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"I Do"-It-Yourself: A Review of The Creative Jewish Wedding Book

I'm a compulsive planner and a self-admitted girly girl who started planning her wedding at the age of 6. When I got engaged, I'd already spent years debating A-line versus ball gowns, live band versus DJ, and chicken versus fish. My now-husband was vaguely aware that he would have to dress up for our wedding and that we would probably have to feed our guests at some point. Whether you're like me or like him, planning a wedding takes a lot of work: a helpful book to guide you through the process can be a worthwhile investment. As the title of Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer's The Creative Jewish Wedding Book: A Hands-On Guide to New and Old Traditions, Ceremonies & Celebrations indicates, this book is for those planning a "creative Jewish" wedding. Her suggestions offer a path to a unique and personal celebration--as long as the wedding couple is willing to devote some extra imagination, time, and elbow grease to fashioning a wedding that is right for them.

Kaplan-Mayer encourages a great deal of dialogue between the bride and groom. Before beginning the planning process, and at various points along the way, she provides a list of questions designed to help each partner clarify and communicate their feelings about their Jewishness and how they envision the role of Judaism in the upcoming wedding. Although the questions only refer to Judaism, they could be easily adapted to help each member of an interfaith couple discuss his or her own religion.

In addition to theoretical discussions, the book contains practical advice covering everything from invitations to the reception. She devotes one chapter to invitations, one to the ketubah  (marriage contract) and another to the chuppah (wedding canopy). For each, she clearly favors the creation of something original, artistic, and personal. Some of her suggestions, such as including Hebrew in the invitations, could be accomplished relatively easily. Others, like making your own paper for invitations, will seem daunting and impractical to all but talented artists. The suggestions for the reception are equally varied, ranging from a potluck dinner to eco-Kashrut (an ecologically conscious interpretation of Jewish dietary laws).

The longest chapter discusses the ceremony itself. This chapter will be especially helpful to those who are unfamiliar with the traditional Jewish wedding ceremony. Kaplan-Mayer walks the reader through the various parts of the ceremony, and includes text for each of the major prayers in Hebrew, along with an English translation and transliteration. She also discusses ways to incorporate additional music or readings into the ceremony. In her brief section for interfaith couples, Kaplan-Mayer suggests ways to integrate non-Jewish traditions into a Jewish wedding, and includes stories of real interfaith ceremonies. She also offers advice for couples in which both partners are Jewish, but come from different observance backgrounds.

Kaplan-Mayer also provides information specific to interfaith couples on finding clergy who will marry them as well as tips for choosing appropriate text for the ketubah (marriage contract), if they wish to have one. She sprinkles options for interfaith couples throughout the book, such as suggestions for adapting the traditional Jewish ceremony to be inclusive of the non-Jewish partner and his/her family, but she assumes that the wedding will at least be based in Jewish tradition.

This book is not for devotees of Emily Post, or for those who are afraid to get their hands dirty. But, for those who are looking for artistic ways to add a unique flair to their Jewish wedding, Kaplan-Mayer's book provides an excellent catalyst for creativity.

Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Hebrew for "document," a legal document that is both a prenuptial agreement and a certification that a Jewish marriage has taken place. Hebrew for "canopy" or "covering," the structure (open on all four sides) under which a Jewish wedding ceremony takes place. In its simplest for, it consists of a cloth, sheet, or tallit stretched or supported over four poles. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Lauren Stefano

Lauren Stefano graduated from Brandeis University, and worked at InterfaithFamily.com from December 2003 until March 2005. She and her husband live in Watertown, MA.

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