Connecting Interfaith Families to Jewish Life in Greater Cleveland by providing programs and opportunities for interfaith families to experience Judaism in a variety of venues, meet other interfaith families, and to connect to other Jewish organizations that may serve their needs.
A great way for Jewish professionals and volunteers who work with and provide programming for people in interfaith relationships to locate resources and trainings to build more welcome into their Jewish communities; connect with and learn from each other; and publicize and enhance their programs and services.
These last few months have been busy with dress fittings, selecting the menu, arranging the seating chart, creating the invitations, ordering the suits, and other wedding plans. Sam and I continually remind ourselves that the wedding is only one day and we should focus on preparing for a marriage. This lifelong commitment to each other begins at the wedding ceremony. With that in mind, we are trying to combine the rituals and symbols of both Judaism and Catholicism in our ceremony.
Sam’s parents (Pennye & Phil) on their wedding day
We specifically chose our priest and rabbi to not only co-officiate the ceremony, but also to guide us along this spiritual journey. The rabbi is someone very dear to Sam and the priest is the presider of my family’s parish. These two special people have been a part of various life cycle events in Sam’s and my life. They know us and our families very well, and we are honored that they will be officiating our marriage ceremony. The rabbi and priest continue to help us in the marriage preparations by proofing our ketubah language, assisting with Diocesan paperwork, and helping us with the order and symbols of the ceremony. In our first meeting with the priest, he gave us words of wisdom to keep in mind, throughout this entire process (and our lives): “Keep your own faith at heart, but do not minimize or trivialize the faith of the other.”
If I were converting to Judaism, or Sam to Catholicism, we would have chosen a specific house of worship for our ceremony, such as a synagogue or church. Because we are not, we decided to have our ceremony in a country club, a “neutral” location. This way, both faiths are equally visible and our guests won’t be uncomfortable in attending a wedding in another house of worship. By having our wedding on a Sunday afternoon, Sam and his family can still go to Shabbat services, and my family can go to early Sunday morning Mass.
Throughout the ceremony, we want to honor each other’s faiths, focusing on the similarities, rather than the differences. We have asked my brother, Chris, and Sam’s sister, Stacey, to help us explain the wedding rituals and symbols in each of our faiths at the start of the ceremony.
There are a few symbols that are used in both religions, such as bread, wine, rings, and most importantly, the vows. Sam and I will say the blessings over the bread and wine in our own respective religions. The priest and rabbi will guide us in exchanging our vows and rings.
We have adapted some rituals and symbols to be more conducive to an interfaith wedding. The chuppah is a symbol unfamiliar to my Catholic family, whereas the unity candle is a symbol unfamiliar to Sam’s Jewish family. We will sign our ketubah during the ceremony rather than before it, honoring the Catholic tradition of the bride and groom not seeing each other beforehand. The traditional Jewish Seven Blessings will be said, with both fathers participating. At the end of the ceremony, we will break the glass. This has many meanings in the Jewish faith, but for the two of us, it will also symbolize the breaking down of barriers between people of different cultures and faiths as our families are now joined together.
By incorporating some Jewish and Catholic wedding rituals in our ceremony, we will signal to our friends and family our intent to continue practicing our religions. We hope that this public declaration of faith will communicate our plans to remain strong in faith while supporting our partner’s religious practice.
This week Lisa has been busy trying on wedding dresses she has ordered online. She has had a lot of success! While I was drafting this blog, she actually settled on one. Lisa selected a dazzling dress from Vera Wang that she ordered from David’s Bridal.
The other choice was a simple and elegant design from J. Crew we found off eBay. Although Lisa did not pick this dress, I cannot stress what a pleasant experience it was to work with eBay user “paisleypetunia.” Buying a dress off eBay was scary for Lisa and me; even though the dress was less expensive than a store, it was still a lot of money to try something on. However, Paisley made the experience like walking into a mom and pop store built on customer service. I highly recommend going this route based on our experience and interactions. (And if you are on a tight budget like us.) You can find her store here.
