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How Jewish and Filipino Cultures Combined for the Perfect Wedding
"Who's this cute Jewish boy?" Reynaldo Tungol, Jr., nicknamed JR, remembers asking himself when he met his future husband, Joel Kahn. The Brooklyn-based couple said 'I Do' on November 14 last year at Hudson Basilica in Hudson, NY.
Walking with the parade float of the company they worked for, Tungol (who worked in TV marketing) and Kahn (who worked in video production) met at New York City Pride during the summer of 2014. At the time, they bonded over RuPaul's Drag Race and Kahn's mother being from Detroit (where Tungol was from) while marching. As if kismet, exactly one year later in 2015, marriage equality passed in the United States.
After four years, the pair were engaged in May 2018. They originally planned to get married in October 2020, but once the global pandemic hit, they had to postpone everything. However, the couple says that having to extend their engagement gave them more time to pace out other big life steps they were taking.
"As frustrating as it was, I think in a way it was meant to play out this way," Tungol tells Out. "It worked out because we were also in the middle of buying a home, Joel had started school during the pandemic, and I'm always busy with work. When it finally did happen, it only made it that much more special because there was so much anticipation going into it."
In a nod to how they met, Kahn and Tungol made it a point to center Pride at their wedding, celebrating who they are as individuals and as a proud Filipino, Jewish, and gay couple. They knew they didn't want to do a traditional ceremony in either of their respective religions that they were raised in. Instead, they opted to incorporate elements from each of their respective cultures in a nondenominational ceremony. To honor Tungol's Filipino heritage,, the proceedings included the cord ceremony performed at Catholic weddings. To reflect Kahn's Jewish culture, they incorporated a chuppah and the breaking of the glass in the end.
Kahn and Tungol were walked down the aisle by each of their parents, to a standing ovation by the 165 guests. For the family and friends that couldn't make it, the ceremony was live streamed on Zoom. "The amount of love and support that was surrounding us, it was like a rock concert," Tungol recalls.
"For the ceremony, we weren't expecting the standing ovation when we walked down the aisle at all," says Kahn. "Our planner told us that in the pandemic weddings, that has been happening more often because people are so pent up and they've been waiting for so long."
For his entrance, Tungol, clad in a traditional white Filipino barong, with his mother and father on each arm, walked out to the acapella version of "How Will I Know" by Whitney Houston, his "number one legend."
It was a symbolic moment for him as his parents, who were immigrants from the Philippines, had a harder time accepting their son.
"I'm lucky that I had my mother and my father beside me, because my journey, and their respective journeys with having a gay son was not an easy one," he says. "Being able to have them by my side on the biggest day of my life was really important, because I remember when I came out... coming out was the hardest thing."
At the reception, the newlyweds and the guests took part in a traditional Filipino money dance, in which the couple's family and friends pinned money on them to bring prosperity to their marriage. That was followed by the hora, the traditional Jewish wedding dance. "To have all that money pinned onto you as you're doing the hora and being lifted on chairs was... even when I looked at the pictures, it makes it that much more special of a moment and you see that it was truly the perfect, blending - marriage! - of our two cultures," Tungol says.
"Because it was a gay wedding, there were really no expectations for what we had to do," says Kahn, who took on most of the planning.
The playlist for the night was stacked with more divas: the grooms danced off to RuPaul's "Sissy That Walk," and the last song of the night was Tina Turner's "The Best" (though the two say they've never seen David and Patrick on Schitt's Creek).
"It was important to reflect just who we are as a couple and as individuals, and I'm very proud of my culture and my background," Tungol adds. "It was a matter of pride for me to be able to wear a barong, to have Filipino elements in the wedding, to have Jewish cultural elements as a part of the wedding. To not have that be a part of our wedding would not be celebrating the core essence of who we are. And you know, it would be a boring ass wedding if it wasn't!"
What brought Kahn the most joy was seeing both of their families celebrating together, along with their friends and loved ones. "It was like, there's no barriers here. There's not like a JR side or a Joel side," Kahn says. "Everyone had a great time with each other, like my great aunt dancing with our friends, and our cousins being friends with our co workers, and JR's aunts and uncles dancing with my grandma. It's like everybody's family now and that's what made me the happiest."
"I'm so happy that we got that day, and to have that moment where he was forced to say how much he loved me in front of all those people," Kahn jokingly says. "It set us up now for the next chapter of our lives and whatever's to come, to know we can do something so amazing together."
Meeting Kahn at NYC Pride a year before gay marriage became legal across the country, Tungol was intentional about making it known in his vows that the moment was bigger than them. "It was important to recognize that this is a gay wedding, guys," Tungol says. "Joel and I literally standing here could not have happened if it weren't for the people who fought for that. It's important for gay couples and queer people to have those rights, and that's what makes it so important."
Congratulations, Mr. and Mr. Joel Kahn and Reynaldo Tungol, Jr.
All photos by Diane Stredicke for Hudson River Photography
All photos by Diane Stredicke for Hudson River Photography.