Our March ‘How We Met’ couple is no ordinary interfaith, mixed race couple. Having first met online, at their first face-to-face meeting, upon learning about their different religions, they even wondered how a Jew and a Muslim relationship would ever work successfully.
Rorri Geller-Mohamed, a Jewish American from New York, and Arif Mohamed, a Guyanese Muslim of West Indian heritage, redefine what can be accomplished when two like-minded individuals meet and use their obvious differences as strengths to deepen their intercultural relationship.
Rorri works with couples from diverse backgrounds to navigate challenges and bridge the gap for a happier and more united family through her new program Mix Match and Blend. She has a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University and has recently transitioned from working as a therapist to a relationship and family coach. In addition to being a busy mom of two, Rorri likes to run, dance, read, and explore new places.
Arif is the manager of client services at a voice recognition software company for the healthcare field. He has bachelor’s degree in computer science and a big sports enthusiast, who enjoys dancing. He is the go to tech guy in the family. In addition to being seen with his kids as a dad, he can also be seen on the field playing baseball. Rorri and Arif have two kids, a son, Omar who is 2.5 years old, and a daughter, Mia, who is almost 6 months old.
1. If your love story was to be made into a movie, what would you call it?
Our blended adventure
2. How did you meet? What were your first impressions – What attracted you to each other?
We met online. The first time we met up our plan was to just get a quick bite to eat. We just kept talking and to our surprise our meal ended up being 3 hours long. When we found out about each other religions (Arif is Muslim and Rorri is Jewish) on the first date Arif made somewhat of a joke and said “How is this ever going to work out?” We both laughed about it and kept on talking.
After our first date, we didn’t talk to each other for about 1 week due to busy work schedules (even though Rorri was hoping Arif would call). Then Rorri called him and we ended up doing something together each day of the following 3 day weekend.
Arif: Rorri was really easy to talk to and got me to open up which is something I don’t do well at all. Rorri: Arif was very down to earth and funny. I was surprised that I had such a good time.
3. Tell us about you and your partner’s cultural backgrounds.
Rorri: I’m Jewish American and grew up in New York. I was raised with reformed judaism, was bat-mitzvahed, and my family always celebrated Jewish holidays. My first experience with blending cultures in a family was as a teenager when my parents adopted my brother who is Mexican American.
Arif: I was born in Guyana (which is in South America) and came to the U.S. as a child. Growing up, Guyanese culture played a strong role in my life. My family is also Muslim. Both my West Indian heritage and religion are part of my American culture. Living in an Italian neighborhood in Queens, New York also had a strong influence in my upbringing.
4. Tell us about the dating challenges you may have faced. What were your parents’/family/relatives/friends’ thoughts about you dating/being in a relationship? What did you think about being part of an interracial/international couple?
The most common question we would get from people when we were dating from friends and strangers were “What do your parents and family think about your relationship?” Family on both sides were supportive and welcoming.
Arif: I was surprised that no one said anything about our relationship or there wasn’t any pushback. Being in a relationship with someone not Muslim was challenging to comprehend and figure out how we would make it work since we came from such different environments, cultures and upbringing.
Rorri: Since my brother was adopted, incorporating different religion and customs was not something new to my family. This made the transition much easier than normal.
5. Did your families approve/not approve of each other (include any memorable first meeting memories) and what you did/didn’t do about it?
Rorri: When Arif first came to my house for some reason he kept thinking that he would meet my dad who would be dressed in traditional attire that is common for Hasidic Jews with black top hat, long black suit jacket, a beard, and curly hair in front of his ears. To his surprise even though I told him at least 10 times prior that my dad would be dressed like any typical American. My dad was dressed in blue jeans, a white tee shirt and sneakers when Arif met my parents.
6. How did you/your partner propose?
Arif proposed to me by his house on Valentine’s day in 2014. It snowed the past 2 days prior. Arif spray painted the snow in entire driveway with the words “Rorri, will you marry me?” He called me over to the window on the second floor to look outside where I saw the question about marrying him. When I turned around he was on one knee ready to propose. It was very romantic. Both of our families knew ahead of time that he was going to propose. Arif grew up in NY so he envisioned proposing like any other typical American guy.
7. What were your ideas of an ideal mate before you met your significant other and how have these ideals evolved with your relationship?
Rorri: I wanted to be with someone that was family oriented, smart, open minded, enjoys life, and that I could feel comfortable being myself around. Being with Arif and around his family has made me even more family oriented. I learned more about sharing and being together in the sense of having more of a communal feel.
Arif: We enjoy each other and the times we spend together which makes this such an enjoyable union.
I also wanted to be with someone that was Muslim. Rorri fit most of my criteria in different and unexpected ways.
The passing of Arif’s mom before we ever met made him look at life differently. With his view of not taking things seriously, not being overwhelmed and understanding that nothing is as bad as it seems has changed the way I now view and handle things in a much different way.
Arif: I wanted someone that was family oriented, intelligent, good hearted, easy going, sporty and had a great smile. I also wanted to be with someone that was Muslim. Rorri fit most of my criteria in different and unexpected ways. Rorri has a great smile and such a good heart. It’s hard not to like her. She has a master’s degree from an Ivy league school so that checked off my intelligent box. She is not into sports but is very active with jogging and dancing. We both love to dance which is also something that helped bring us together. I couldn’t really imagine being married to someone that wasn’t Muslim. How would that work? What would we have in common? How would we raise kids? Being married to Rorri for almost 4 years and 2 kids later, I couldn’t imagine my life without my Jewish queen and kids.
I couldn’t really imagine being married to someone that wasn’t Muslim. How would that work? What would we have in common? How would we raise kids?