My suit shopping seemed much simpler. When visiting in Philadelphia, I got to spend some time with my Dad and look for a suit. I admit I am a bit of a nerd, but it is still important to look great, especially on the big day. Lisa and I are both big fans of the television series Doctor Who, so I decided to look for a navy (one of our wedding colors) pin-striped suit similar to David Tennant’s. My Dad and I noticed a suit as we walked in to Macy’s and picked it up and took it to the counter, to ask them to find something similar. The salesman took my measurements and then asked if I had tried on that suit. The thought had not crossed my mind… it was not a perfect fit, but I kept going back to it. With little debate, the suit was purchased and now I just need to lose a couple pounds and find a good tailor.
At this point, you may be wondering what this post is doing on an interfaith wedding blog. There is a lot of focus on the dress and suit, but when it comes to an interfaith wedding, what’s relevant is the traditional religious/spiritual/cultural attire.
For the bride, whether it be a Christian or Jewish wedding, it is customary to wear a veil at the ceremony. Lisa is unsure about wearing a veil, and we are both open to the idea of altering the ceremony if she chooses not to wear one. The important thing here is that even though this is a service rooted in the Jewish customs, it is not my place as a partner to tell her what to and what not to wear. We are there to encourage personal spiritual decisions, not force our own views onto the other person. As I write this, it serves as a reminder that this lesson goes much deeper than even that of faith-based decisions. It should translate into our wedding day and every day that we spend together, for the rest of our lives.
For myself, being Jewish, there’s the decision of whether to wear a tallit and kippah. I have to ask myself are these important to me?
The tallit is important for the High Holy Days, but for the wedding, seem less important. There also needs to be a balance during the ceremony of both faiths and wearing all the traditional garb seems too much leaning one way. Ultimately, I have decided not to wear it. Asking what is important to my faith is a daily exercise and extends beyond just what to wear at the wedding.
The kippah is important to me, and I have worn one for years whether attending a Friday night service, a bar/bat mitzvah or being in the company of Orthodox Jews for work.
I also think wearing a head covering holds a special place in my heart. My grandparents, who were most responsible for my push into Judaism as a child and teenager, have both passed on. My grandparents not being there physically is still a struggle for me, and Lisa has been extremely supportive as I still come to terms with it, and speak with my spiritual mentors to come to peace with it before the ceremony. When my grandparents were married back in 1952 they had a Jewish ceremony with a twist. Instead of asking everyone to wear a kippah, they just asked that all men come wearing a hat. Some men came in bowler hats. Some men came in New York Yankees baseball caps. Top Hats. And kippot. It was something I had wanted growing up as a child, hearing about their wedding. However, I have grown since then and really do not feel that it is my place to tell people they must have their heads covered.
And since this is an interfaith wedding, in a chapel, some people may find it inappropriate to cover their heads in a chapel. I had an experience with a mentor who took me to his Catholic Sunday Mass and I was asked to remove my hat (it was a hat, not a kippah). It made me uncomfortable the entire time to be in a religious setting and not be covered. I do not wish that same feeling on anyone and therefore, headwear for all is optional, expect for me. In honor of my grandparents and in honor of my faith, I choose to wear a kippah.
We hear so often that it is the man who makes the clothes, not the clothes who make the man. However, when I wear a kippah that represents my grandparents and my devotion to G-D, it is really Them who shaped me. With each clothing decision we make for this day, it is our clothes that set us apart from our guests and who make us a truly unique interfaith couple.
With so much planning even a wedding of our size, it is easy to get lost in the details.
There are the fun details like our cake tasting or suit shopping with my dad. There are some details which are just checks on the to-do list, like renting a dance floor and linens. Then, there are the other details. The other details like making the guest list which take away focus from the larger picture. Details so stressful, they make you forget what the big day is all about. Those details seem unavoidable in this day and age, but this is about returning to what is important.
When putting together the guest list, we just both began to stress about how other people who would feel. Whether it be about the catering we chose or something more, it weighed heavily on the both of us. I was so stressed about the details that when I showed up to my new spiritual men’s group, I really needed to be told that this day was about us. Being able to be open and honest in a group of men, searching for spiritual solutions to everyday life, they told me to let go of the details. They told me that this day is about being surrounded by the people you love and the loved ones who want to celebrate that love. I felt this deep knot of stress begin to unwind. I had known the truth, but I finally began to accept it. It took hearing that from others, in a spiritual safe space, and being honest. A weight had been lifted and I began to feel excited once more for our big day.
