Catherine Fischer is the coordinator of the Center City Kehillah in Philadelphia, Penn. The Center City Kehillah is a community building project of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia in cooperation with the Jewish Outreach Partnership.
A New Book to Guide Interfaith, Intercultural Wedding Celebrations: Joining Hands and Hearts: Interfaith, Intercultural Weddi
We do not need a study to confirm what most of us know first hand, the rate of intermarriage is high in America and affects most of us either directly in our immediate family or indirectly through our friends and distant relatives.
Inevitably, one of the major issues is the where, how, when and what of the wedding ceremony. Joining Hands And Hearts: Interfaith, Intercultural Wedding Celebrations, A Practical Guide for Couples, by Rev. Susanna Stefanachi Macomb with Andrea Thompson (a Fireside Book by Simon and Schuster, 2003), attempts to aid families of all religious, racial, and cultural backgrounds, as well as all sexual orientations, through each step of the process. Macomb's book does not focus solely on matters involving Jewish-Christian couples. In fact, her misuse of the term Reformed to describe Reform rabbis and Reform synagogues is evidence that her knowledge in Judaism may be somewhat limited.
Rev. Susanna Stefanachi Macomb is a licensed ordained interfaith minister. As she herself describes her unique role as a celebrant in interfaith weddings:
...Since interfaith is not a religion, the celebrant has no vested interest in guiding the ceremony to a certain 'religious' outcome. Her job is to listen without judgment, recognize what is needed, present possible solutions with sensitivity, and care for all parties involved. She should remain grounded in compassion and dedicated to serving needs. Then it is for the couples themselves, often with their families' approval, to choose the rituals and music, prayers and blessings for their ceremony.
Macomb's book is effective in acquainting both partners with a deeper sense of their own heritage, culture, and/or racial background, as well as the expectations and preferences of important family members in their lives. One chapter entitled "Tell Me About It: A Questionnaire for Couples," encourages each partner to answer, as best he or she can, a list of questions regarding logistics, envisioning your ceremony, background, and family, your relationship to each other and yourself. From that endeavor, it is her hope that both people will have a heightened appreciation of what is important to each of them, thus better preparing them to proceed with the many demands of planning a wedding.
Macomb is able to suggest readings, rituals and ways to involve people significant to the couple in their wedding. She gives countless examples of couples that come to her with complicated situations with regard to integrating two very different backgrounds. She describes what is essential to have in a wedding ceremony for varying faiths (fourteen different religious faiths in all) and what is optional. Macomb uses what she does best, which is to rely upon her heart to guide the couple toward finding compassionate solutions which, in her book, seem to work.
Heart is central to this book. Heart is referred to by Macomb as the single most important tool in guiding her toward helping couples. She suggests that couples she works with "listen from the heart" as they go forth in preparing for their wedding and encourages communication that is "conceived from the heart" with partners and other family members and friends.
This book would certainly be helpful in exposing couples and their families to the many possibilities available to them in planning an interfaith, intercultural, interracial wedding. At the end of the book Macomb describes, in a detailed fashion, the ceremonies of a Jewish-Iranian couple, a Hindu-Jewish couple, a converted Buddhist-Jewish couple, a Greek Orthodox-Jewish couple, and many others.
She also provides descriptive accounts of forty-seven wedding customs from around the world to help these couples pick and choose readings, rituals, and foods that they may use in their ceremony. In addition, toward the end of the book Macomb lists associations that offer information on interfaith wedding ceremonies that may be helpful in finding a celebrant. Lastly, she encourages you to tell her about your interfaith, intercultural wedding ceremony, especially if it is unlike any she mentions. Her website and email address are listed at the end of the book.
As Joining Hearts and Hands is ambitious in what it is trying to accomplish, it is necessary for the reader to be aware of its limitations. For one, since the book attempts to cover so many traditions and cultures, it is difficult to do justice to and ensure accuracy for each tradition in just 300 pages. As was mentioned earlier, I am concerned that Reform rabbis are repeatedly referred to as Reformed rabbis and that synagogues are called Reformed temples. The Reform Jewish community would consider Reformed an incorrect term to ever be used in describing it.
In addition, while the book conveys a very romantic portrayal of interfaith relationships as a couple prepares for their wedding, it is important to also consider the many decisions that come with life after the wedding. It would be misleading to think that most interfaith, intercultural, and interracial couples simply live "happily ever-after." There will continue to be many decisions to work out, especially when and if children appear on the scene.
Rev. Susanna Stefanachi Macomb has written a beautiful love story to contemplate as one searches to create a meaningful wedding ceremony that reflects both individuals and their families. She shares her heart and terrific creative powers. She also shares a dream that these couples will pave the way to a more tolerant, peaceful world. As she quotes from her comments during one interracial, interfaith, intercultural wedding: "Behold here today, Martin Luther King's dream!"