8. What have been the cultural challenges, if any, that you have faced in the course of your relationship?
Rorri: Men and women separating at the mosque during prayer is something that is still challenging for me. Being part of the organization Muslims for Progressive Values, has helped with this situation since men and women pray together and women can lead prayers.
Arif: Our families communicate differently. Rorri’s family is more open with challenges that they are facing. They will talk about how they are feeling and try to figure out how to feel better about the problem. My family does not physically show affection the same way but are very loving and supportive of each other. My family will work more towards trying to figure a solution to resolving the problem.
I recall when we were dating we scheduled a time to go out. That time came and went and Arif still was not ready. He would say something like “don’t worry about it, we have all night” which was to my dismay.
Trying to figure out how to move forward was a big challenge when dating. Since Arif had always imagined marrying someone that was Muslim, this was something that had us stuck. Something that helped us move forward and helped to open the lines of communication was premarital counseling with someone who is in a multi faith relationship and specializes in multi faith and multicultural couples. We learned from her about a place called Brookville Multifaith Campus. This was a place like no other that we had seen before which was all about inclusion instead of excluding people based on their religions and beliefs. It houses 3 different faiths which includes Islam, Judaism and Christianity. This welcoming community opened our eyes to many new possibilities that we never imagined.
Time is also viewed very differently. Rorri: When I have something scheduled at a certain time, I am expecting the event to occur at that time. With Arif time has no boundaries. I recall when we were dating we scheduled a time to go out. That time came and went and Arif still was not ready. He would say something like “don’t worry about it, we have all night” which was to my dismay.
Rorri: Our views on spending and saving money were also very different. I looked at myself as always having a job so if I wanted to buy something, I would just buy it. Arif experienced his family bringing very little with them when they moved to the U.S. and having to work hard for a long time to get to where they are now.
Arif: It needs to be something practical in order to purchase an item. I need to have the money in hand in order to purchase an item. I’m big on saving my money to use for something bigger such as a house. While if Rorri wanted to buy a house she would just finance it.
9. How do you work through your differences?
We do a lot of talking about issues that come up and trying to understand where each other is coming from. It’s been a big growing process for both of us that we know will continue.
Rorri: For example, Arif grew up taking his shoes off as soon as he walked in the door at home. Shoes were not permitted in the house. I always just wore my shoes when and where I felt like it. Taking my shoes off in the house as a rule wasn’t even something that I thought of. After us talking about where those ideas came from and what was important to us, we decided that in our house together we will take shoes off. But this also comes with having to educate my family and friends about this since it’s not something they were ever used to with me before.
10. What kind of a wedding did you have? Any arguments about what traditions/customs would be followed or not?
We had a Rabbi and Imam officiate at our wedding together. We did our best to include both of our cultural and religious traditions as well as things that are of personal interest to both of us. All of our food was halal. We had to make the decision about whether or not to include alcohol at our wedding since alcohol is prohibited in Islam. We eventually decided that we would have just wine and beer available for a limited time during the the reception. Our ceremony included both Jewish and Arabic prayers. We broke the glass as part of the Jewish tradition. We reached out and received input on our ceremony from both families to make sure that they were both being represented. We also included American traditions that we both enjoyed such as our first dance, cutting the cake, and dancing to a variety of music.
11. Your favorite memories that pertain to cultural integration (generally in your relationship and not just wedding related)?
Rorri: I really enjoyed the first Eid celebration that I spent with Arif’s family. It was a 3 day event filled with going to the mosque, games for the kids, water activities, ice skating, lots of family time, and ending with feeding the homeless as an entire family of about 50. Arif: I enjoy taking part in all of the many Jewish holidays which are filled with family, food, laughs and lots of love.
12. How do you (or don’t) try to integrate your different cultures/festivities/holidays/etc into your everyday life?
At night we have a bedtime routine for the kids that includes one Jewish prayer, one Muslim prayer, and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. At the end of each prayer we make sure to say I love you. We try as much as possible to expose our kids to both of our religions as well as other religions and cultures. We do this through books from the library, events in the neighborhood, and celebrating with friends and family of other religions and cultures.
13. What have you learned as a multicultural couple, about each other/ about society’s perception of you as an interracial couple?
Society often tells us that our relationship wouldn’t work or that our kids would be confused by growing up with two cultures and religions. We know that this isn’t true and that our kids will actually be more open and very loving towards others because of their experience growing up in a multi-everything family. We also recognize that having access to each other’s communities is one step where we can teach other people with differences how to get along, how we act, explain our differences and cultures, and show that we have more in common than may be perceived.
Learning about each other’s families and their upbringing in order to understand that person better can allow you to really understand where they’re coming from and their train of thought.
14. What are some pieces of advice you may want to pass on to those dating outside their own race/culture/religion/etc.?
Communication is key. We really learned the value of communication with a partner. Coming from different cultural backgrounds we had to spend possibly more time than a traditional couple would spend which probably has also made our relationship and bond stronger. Learning about each other’s families and their upbringing in order to understand that person better can allow you to really understand where they’re coming from and their train of thought. This allows smoother conversations and less conflicts in your relationship. You also must be committed to working through any issues or challenges that may arise and there will be challenges and issues. As long as you are committed, stay the course, you will be able to figure it out.
We also recommend finding an inclusive community. Rorri started an online facebook group to help couples and families connect in a welcoming and inclusive environment. U Power Change Community for Multicultural, Multifaith, and Multiracial Couples and Families. It has been helpful for us from when we were dating and still is for us to meet other like minded and open minded individuals. Connecting with other couples to understanding how they navigated their relationship can be a huge help. Understanding some of the roadblocks and how to get past some of those roadblocks can help to fast track your relationship.