Returning to what is important, Lisa and I hold the belief that our wedding day is a very spiritual day. If we did not view it as such, we would have chosen to elope instead of hosting a wedding. Our relationship really forming and maintaining, has a lot to do with my own connection with G-D. We hold the belief that we are fully committing ourselves to one another in the eyes of G-D. November 8th is the biggest magnification of that held belief. Perhaps it is because of the sacred rituals like signing of the Ketubah. Perhaps it is the chapel with the awe-inspiring Christian glass work and icons. These details that make our day unique to all other days in our lives. These details make this a Holy Day. There are the details I need to be reminded of day in and day out.
Up until this past week, it was the little details. The necessary but less significant details had (and sometimes still continue) to bog us down. However, we need to be reminded what this day is truly about. Those details. It is about our love. Those who support that love. And G-D. AND FUN. They are reinforced by spiritual mentors and in morning meditation. And most importantly, it is our job as a couple to remember those and try not to get lost in all the other details.
My sisters, Michelle (far right) and Carolyn (in blue), with a portrait Michelle painted for our High School
I come from a family of artists. My mom’s grandfather was an amazing painter. My dad’s brother is the cartoonist for Sally Forth. Dave, my brother, runs the Combat Paper Program from the Printmaking Center of NJ. Carolyn, my sister won the 2010 Congressional Art Award and had her artwork displayed in the Nation’s Capitol. And, my other sister, Michelle, has created dozens of pastels, charcoals, and paintings, which are hung in galleries and homes throughout Delaware. My family is very artistically gifted, with each member having his or her own unique style and preferred medium.
Sam and I were discussing our ketubah (marriage contract) artwork and after much thought, we decided to ask Michelle to paint it for us. We looked at hundreds of designs online and most of the ketubot used trees because the Torah is referred to as the tree of life. We are comfortable using this imagery and would also like to incorporate the four seasons. After talking with Michelle she is combining these ideas into two trees of Spring and Summer reflecting the two trees of Fall and Winter to represent the years gone by and the years to come. We asked her to use chalk pastels in bright, bold colors to exude life and energy. Sam and I took what we liked from a lot of different designs and Michelle is combining all of our ideas together to create something uniquely for us.
Finding a scribe that would write interfaith text on a piece of someone else’s art took some research. We found a scribe who belongs to the New York Society of Scribes and happened to be visiting Boston, near where Michelle lives. Michelle met with this scribe and together they picked out the paper that would be conducive for both her chalk pastels and his calligraphy ink. After much discussion, we realized that it would be better logistically for Michelle to do her artwork after he wrote both the Hebrew and English text.
Finding the text for the ketubah was more difficult. We looked at several texts and it was a lot easier to pick out the language we didn’t like, than find something we both agreed upon. Sam wants the language to be more formal, in honoring the traditions of the past, whereas I would like the language to represent us both as equals. After going back and forth on text, nitpicking every word, we think we have finally agreed on some language but would like to get approval from our parents and Rabbi before the scribe begins his work.
Our goal is to get the text to the scribe by the end of this month, so he can create his calligraphy so Michelle has enough time to create her artwork. Our ketubah will be the most valuable piece of artwork in our home; therefore, we are being very diligent in crafting the language and design.
Lisa and I attending the New Members Dinner at Temple Sholom
A question that all soon-to-be married couples must ask, who is going to officiate our wedding?
The most popular answer among weddings I have attended all seem to be: close friends who are ordained by the state. When dealing with an interfaith couple, the answers get a little more complicated. Do we ask our rabbi? Do we ask a priest?
As I spoke about in my last post, it was very important for Lisa to be married in the chapel. It was important to me to have a rabbi marry us. Without much thought it was a compromise that made this one step closer to a truly interfaith wedding ceremony.
We had decided to ask a rabbi to marry us, but it was not that simple. Still in today’s age it is rather unpopular to marry interfaith couples, or at least that is my perception. It was not an option to use the rabbis who shaped me until this point. The rabbi I had as a child has passed on. My most recent rabbi is 600 miles away. We are on a budget and just could not afford to bring him to Cincinnati. Since moving in February of 2013, I was still in search of a temple where I felt comfortable, and where Lisa would be welcome.
