and they were incredibly accommodating. A ketubah is basically a religious wedding contract. It means something under Jewish law as opposed to U.S. law. They’re really beautiful and artful but most of them were made for husband and wife or LGBT commitment ceremonies. We wanted language that reflected marriage between two women. We waited 22 years to be legally wed and wanted our ketubah to show that. The museum was so nice that we called them for help and a woman there went through all their catalogs and picked out every single one that had marriage for same-sex couples in the language. [Laughs] Unfortunately, we didn’t care for any of those designs! We did see one that we liked and asked if it were possible to have it custom-made for us. She was amazing and called the artist herself, who agreed to make one just for us. Everyone involved went above and beyond for us.
LH: They really were incredible. The dedication and hard work to make our wedding perfect was wonderful.
PGN: When I did a kids’ show years ago, I did several remote segments from the old museum but I haven’t been to the new place.
MR: Oh, it’s beautiful and they do a lot of stuff with the LGBT community. Roberta Kaplan — the lead counsel in the recent Supreme Court marriage case, she represented Edie Windsor — is a guest speaker in March and they’ve done a number of LGBT forums. The exhibits also include many LGBT facets.
PGN: A highlight from the wedding?
LH: It was the most amazing five hours of my life. It’s hard to choose one part. Mandy was so gorgeous that night in her beautiful red dress. She blew me away. I remember we were slow dancing and I thought, Wow, I need to burn this into my memory. The way she looked at me, everything.
PGN: Do you feel different now?
MR: I don’t. The only thing I notice is that, sadly, it feels like we get more validation from the straight world. I’m still struggling with the word “wife,” but when I do use it, people respond differently. They seem to accept it, Like, OK, we’ve got it. I’m validated more and it shouldn’t be that way.
LH: If I say “my wife” when talking to a doctor’s office or business, it has more force behind it than “my partner” — especially since we’re both lawyers, it was confusing. For me, I do feel different; there’s more permanence. It sounds bad, but it feels like when you’re married, it’s harder to extricate yourself, so it feels like more of a commitment.
MR: There is one other way it feels different. Something happened in our ceremony that I didn’t expect. There was something from within that came out for both of us. I think I didn’t realize how much I edit my behavior, especially in front of family and other people, despite them being very supportive. Standing there with Liz, our emotions were completely raw and unedited and it felt so freeing. Having done that, things do feel different, like now I can be truly me.
PGN: Randoms. What’s a favorite family tradition?
LH: Thanksgiving is a really big deal in my family. When Mandy lived in Sweden for a year, she brought home gravlax, which is a delicious salmon delicacy. My family loved it so much that we bring it regularly now and it’s cool because she became part of our family traditions because of it.
PGN: Whose diary would you want to read?
MR: If Terry Gross wrote her diary and included all the people she interviewed, that would be heaven. I love to read memoirs anyway and I’m obsessed with Terry Gross. I’d be her stalker if I had the courage.
PGN: Best and worst parts of your bat mitzvah?
LH: I had one, Mandy didn’t. It was great, I felt so much love and support and pride. I don’t know how much you know but it’s a big deal, and tough. I spent nine months studying. People think it’s fun because you have a big party with lots of friends and presents, which is great, but it’s a lot of work too. You become an adult in the eyes of the community and I felt like one. I loved being able to lead the service, reading the Hebrew and making my family proud.
PGN: What was an egregious case that comes to mind?
MR: I worked on a case for an abortion provider who was zoned out of business. It was a civil-rights case and the kind of thing you go to law school for. We were very happy with the way it turned out.
PGN: Ever face any blatant antigay discrimination?
MR: Aside from the occasional “dyke” when walking down the street that most of us have faced, nothing blatant. When we moved to the suburbs, nothing was said to our face, but I think some people had issues with it. Which was surprising because Bryn Mawr College is right behind us, so we thought it would be more progressive.
LH: We’ve found more anti-Semitism than anything. And maybe some heterosexism — people assuming I have a husband — but that’s not quite the same as harassment.
MR: I think the worst we get is the two-toned “oh.” That, “oh … OH!” For the most part, I think people are evolving with the rest of the world.
For more information on the National Museum of American Jewish History, visit www.nmajh.org.