Back on the east coast, I had a small, 150 family congregation. Three out of four weeks, the services were done in a Conservative style I really gravitated toward. It was small and welcoming and socially liberal. It was filled with several interfaith families, LGBT couples, and a lot of other groups that made it a welcome place. It truly was unique. It was much different than the Reform services I attended in my youth.
I came to Cincinnati to find that, but Cincinnati is a small city and I was left with two very different choices. On the one hand, I attended regular services at a Conservative temple, but there was no formal rabbi. The community was great, but the lack of a rabbi did bother me. However, I liked the services which felt a lot like I those back on the east coast. At the Reform congregations, I felt as though I had outgrown the style of services, but there were plenty of rabbis to go around. I found myself uncomfortable with musical accompaniments for a lot of the services. I found myself connecting less during those services. However, I knew Lisa may be more welcome there.
It was tough. I had to talk to my spiritual advisors. I emailed with my old rabbi. I sat in prayer. I spoke with Lisa almost after every Friday night.
We kept coming back to Temple Sholom. It was a smaller community than some other locations, so that fit with both of our sensibilities. Lisa had never been to any sort of Jewish religious service, so it was great to be able to sit down on a Friday night at home and stream in services as an introduction. It meant Lisa wouldn’t be overwhelmed and it alleviated my irrational fear that Lisa would hate attending services.
Temple Sholom also has a wonderful spiritual leader, Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp. We knew she was one of the few area rabbis who performed interfaith marriages. She had moved from Conservative to Reform and I felt I would be making that same transition. She had also spent time working with inmates and if you remember from my introduction post, I spend my free time every Monday offering guidance at a local correctional facility. It was also easier for Lisa to connect with a female Rabbi.
After one last sign, we made the appointment with Rabbi Terlinchamp. After one session, we filled out the membership paperwork and scheduled our marriage class appointments. I may not have the same rabbi for guidance as the rabbi I have grown used to, but WE have a rabbi that will officiate our marriage and help us both grow spiritually.
Apologies for the radio silence from the Pulda/Acone camp. We just returned from a 10 day trip to Israel and have A LOT to post–and will do so over the next few weeks.
Just before we left for Israel we celebrated Passover. Passover has always been one of my favorite holidays. For me, Passover meant getting together at my grandparents’ home with the whole (gigantic) family and singing Had Gadya and Let Our People Go at the top of our lungs. In more recent years we have continued this tradition for the first Seder and then people usually break into smaller family groups or join friends for the second Seder. Passover holds special significance for Chris because it was his first introduction to Judaism (and my family) and, thus, this holiday has always been special for him.
This year’s family Seder did not disappoint. We have a large number of kids these days and my uncle (who led the Seder) made the event very kid friendly and the food was amazing, as usual. One part that stuck with me was a passage we read about Israeli soldiers who have been captured in the last 40 years. I was studying at Tel Aviv University when Gilad Shalit was taken prisoner. I remember being in Israel at that time and praying for his return, so this part of the Seder really hit home for me.
For the second Seder, we were a bit lost this year–my mom was away and my dad was looking for somewhere to go–so we made a (very last minute) decision to host the second night. We invited some friends, a local cousin, and Chris’ parents. Chris and I have hosted Seders before with a group of Jews and non-Jews, but this Seder was really special because it was the Acone’s first time participating in a Seder.
Our humble and joyous Seder
My dad led the service and began by asking each person to share one way in which we each have freed ourselves in our own lives. Everyone had a great example, some of which were Chris’s dad retiring from 30+ years as a pilot, my cousin Ben moving to Boston for a new job, and my dad realizing that he should be doing more things he likes rather than obligations. I really enjoyed this addition to the Seder and liked how it connected our lives with the lives of the slaves in Egypt.
The rest of the Seder was pretty traditional. We sang the four questions, hid the afikomen, drank some wine (probably more than four glasses), read the plagues, ate the bitter herbs, etc…and had a delicious meal. Even though the service was ‘old hat’ for me, I really loved watching Greg and Judi experience it for the first time. They had such interesting questions and comments, and were especially surprised at how many parallels there were between the Seder to Easter and the Catholic religion. When the night finally came to an end they both expressed how much they had enjoyed it and how they would love to do it every year.